USA Crafts & Traditional Arts Panel for 2007

Tanya Aguiñiga

Furniture Designer and USA Target Fellow 2006, Los Angeles, CA

Mark Richard Leach (Chair)

Founding Director and Chief Curator, Mint Museum of Craft + Design, Charlotte, NC

Ronald T. Labaco

Curator of Decorative Arts, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA

Maria Williams

Assistant Professor, Department of Native American Studies, University of New Mexico, Santa Fe, NM

Lori Pourier

President, First Peoples Fund, Rapid City, SD

Statement by Mark Richard Leach

Many view the disciplines of crafts and traditional arts as one and the same. Objects from both disciplines are often made from the same raw materials—clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood, among others—yet may be categorized as one or the other based on the relative application of skilled labor to produce a desired result. Sometimes these two areas of activity are differentiated because artists from one attain skill through formal artistic training, whereas those from the other are self-taught or have skills that are passed from generation to generation. The situational nature of an encounter may shape our perception. For example, were we to come upon a humble woven basket or a skillfully hewn wooden box on a kitchen shelf, we might not expect it to be anything more than a useful container. Conversely, seeing the same woven basket or wooden box carefully positioned on a display surface or atop a white pedestal and lit with state-of-the-art halogen or fiber-optic lighting won’t necessarily alter our assessment of the object’s intrinsic properties. Such divergent encounters can, however, destabilize our reading of the aesthetics and excellence of an object, the skill involved in its making, and the cultural area to which it belongs. In a melting-pot society a more recent discussion of the loss of distinctive cultural characteristics and the advance of a homogeneous concept of quality comes into play. More to the point is the friction that arises over who determines what quality looks like, what it means, and the criteria used to constitute such meaning.

Imagine a dark room and a large conference table. Assembled around it are specialists from various sectors of American culture: a curator, a university professor, a furniture designer, a museum director, and a foundation executive. The panelists’ viewpoints are shaped by professional experience and life in general. The panel is there to provide an intensive, balanced analysis of the applicant pool and to recommend finalists. The opportunity available and the challenge to overcome aren’t solely those of expressing a professional opinion and tallying votes. Rather the charge is to ensure that viewpoints are centered on excellence, rendered thoughtfully while grounded in experience and formative group discussion. In this regard, United States Artists is peerless in its commitment to ensuring that its panelists represent the widest cultural and intellectual knowledge base available.

The applicant pool for the USA Fellowships in Crafts and Traditional Arts for 2007 included 28 artists working across an array of media. Some among them create beautifully executed useful items such as English saddles and functional pottery. One artist expressed political concerns through his artworks, while another offered social critique as domestic theater using glass installations and tableaux. Hybrid art forms stimulated meaningful discussion, as did hobbyist techniques such as crochet employed to produce optically dramatic and boldly chromatic artworks.

Selected from a culturally diverse and highly competitive field, this year’s USA Fellows in Crafts and Traditional Arts represent an intrepid continuum characterized by compelling creative visions, originality, and unparalleled craftsmanship. The 28 artists who made up the applicant pool are all to be congratulated for their professionalism and their willingness to submit to the review process.