What happens to artists’ works after they leave the annual Craft Show that benefits the Philadelphia Museum of Art? Most of the innovative glass, metal, clay, fiber or wood objects are snatched up by buyers eager to build their personal collections; sometimes, however, a work may catch the eye of a curator and join the Museum’s craft collection. A selection of 34 exemplary objects, Precious Possessions: The American Craft Collection is an exhibition drawn from the Museum's craft collection, which has grown steadily and substantially through gifts and purchases over the last six decades. It opens at the Museum on Nov. 3, 2007 in the North Auditorium Gallery and runs through June 29, 2008. The installation celebrates the Museum’s 31st annual Craft Show, which is held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center (Nov. 7-11, 2007) and organized by the Craft Show Committee and the Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
To assemble the Precious Possessions installation, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Decorative Art Elisabeth Agro scoured the American craft collection in search of “old favorites” that have not been on view in a long time, as well as works that will make their first gallery appearances. “We want to broaden the public’s knowledge of what the Museum has in the collection,” Agro said. “What we have here is truly outstanding, but many people may not know the extent of our collection.”
Precious Possessions highlights the Museum’s early and ongoing commitment to contemporary craft. From the time that modern American craft entered the radar of the art community in the late 1940s, the Museum has actively pursued these handmade, one-of-a-kind works of art. One of the earliest such works on display came from ceramic artists Gertrud and Otto Natzler, whose Bowl (1945) and Plate (1941) the Museum acquired in 1945 — long before many American museums had taken an interest in collecting craft.
The installation also features works by craft artists who have developed major reputations in their fields since they entered the collection. Robert Willson’s Ancient Sumer (1980) came to the Museum in 1986 as a gift from the artist, who at the time was respected in small glass circles but relatively unknown to a wider audience. In the last five years, Willson’s importance in the field of cast glass has been recognized and acknowledged by the art community. Dominick Labino’s Balsamarium (1965) holds similar significance: the artist gave the Museum his work as a gift before earning his place in art history as the founder of the studio glass movement.
A selection of fiber art from the Museum’s craft collection will join Precious Possessions in the North Auditorium Gallery in March, coinciding with the University of the Arts’ international fiber symposium, Materiality and Meaning: Examining Fiber and Material Studies in Contemporary Art and Culture.About the Museum’s American Contemporary Craft Collection
The Museum’s craft collection is one of the oldest in the country, featuring nearly 500 craft objects in a variety of mediums including clay, glass, fiber, wood and metal. The collection features some of the earliest works in the American craft field, along with a wide sampling of objects by well-known masters associated with the Philadelphia region, including Rudolph Staffel, Olaf Skoogfors, George Nakashima and Wharton Esherick.