Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery

July 1, 2016 - February 20, 2018

Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW)
Media - 2015.17 - SAAM-2015.17_1 - 118050

Steven Young Lee, Vase with Landscape and Dinosaurs, 2014

This summer the permanent collection returns to the Renwick Gallery with a dynamic new presentation of 80+ objects celebrating craft as a discipline and an approach to living differently in the modern world. The installation includes iconic favorites alongside new acquisitions made during the museum’s renovation, which will be displayed at the museum for the first time. Nora Atkinson, The Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, selected the objects and conceived the innovative presentation.

Atkinson’s arrangement breaks from typical display formats based on chronology or material to instead focus on the interconnectivity of objects and the overlapping stories they tell. The installation does away with hierarchical distinctions and the idea of the curator’s voice as absolute authority, instead presenting works that engender ever-evolving associations and interpretations. Objects are loosely thematically organized to mimic an analog version of the Web, using an associative approach derived from the way we navigate today’s “hyperlinked” world. Visitors are encouraged to find their own path through a vast network of possibilities that highlight explicit connections as well as subtle, unexpected resonances among the artworks on view.

“Craft objects do not exist in a vacuum. Each artwork tells many stories, and each is made even more interesting through relationships to other objects and ideas. As that object continues to develop meanings and spawn questions through contact with other artworks, it remains vital in a changing world.”

Nora Atkinson, Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft


In selecting both pioneering and contemporary pieces, Atkinson also explores the underlying current of craft as a balancing, humanistic force in the face of an ever-more efficiency-driven, virtual world. The exhibition highlights the evolution of the craft field as it transitions into a new phase at the hands of contemporary artists, showcasing the activist values, optimism, and uninhibited approach of today’s young artists, which in some way echoes the communal spirit and ideology of the pioneers of the American Studio Craft Movement in their heyday.

The artworks range from the 1930’s through today and span numerous media. New acquisitions such as John Grade’s Shoal (Bone Shoal Sonance), Judith Schaechter’s The Birth of Eve, Marie Watt’s Edson’s Flag, and Akio Takamori’s Woman and Child make their debut in the gallery while seminal works including Wendell Castle’s Ghost Clock, Karen LaMonte’s Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery, Albert Paley’s Portal Gates, and Lenore Tawney’s Box of Falling Stars return to view.

Exhibition Catalogue

Craft for a Modern World

Craft for a Modern World presents 150 of the Renwick Gallery’s 2,000 artworks in a new light, celebrating the restoration and reopening of its historic landmark home. Encouraging readers to find their own connections—as they have come to expect in today’s hyperlinked world—curator Nora Atkinson describes some of her associations among these artifacts of makers, both contemporary and pioneer. Readers can engage the artworks through subtle linkages in the color plates, which introduce related works in black and white. According to Atkinson, the artworks in this catalogue, many of them newly photographed, “are a playground for the mind.”


  • “Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery” highlights the evolution of the craft field as it transitions into a new phase at the hands of contemporary artists, which in some way echoes the communal spirit and ideology of the pioneers of the American Studio Craft Movement in their heyday.

    DEBRA BAXTER: I’m Debra Baxter, and I’m super excited to have a piece in the Renwick’s permanent collection. My piece in the show is “Devil Horns Lefty.”

    The artist I want to talk about in the show is Beatrice Wood. She has a lovely teapot in this show, with her signature luster glaze. I’ve had this sentimental attachment to her as a person and her work for many years.

    I first encountered Beatrice Wood’s work in this 1993 video called “Mama of Dada” and more than her art itself or when the Dada period that they were talking about is, I kept getting the essence of who she is, this spark of life she had, this childlike quality, this love of life she had, and that was shot when she was in her nineties.

    There’s something super magical about her that when you look at a vessel of hers you can feel her spirit inside it. Another similarity in our work is that a lot of our work was intuitive and had these themes of love and longing and those themes have appeared in my work as well.

    Twenty years later, I’m in Ojai, California, at the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, I started talking to this fellow that was teaching a workshop there and he confessed to me that he was her “boy toy” and seemed very proud of that. He was half her age, and this seems to confirm her saying that the secret to longevity was chocolate and young men.


    The Henry Luce Foundation and the Windgate Charitable Foundation generously support the reinstallation of the Renwick’s permanent collection.