USA Crafts & Traditional Arts Panel for 2008

Janet Koplos

Senior Editor, Art in America, New York, NY

Maria Shaa Tiáa Williams (Chair)

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

Gwendolyn Magee

Artist and USA Ford Fellow 2007, Jackson, MS

Bruce W. Pepich

Executive Director and Curator of Collections, Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI

Andrew H. Glasgow

Executive Director, The American Craft Council, New York, NY

Statement by Maria Shaa Tiáa Williams

The 2008 United States Artists panel on Crafts and Traditional Arts had the privilege of identifying and recommending four candidates to become USA Fellows and join the new cadre of artists who are contributing to and even reshaping our nation’s concepts of art and tradition. Just as this year’s presidential election has prompted many of us to envision a new political era, we discover that artists are also grappling with issues such as identity, globalization, pain, and discovery and finding new ways to creatively express their aesthetic ideals.

The 2008 panelists included a broad array of artists, educators, arts administrators, and professionals who collectively discussed and viewed more than 30 applications. The work included indigenous art forms, folk traditions, furniture and design, and glass art. Some of the artists defy categorization, as their work transcends conventional definitions of the medium: for example, furniture artists who incorporate video into their pieces; traditional indigenous artists who use new and more modern materials, artists who make political statements through their craft. The work stimulated much discussion about the difficulties and challenges of categorizingart forms. How does one define “traditional” or “craft” within the context of the twenty-first century, especially when many artists are pushing the boundaries of their genres? In some cases the candidates were also active in their own communities, establishing guilds and schools based on traditional knowledge.

The artists under consideration showed refreshingly brilliant ideas that were exquisitely executed in techniques that have taken years, and sometimes decades, to master. It was a humbling experience to see many of these consummate art forms presented and made me wonder: If we could provide more support for the true innovators of our society—artists—would we be living in a better, more peaceful and sustainable world? What would our world be like if we had invested a trillion dollars in the arts rather than in political conflict and war? For a moment I dreamt of a beautiful, magical, and unbelievably blessed world. Viewing the works of artists during our one-day panel and reading their words gave me a brief glimpse of this world. Artists are the visionaries of society, and we must support them even if we do not always understand them. Intuition often trumps foregone conclusion. United States Artists and its USA Fellows for 2008 will undoubtedly take us one step closer to this ideal place.