The Art of Craft

The world of contemporary fine craft is extremely involved with touch.


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When it comes to making distinctions between contemporary art and contemporary fine craft, blame (or praise) Marcel Duchamp. He was the 20th century's most famous—and infamous—conceptual artist. After visiting the hardware store and plumbing supply in 1915, Duchamp delivered the shot heard round the art world that has reverberated 90 years. He placed a urinal on a pedestal and titled it "Fountain." By signing and designating the art object a "readymade," Duchamp proved that his quotable aphorisms—"removing the hand from the art object" and placing art "at the service of the mind"—would have a shelf life a lot longer than the average power tool.

Art versus craft vocabularies notwith-standing, what is clear is that the world of contemporary fine craft is extremely involved in touch. Fine craft represents an apogee of technical skill. It has an asethetics of surface, body and edge that relates to the material and tool choices made by the artisan.

Image Name

Charissa Brock
Bamboo and fused glass
Photo courtesy Jane Sauer Thirteen Moons pic Santa Fe

Fiber: Textiles, baskets, etc

Fiber is plant material, including paper, but think beyond the tree and the forest. Fiber can assume shapes and forms far removed from its original material.

Japanese masters of bamboo basket-making, represented by the Tai Gallery remote, are each able only to make a few baskets a year: notable among them are Yako Hoda's skyscraper-alluding architectonics, and Honma Kazuaki integrations of curve and rod. An Oregon craftsperson, Charissa Brock grows her bamboo near Portland for works that marry bamboo with blown glass petals--dissimilar but intriguingly paired materials. Basketmaker Jan Hopkins uses a soft material that holds its own integrity: citrus peel that shows an almost elastic fold.

Kiowa arist Teri Greeves beads narrative into eye-dazzling pairs of sneakers illustrated with family member portraits. Rebecca Medel crosses art-craft bridges, and seems to be operating in an Eva Hesse-inspired multiples strategy as she hangs her indigo dyed linen and cotton thread panels in successive rows. Olga de Amaral is a Colombian textile master whose hand-gessoed threads and use of gold leaf makes her textiles at once painterly and as iconic as church pageant flags.

Both Rebecca Bluestone and Ramona Sakiestewa treat fiber as canvas for explorations in color and form. Laura Foster Nicholson turns traditional subjects--a tree of life or a row of farm tools--contemporary. Viewers may want to discern whether artisans are working with freehand machine embroidery or with templated patterns, designed on computer, that can guide looms mechanically. Philosophers of the medium include Jane Sauer, co-director (with Janiece Jonsin) of Thirteen Moons and herself an innovative basketmaker. According to Sauer, by insisting on the quality of handmade, a gallery helps keep the crafts distinct from their relatives in the arts, where using computer-aided design is now common.


The late great ceramicist Beatrice Wood lived to be 103 and was frequently called a Dada-ist, even though clay was her career and color its calling card. Teapots by Porntip Sangvanich, a native of Thailand, nominate her as Wood legatee. They are brilliant about color and globe-trotting in influences, suggesting "Vienna 1900" married with "Memphis 1980", the Italian design movement.

While Andrea Fisher pic is a necessary stop for people interested in traditional Native ceramicists, Robert Nichols pic flies the contemporary flag of Native American clay with artists such as Diego Romero of Cochiti. Romero's patterned plates and bowls are fields for satirical comics and pop art-inspired word-text panels.

Image Name

Christian Burchard
Madrone wood burl
Photo courtesy of Patina Gallery pic Santa Fe

Michael Corney is obviously inspired by R. Crumb of the bawdy ZAP COMIX for his material. Dan Anderson riffs off Rt. 66 as inspiration for making ceramic oil cans.

The Anagama kiln firings of Chris Gustin result in pieces that are sculptural, abstract and very large scale. Jun Kaneko makes 12-foot patterned clay totems. Kellogg Johnson's amphora shapes relate to western classical forms. For finely crafted pots you can cook with and eat from, you want micaceous. Northern New Mexico has its master in Felipe Ortega whose usable kitchenwear demands display elsewhere beside the stove.

Ruth Duckworth is now a 70-year-old artist in Chicago who makes miniature sculptural marvels in white porcelain. Though the sculpture can be small, its scale far exceeds its actual size. Is it art? Craft? Sometimes it seems that context decides the issue.


Stand in front of a case of finely crafted wood objects and you will quickly notice how much about surface this medium is. Is the wood smooth and satiny? Or is it roughhewn and treated with a tool that may actually blacken or seem to scar it?

For a good number of years, wood aficionados have associated fine wood crafts with the art of wood turning. Bud Latven's turned vessels have a negative space sensibility--plentiful dashes inset in the form--that give them a feeling of motion. More classically straight, Philip Moulthrop's turned wood vessels are poised and coolly suave.

Christian Burchard works with the gnarled and crooked forms of madrone wood in his works carved by chainsaw. Jack Slentz's scorched ash work delivers to the whiteness and smooth grain of the ash its opposite and counterpoint of color and texture. Todd Hoyer splits vessel forms and inserts between the halves wooden disks that seem to be traveling across the passage.


Maybe it's the love and the light of Venice, or simply the fact that glass refracts, but one of glass' biggest appeals is the color that infuses and seems to distill the medium to a concentration up around 150 percent. Dante Marioni is a colorist and contemporary classicist working with a rococo flair. Benjamin Moore and Paul Cunningham both craft glass vases and jars that reflect an intensity of geometry and ensuing spectral perception.

Flo Perkins is a Santa Fe glassblower who turned from blowing sprays of glass flowers to making high whimsy--bright orange glass-blown traffic cones you wouldn't want to hit with a vacuum cleaner, much less a car.

Clearly, fine craft is commanding a lot of attention. You could say New Mexico has always been generous about the art versus craft distinctions. In Georgia O'Keeffe's last days, with her eyesight failing, she threw large black pots. Ceramist Ken Price's works accompanied Ellsworth Kelly paintings at Dave Hickey's SITE Santa Fe biennial in '01. On the national scene, the quilts of Gee's Bend got a best of show by critics and traveled from the Whitney Museum of American Art to other museums last year. You might consider all this the "hands back on" aphorism of the 21st century.

Thanks to Ellen Berkovitch, a writer living in Santa Fe, NM.

Originally appeared in
The Wingspread Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque
— Volume 18

Related Pages

700AD-1998: A Chronology of Fiber Art article
Blueprint of a Vessel article
Crafts: Many of a Kind article
Fine Craft in New Mexico article

Fused and Slumped Glass article
Glossary of Ceramic and Clay Terms article
The Thread of New Mexico article
Oriental Ceramics in New Mexico

Collector’s Resources


Weyrich Gallery | 505-883-7410

Elsewhere in New Mexico

Corrales Bosque Gallery | 505-898-7203

Santa Fe

Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery | 505.986.1234
Art of Russia Gallery | 505-466-1718
Bellas Artes | 505.983.2745
Folk Arts of Poland | 505.984.9882
LewAllen Galleries | 505-988-3250
Tansey Contemporary rem 652 Canyon Road | 505-995-8513
Shidoni Galleries / Sculpture Garden / Foundry | 505-988-8001
Tesuque Glassworks pic Bishop's Lodge Road | 505-988-2165


Act I Gallery & Sculpture Garden | 575-758-7831
La Tierra Mineral Gallery | 575-758-0101
Emily Benoist Ruffin Design | 575-758-1061


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