Nation Building: Craft and Contemporary American Culture

November 8–9, 2012

This symposium examined craft’s increasingly urgent role within contemporary American culture. Coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the Renwick Gallery as the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s branch museum for contemporary craft and decorative arts, the program sought to broaden the dialogue surrounding craft’s recent histories, and to articulate rapid changes to the field since the beginning of the current century.

Research presented by both senior and emerging scholars complicates our understanding of modern craft as a response to mass culture, and probe the evolution of the field beyond the studio movement. Themes include: the politics of craft within the museum, new directions in technology and education, craft at war, converging practices in craft and contemporary art, changing aesthetics, craft’s role in industry, and the burgeoning DIY movement.

The title of this symposium references modern craft’s history as a regenerative (and often political) force in society, but also 20th-century political theorist Hannah Arendt’s assertion that what fundamentally distinguishes us as a species is our capacity for “world-building.” The value of craft as evidence of diverse human agency and its impact on the American experience is at the heart of this project.

The symposium was webcast live, and archival videos can be viewed online. Selections from the proceedings were published in print form in 2013.

This program was generously funded by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee Endowment for Lectures in American Craft.

Symposium Program

Day 1, Thursday, November 8, 2012

12:30—1:45 p.m.
Welcome and Keynote

  • Nicholas R. Bell, the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator of American Craft and Decorative Art, Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • “Goodbye Craft” Glenn Adamson, Deputy Head of Research and Head of Graduate Studies, Victoria and Albert Museum

2:00—3:45 p.m.
Values on Display

  • “America at Home: Crafts and Craftsmanship in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Shelter Exhibits” Elizabeth McGoey, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of the History of Art, Indiana University
  • “Institutionalized: Craft in the Museum” Julie Muñiz, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts & Design, Oakland Museum of California, and Jennifer Scanlan, Associate Curator, Museum of Arts and Design, New York
  • “Taste, Money, Museums and the Subversion of American Craft” Ulysses Grant Dietz, Senior Curator and Curator of Decorative Arts, The Newark Museum

4:00—5:00 p.m.
Craft at War

  • “Craft as a Response to War” Bibiana Obler, Assistant Professor, Department of Fine Art and Art History, George Washington University
  • “Making an Impression: Craft and Material Culture Scholarship in Military Reenacting” Maria Shevzov, Independent Material Culture and Decorative Arts Scholar

5:15—7:00 p.m.
Education and Technology

  • “A Hackerspace of One’s Own: Curriculum and the Maker Movement” Garth Johnson, Assistant Professor, College of the Redwoods
  • “Digital Fabrication: Implications for Craft and Community” Neil Gershenfeld, Director, The Center for Bits and Atoms, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stuart Kestenbaum, Director, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, and Phyllis Klein, Director, DC Fab Lab

7:00 p.m.
Reception, Kogod Courtyard  

Day 2, Friday, November 9, 2012

10:30 a.m.—12:30 p.m.
Aesthetic Frontiers

  • “ ‘He is Survived By His Longtime Companion.’ The Representation of Feeling in the Work of Josh Faught.” Elissa Auther, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art; Director of Art History Program, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
  • “Contemporary Art and the Craft Tradition” Joanna Marsh, James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Panel: “Media, Process, History: Craft beyond Crafting” Moderator: Maria Elena Buszek, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Colorado, Denver. Panelists: Sonya Clark, Chair, Department of Craft/Material Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University; Elaine Reichek, artist; Michael Strand, Associate Professor and Department Head, Visual Art, North Dakota State University

2:00—3:00 p.m.
Corporate Craft

  • “Homespun Nylon: Dorothy Liebes and the Crafting of DuPont” Regina Lee Blaszczyk, Professor of History and Chair in the History of Business and Society, University of Leeds, UK
  • “Craft Goes to Disney!’ Sandra Alfoldy, Professor of Craft History, Historical and Critical Studies Department, NSCAD University

3:15—4:45 p.m.
Post Craft

  • “The Politics of ‘Ordinary Manufacture’ in the Post-Industrial State” Ezra Shales, Associate Professor of Art History, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design
  • “Craft-like: The Illusion of Authenticity” Jenni Sorkin, Assistant Professor, Contemporary Art and Critical Studies, University of Houston
  • “DIY Detroit” Gabriel Craig, metalsmith, writer, craft activist

4:45 p.m.
Closing Remarks

Symposium Webcast Playlist