USA Crafts and Traditional Arts Panel for 2011

Fabio Fernandez

Exhibitions Director, The Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, MA

Jeremy Frey

Basketmaker and USA Ford Fellow, Indian Township, ME

Lowery Sims

Curator, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY

Rob Sidner, Director

Director, Mingei International Museum, San Diego,CA

Suzanne Ramljak

Metalsmith, Bethel, CT

Statement by Suzanne Ramljak.

In all creative endeavors, process is crucial in determining the final outcome. If something is not well executed, it will show in the finished product. Fortunately, the process of selecting the 2011 Crafts and Traditional Arts Fellows was infused with both passion and wisdom, yielding awardees that exemplify the finest in their fields. The act of passing judgment is not a casual one, especially when the verdict can alter a life or influence a discipline. Through unbridled exchange, this year’s review panel tested our ideals and criteria against the nominated artists. Among the issues we grappled with was the question of artistic intent, the relationship of means and ends, and the challenge of judging performative or community-based projects that do not produce self-contained objects. The sophisticated nature of our discussions matched the complexity of contemporary practice itself. Poised at a unique moment in its evolution, the craft world is undergoing something of a renaissance. Several publications have now documented the field’s history, providing an informed backdrop for current developments. Today there is also unprecedented access to new technologies and the ability to intersect with other disciplines and artists around the world. This vitality within crafts is paralleled in the larger culture, where we are experiencing a “back to the hand” and “back to the home” movement—as evidenced in the DIY phenomenon and a strong public appetite for customized creation and design.

In judging artists within the sphere of Crafts and Traditional Arts, we had to be mindful of both the past and future. Indeed, the Latin origin of the word “tradition” means to transmit, hand over, and pass down for safekeeping. Most art forms have such roots in tradition, but not all are assessed based on their adherence to past norms. While the panel looked for historical links and conventional skills, we also sought work that was distinctive and fresh, if not radically novel. The artists had to provide a revelation, to uncover new possibilities within their chosen medium.

All six 2011 Crafts and Traditional Arts Fellows beautifully meld traditional expertise with forward-looking content and formal innovation. Each also clearly embodies the guiding principles behind the USA Fellowship program, including excellence, creativity, imagination, risk taking, and diversity. For artists working today, USA is like a fairy godmother, waving a wand of support to help realize their wishes. The organization’s larger mission involves investing in America’s creative talent and highlighting the valuable contributions that art makes to society. Its aims are humanistic and fueled by the intent of improving culture and civilization as a whole. It was therefore most gratifying to assist USA with their noble pursuits and to play a role in this culturally enriching process.