Contemporary Craft: Then and Now

July 19, 2018

Red Vase, 1962. Bernard Felch (1925–2008). Earthenware, 20 x 6 5/8 x 7 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Gift of the Bank of Delaware, 1962. © (Estate of) Bernard Jackson Felch.

Installation view of Contemporary Crafts for Christmas Giving (November 26–December 22, 1961). Delaware Art Museum, Institutional Archives.

In spring, 1958, during a lecture for the Delaware Art Museum’s first annual exhibition of contemporary craft, Thomas S. Tibbs, director of New York’s Museum of Contemporary Craft (now the Museum of Arts in Design) called for the breaking down of barriers between the so-called “fine arts” and the work of artist-craftsmen. Organized by the Delaware Art Museum’s Education Department and the Studio Group of Wilmington, the special display included experimentations in weaving, silver, furniture, ceramics, and enameling. A tradition was established, and the show continued every year until it was combined with the Museum’s annual painting and sculpture exhibitions in 1989 to form the Biennial.

Thanks, in part, to funds donated by the Bank of Delaware, a silver and wood ladle by William Kee, Jr. and bowls by Rudolf Harry Staffel and Oppi Untracht were acquired for the collection in 1961. The Museum’s practice of supporting contemporary craft through shows and acquisitions was instituted. The following year, the Museum purchased three more pieces from Ronald Burke, Bernard Felch, and E. Grant Swayze. During the subsequent years, over 50 works of art were purchased for our collection from the annual shows, strengthening the Museum’s ability to showcase the vibrant contemporary craft practice in its various forms.

Our recent grant-funded, object inventory project has allowed dedicated time to research the collection holdings of contemporary craft as each object is carefully examined, photographed, and studied. Once reviewed, works of art are made available for viewing through the Museum’s online collection.

Convergence, 2017. Marc DiGiaimo (born 1992). Bending ply, oak veneer, blackened steel, and black lacquer, 18 x 47 x 19 inches. Courtesy of the artist. © Marc DiGiaimo.

This major undertaking aligns nicely with the fall Juried Craft Exhibition as it offers an opportunity to celebrate the field’s rich history and current trends. Visit the Museum’s collection online and the Lynn Herrick Sharp Gallery for contemporary art during the run of the Juried Craft Exhibition to compare examples of craft from the past to creations today.

Margaret Winslow
Curator of Contemporary Art

This object inventory project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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