Lloyd Herman was the founding director of our national craft museum, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art museum and, after 20 years at the Smithsonian returned to the Northwest. The University of Washington Press, publisher of his 1990 book, Art that Works: The Decorative Arts of the Eighties, Crafted in America, called him “one of the foremost authorities on America’s contemporary craft movement". For the past twenty-five years he has worked as a museum planner (Museum of Glass, Tacoma) and guest curator of exhibitions for museums, traveling exhibition services and the U.S. Information Agency. He has led craft trips to India, Jordan, Morocco, Vietnam and Iran, and lectures regularly on the evolution of “craft” into “art” and on the contemporary glass movement.
How did your love for craft begin?
When I was about 8, living on a farm in Oregon, I became a 4-H woodworker. Though I made a footstool and a wall shelf, I was so bad at woodworking that I began to admire those who were good.
How did you see American craft and appreciation for craft evolve during your time at the Renwick Gallery?
“Craft” evolved from largely-functional objects to those that were more sculptural or expressive of ideas. The creation of a support group, the James Renwick Alliance, fostered greater national recognition and support for craft.
What was a favorite exhibition (or two, or three) from your time at the Renwick Gallery, and why?
Certainly “Craft Multiples,” which looked at functional objects made in multiples by their creator, and juried from a national competition was a favorite. It toured to towns with under 50,000 population and served as a counterpoint to the large “Objects USA” touring exhibition that featured the sculptural direction of craft and traveled only to large museums. Another was “American Porcelain: New Expressions in an Ancient Art” which juxtaposed contemporary functional sculptural work in porcelain with historical 18th century examples. It toured nationally and was picked up by U. S. Information Agency for an international tour. I’m also proud of solo artist retrospectives like that of weaver/printmaker Anni Albers.
What do you enjoy most about contemporary craft?
Originality, skill and ingenuity working with fairly mundane materials.
How do you see craft evolving in the near future?
In recent years we’ve seen the decline of functional works and shops and galleries that used to sell them, the movement to room-filling installations of sculpture made from “craft” materials, and the decline of craft disciplines in universities and art schools, and “art and design” replacing “craft” in some museums and schools. At the same time, several museums have newly embraced “craft” in their names and programs. As professional education in clay, glass, metals, wood and fibers as declined, we see the emergence of the DIY movement, embracing simple techniques requiring less skill (and education) making handmade goods widely available on such websites as Etsy.com. Repurposed and recycled materials—“mixed media”—are now a large category in recent competitions I’ve juried or judged. I expect this trend to continue.
What are a few of your favorite pieces that you own?
I treasure a large 3-D wall piece by Lynn DiNino and the late Robert Purser called the “Wedding Reception Quilt” made from repurposed decorated paper plates and hors d’oeuvres made from wood scraps. They made it for an exhibition where they were prevented from serving food at the opening. Another is Jim Kraft’s ceramic sculpture, “Swimming Dog.”
What will you be looking for in submissions?
Originality always, use of materials and visual appeal as much as content.
10x10x10xTieton is made possible through a gift from Doug and Laurie Kanyer.