Inspired by the COVID pandemic which put us in mandatory and at times self-imposed lockdown, the current exhibit at The Renwick Gallery, titled “The Present Moment: Crafting a Better World,” explores the concept of ‘home.’
“I got the idea for the exhibition for the idea of home during the pandemic, when I was home all the time,” explained Mary Savig, one of the exhibits curators. “I thought about creating scales of shelter to help discover what home can mean.”
The first floor of the gallery uses the five themes – egg, nest, house, country, and universe as a point of departure, said Savig. “The exhibit is filled with sculptures that resemble eggs, baskets (or nests), craft that depicts useful house objects, crafts that illustrate the history of the United States, and planetary objects that resemble the universe,” she said.
The second floor explores scales of time, which includes responding to the present, past, and future.
“This comprises art that represents living in a time that is anxious for many reasons and includes handcrafted face masks and pieces that capture struggle and resilience, said Savig.
One such example is a crafted quilt by Sherry Kerry Haran, titled “Portrait of Resilience,” which features an African American woman and is made of fabric she designed herself that she cuts up and resews together to create layers. She pieces this fabric together with African kente cloth that appears in the girl’s blouse; she uses an American flag for her lips and nose; a 2020 golden necklace made with faux leather; and images of the Coronavirus in the bows on her braids, as COVID has disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous, and other people of color at a higher rate than white people throughout the U.S.
Kerry-Harlan writes, “despite these dire situations, resilience remains among African Americans and their allies to realize a better future.”
“The piece reflects her feeling of current events … the pandemic and the cascade of events that affirmed structures of racism in American society,” Savig said. “The stiches in the quilt carry stories of pain and there are stiches that mend.”
“Quilts conjure feelings of home, beginning in the cradle,” says Carolyn Mazloomi, founder of the Women of color Quilters Network. “Cloth is the first thing we are swathed in upon birth, and the last thing that touches the body upon our death.”
Another work, by furniture maker Katie Hudnall, is a nut case. Hudnall was going through a tough time and on her long, contemplative walks she collected 178 acorns and a special shelter, which materialized as a curvilinear suitcase featuring a square – a home – for each one.
“The walks became a way to find myself back to my mind and body again and to be really present,” Hudnall said.
The piece communicates that “life is about all the tiny failures we make, and one of the acorns can grow into a giant oak tree,” Savig said.
Kerry Haran’s and Hudnall’s works are a part of 135 recently acquired works made by a broadly representative and diverse group of American artists, according to Renwick’s press spokeswoman Rebekah Mejorado.
Savig adds: “These pieces push the boundaries of how relevant craft is to our lives. They tell a story, show someone’s perspective, teach empathy, and expand how we view craft and how it can function in our everyday lives.”
The exhibit marks the 50th anniversary of SAAM’s Renwick Gallery as the nation’s premier museum dedicated to American craft. The anniversary acquisition campaign, begun in 2020, focused on artworks increased the number of Black, Latinx, Asian American, LGBTQ+, indigenous and women artists.
“These objects deepen the history of the studio craft movement while also introducing contemporary artworks that push the boundaries of what is considered to be handmade in the 21st century,” Mejorado writes.
“The exhibition highlights the role that artists play in our world to spark essential conversations, stories of resilience and methods of activism … it acknowledges often-overlooked histories and contributions of women, people of color, and other marginalized communities,” says a Renwick press release.
The exhibition display includes verbal description for 16 key artworks that are available for public use online via personal screen readers, through Aira, a visual interpretation service, and on paper in large print at the Renwick Gallery. The verbal descriptions are part of the museum’s initiative to increase accessibility of artworks for blind and low-vision visitors.
This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World, is organized by Mary Savig, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, with support from Nora Atkinson, the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge for the Renwick Gallery; Anya Montiel, curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian; and Elana Hain, collections manager.
The exhibit opened May 13, 2022; and will run to April 2, 2023.