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White House Collection of American Crafts

Twentieth-Century Gallery
July 1-October 22, 2000

Ralph Bacerra
white stoneware, alkaline and barium glazes

Assembled in 1993, the White House collection of American crafts features seventy-two works by seventy-seven of America's leading craft artists. The collection was put together to reflect the nation's longstanding tradition of craftmaking and the richness and diversity of this important aspect of American heritage.

The pieces in the collection illustrate the skill, imagination, and vitality characteristic of craft in the 1990s. Using glass, wood, clay, fiber, and metal, these artists reveal their ability to manipulate materials--often traditional materials used by artists for centuries if not millennia--in inventive ways. Their commitment to the handmade reflects an ongoing passion for the intimate, physical qualities of the handmade object. This commitment has undergone periods of resurgence in response to the industrialization of the late nineteenth century (a resurgence known as the Arts and Crafts Movement) and more recently in response to computer technology, the internet, and digitization.

Harvey K. Littleton
Blue Orchid Implied Movement
blown glass and barium/potash glass

The White House is a symbol of American history and of American ideals and aspirations, as well as the most frequently toured home in the country. As such, it is an important repository for fine works of art in many media and many traditions. Its collections include paintings and sculptures exploring American themes, landscapes, and portraits; antique furniture and decorative arts in period settings; and important historical memorabilia. From its first residents--John and Abigail Adams--in 1800 to the Clintons in the 1990s, the First Families have brought their own interests to the White House collections, often rearranging and tailoring the spaces to suit their tastes and needs.

The collection on view in this exhibition does not pretend to be an exhaustive survey of all facets of contemporary American craftmaking. Objects were chosen to reflect the architecture, historical settings, and furnishings of the White House; to represent all media in craftmaking; and primarily to be displayed in cases and on furniture rather than hung on the wall. These criteria suggest why the traditional vessel form emerged as the most common form in the collection, expressed in all craft media. Indirectly, these criteria raise important critical questions to be examined in companion educational programs: how can a national collection be built in an age of multiculturalism? Do traditional boundaries between fine arts and crafts have continuing relevance for the twenty-first century?

Michael Sherril
Incandescent Bottles
white stoneware, alkaline and barium glazes

The White House collection of American crafts was assembled under the guidance of Michael Monroe, then Curator-in-Charge of the Smithsonian Institution?s Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art. The showing of the collection in Ann Arbor was first proposed by Marvin Krislov, Vice President and General Counsel of the University of Michigan and formerly on the White House staff.

The presentation of this exhibition has made possible in part through the generosity of the Friends of the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Research. Additional support has been provided by the Michigan Guild of Artists, the State Street Area Art Fair, the University of Michigan Arts of Citizenship Program, Mr. and Mrs. James Donahey, Marjorie M. Jackson, Mr. and Mrs. Fernando S. Leon, Jane Myers and John Barton, William Charles Parkinson, Dr. and Mrs. Amnon Rosenthal, Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Roth, Edward Surovell Realtors, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Wylie, and all donors to the Museum's Annual Fund 2000 appeal. These donors are too numerous to list here but their gifts have been essential to this exhibition and its companion educational programming.