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Meeting the Artists at The Smithsonian Craft Show

Updated on April 27, 2013
The grand atrium of the National Building Museum (upper two stories).
The grand atrium of the National Building Museum (upper two stories). | Source

The Smithsonian Craft Show

The Smithsonian Craft Show, one of the nation’s most prestigious juried shows, attracts skilled artists and craftsman in glass, fiber, paper, wood, ceramics, metal and many other media from around the country. This year it runs from April 25-28 in the grand main atrium of the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. The show is produced annually by the Smithsonian’s Women’s Committee, which for 47 years has used the proceeds to fund over 10 million dollars in grants to different projects within the Smithsonian for research, education and outreach. This year there were over 1200 applicants to exhibit; a jury reviews the applications and there were only 121 selectees, making the show both intimate and extremely high quality. The artists staff their booths themselves, answering questions about their work. For the casual attendee the prices of the artwork may be out of reach, but the opportunity to chat in person with artists about what they do is priceless.

Landscapes in Paper

Sherri McDonald of Paper Mountain Studio came all the way from Southeast Alaska for her first ever exhibit at the Smithsonian Craft show. Not only is this her first exhibit at this show it is her first outside Alaska. She is staying with a friend in Maryland and taking the metro to and from the show each day. Ms. McDonald creates intricate, painterly collages of landscapes seen in her home state. Her work is richly colored and softly textured. The colors blend so smoothly you have to examine her work closely to realize it is paper collage. Ms. McDonald states it takes her between 3 and five months to complete most of her collages. She laughingly stated her best year ever was 5 collages. During the day she works teaching art to disabled persons, and then after her children are in bed she works until midnight in her studio. She admitted she gets tired but has gotten used to getting by on 5 hours of sleep. She started out working in bookbinding, and when she moved to Alaska she was creating her own, handbound blank books. She began doing collages as a way to create cover art for her books. Over time she began to exhibit and sell the collages themselves, although she admits she hates to sell her work and has kept many of her favorite pieces as well as selling work to family members to keep them in the family. Her work is available through her online marketplace www.papermountainstudio.com.

Jewelry, baskets and hats are among the many intriguing crafts found at the Smithsonian Craft Show.
Jewelry, baskets and hats are among the many intriguing crafts found at the Smithsonian Craft Show. | Source
Friends trying on wearable art at the Smithsonian Craft Show.
Friends trying on wearable art at the Smithsonian Craft Show. | Source

Fabulous Quilts

Liz Jaff, from New York, is another first time exhibitor at the Smithsonian Craft Show, which is also her first exhibit of her beautiful quilted fabrics. She features bedcovers, pillows and notecards with quilted designs. She has been quilting for 4 years and sees it as a natural outgrowth of her work as a sculptor and painter. She taught herself sewing because quilting and fabric art allows her to work in color. Her centerpiece of the Smithsonian Craft Show exhibit is a full size red and white quilt using vintage Japanese and French fabrics as well as modern fashion fabric. The quilt is fully reversible, with different patterns on each side. The main panel of the displayed side is a banner from a Shinto temple that had been retired from the shrine. The panel is red with white Japanese kanji of the word “Inari,” the fox-god the shrine was dedicated to. It also has the names of the couple who initially gave it to the shrine. Ms. Jaff is upbeat and outgoing. She states that anyone can learn to sew; it’s just a question of how much you want to learn. She encourages taking sewing classes to learn basic technique. You can find her online at www.jaffworks.com.

Weavings with Spirit

Also from Wisconsin, Wence and Sandra Martinez are a husband and wife team who are also exhibiting for the first time at the Smithsonian Craft Show. Their corner booth displays amazing weavings done by Wence in the traditional style of his Zapotec heritage. He uses churro wool which is handspun and which he then hand dyes. The designs on the weavings are drawn by Sandra, who has been doing primitive drawing for 30 years. Her inspirations are Haitian metal work and automatic writing. Sandra is a warm, engaging friendly woman who talks readily about her work and her life, laughing as she recounts a visit to a country music festival where they went incognito by wearing cowboy hats. Her drawing does not begin with a particular concept but instead she calms herself and lets her work flow. She uses her drawings to honor nature and spirit. Lately, because of her concerns about genetically modified corn in Oaxaca, where she and Wence have spent large amounts of time, she has been paying tribute to plants in her work. However she encourages visitors to their booth to describe what they see in her work, appreciating the differing interpretations. Their website at http://martinezstudio.com/ offers further work and details about their process.

Bring the Forest Home

Bill Perkins creates sturdy furniture using twigs and stones that brings the outdoors inside. His comfortable sturdy rocking chairs look as though they grew out of the forest floor. When asked why rocks and twigs he laughed and commented that they go together because they are rustic. He obtains his rocks from Lake MI and applies varnish to make them more attractive. He developed a technique of creating a basket for rocks under the surface of his tables by accident; he was creating a mirror panel when the mirror broke. He decided to turn the project into a table and instead of filling the hole in with a wood panel he wove a basket to hold some rocks and covered the surface with glass. He says people loved it and he has continued to create them. You can find his furniture online at www.sleepingbeartwigfurniture.com.

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    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      As an artisan, I can't even imagine what an amazing opportunity it must be to attend this show as a participant. Wow! It would probably be the coolest thing in my life ever if I were to attend.

    • Rose Anne Karesh profile image
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      Rose Anne Karesh 4 years ago from Virginia

      Hi Natashahl, I hope you make it there someday! If you do let me know so I can stop by your booth.

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