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Top 5 Craft Museums in the USA

Updated on December 3, 2017

The Arts & Crafts Movement in Under 30 Seconds

What inspired this passion for Arts and Crafts?

Let's go back to the Victorian era, where we saw a huge surge in industrialization. This inspired an anxiety for the future and a longing for the past. As industrialization took over, more artists turned to craftsmanship, folk art, and decorative work.

Many believed that industrialization was 'de-beautifying' the world, and crafts were a way to counteract such a rapidly mechanized society. This became known as the Arts & Crafts Movement.

Let's take a look at five museums to learn more about the impact of crafts on art history.

1. American Folk Art Museum in New York City

A late political 19th-century quilt. Image: public domain
A late political 19th-century quilt. Image: public domain | Source

What to See at the American Folk Art Museum

Want more folk art than you can handle? Then you have to check out the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.

Get used to seeing quite a few 'unknown artists', as this museum features unsigned crafts, decorative work, and functional objects from around the world. Additionally, you can enjoy pieces from such folk art legends as Grandma Moses, Edward Hicks, and Ammi Phillips.

Don't forget to visit the following collections:

  • Old books
  • Works on paper
  • Painting and sculpture
  • Textiles
  • Vintage photography

Admission to the museum is always free, and it's easily reachable by bus, subway, or car.

And don't forget to check their exhibits page for the latest shows!

2. Museum of Early Trades & Crafts (New Jersey)

Antique Woodworking Tools
Antique Woodworking Tools | Source

Planning Your Day at the METC

The METC itself has a pretty cool history. It's located inside the historic James Library, a former library gifted by philanthropist Daniel Willis James in 1900. This was just one of many projects backed by James, as he was deeply committed to the community of Madison.

The METC moved into the old library in 1970, spearheaded by founders Agnes and Edgar Land. Since then the museum has acquired almost 9,000 tools from over 20 work trades.

The museum is most recognized for its impressive collection of antique woodworking tools. Nearly a quarter of the museum's collection are woodworking tools, so if you're an HGTV junkie, this one's definitely for you.

3. Mingei International Museum in San Diego

19th-Century Noah's Ark Toy: Fair use permission granted by the museum
19th-Century Noah's Ark Toy: Fair use permission granted by the museum | Source

What to Do at the Mingei

Now, this is the museum that inspired this post. I was born and raised in San Diego, and this is by far my favorite craft museum.

Nestled inside Balboa Park, the Mingei joins 16 other museums, including the Fine Art Museum of San Diego and the Fleet Science Center. The Mingei frequently has exhibitions, but it also boasts an impressive permanent collection of paper works, toys, functional objects, decorative works, and textiles.

The Mingei also lets the public use their images for education and fair use, which is great for teachers.

Browse the Mingei

Click thumbnail to view full-size
20th-Century Glass Tree20th-Century Tapestry (Birds in Trees)Vintage Italian BeadWooden purple armadillo20th-Century Tin Plane
20th-Century Glass Tree
20th-Century Glass Tree | Source
20th-Century Tapestry (Birds in Trees)
20th-Century Tapestry (Birds in Trees) | Source
Vintage Italian Bead
Vintage Italian Bead | Source
Wooden purple armadillo
Wooden purple armadillo | Source
20th-Century Tin Plane
20th-Century Tin Plane | Source

Top Faves

Personally, I love the Mingei's huge collection of antique toys. The Noah's Ark above is one of the best I've seen. You can also find intricate dollhouses, toy models, figurines, dolls, and vintage games.

I would say the most popular piece at the Mingei belongs to Henry Darger. The late Henry Darger and his expansive illustrated story were the subject of the 2004 documentary, "The Realms of the Unreal", named after his signature work.

The Realms of the Unreal

This is why folk art is so unique. While established artists ruled the fine art world, tradesman, hobby artists, and complete unknowns were the stars of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Henry Darger himself was a quiet recluse with day job as a janitor, and rigorously worked on his book whenever he had the chance.

4. Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin

1997 Glass - Fair use permission granted by the institution
1997 Glass - Fair use permission granted by the institution | Source

Arts & Crafts in the Modern Era

If you're in Wisconsin and prefer more contemporary art, then you'll need to stop by the Racine Art Museum. The RAM features both traveling and permanent collections, with a particular emphasis on works produced in the '80s and onward.

Here's a closer look at the Racine Art Museum

Past exhibitions include vibrant glass works from Daniel Greenberg, found object art from Kim Alsbrooks, and Joan Backes' popular 'Multi-Species Tree.' The RAM is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10:00 to 5:00 pm. You can also access their art history library by appointment.

5. The Center for Art in Wood (Philadelphia)


All About Woodworking

The Arts & Crafts Movement revolutionized woodworking, and its influence resonates today with such artists as Alan Stirt, Alan Ritzman, and Amy Forsyth. These are just a few of the many wood artists featured at the Center for Art in Wood.

The center has over 1,000 wood pieces, including a permanent collection that primarily features work from the 1980s to now. In the spirit of innovation, the center also offers residencies to up-and-coming woodworking artists in Philly.

If you'd like to visit the center, drop by anytime between 10:00 and 6:00 pm Tuesday through Saturday. The museum is also open on Sundays between noon and 4:00 pm.

Discover Pioneers in Woodworking

The Center for Art in Wood is also a wonderful source for woodworking history and even launched a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary on Emil Milan. Milan was one of the most influential woodworkers of his day, but his legacy went virtually unnoticed until recently.

Learn more in this quick 2015 documentary produced by the center:

Finding Emil Milan

Let Your Art Adventure Begin

This about wraps up my top 5 list, but I can send off without these honorable mentions:

  • Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles
  • Museum of Art and Design in NYC
  • Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft
  • Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco
  • Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe

And don't forget! Check and see if these museums are offering free admission days to save big.

Bonus: 10 More Museums You Have to Visit


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