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Coming of Age
September 7 April 6, 2003
While the Mint Museum of Craft + Design is a recent arrival within the museum world, having opened its doors in January of 1999, the origins of its collection took root in 1937. The first craft object donated to the newly-opened Mint Museum of Art 65 years ago, Ben Owen's Han Vase, proved a presage to the evolution of craft in the mid and latter half of the 20th century. That evolution serves as an underpinning for the exhibition Coming of Age, on display September 7, 2002 through April 3, 2003 at Charlotte's Mint Museum of Craft + Design. (left: Christopher Dresser, Tri-legged Sugar Bowl, ca.1875-1880)
Coming of Age is an overview of the 65 year growth of the museum's permanent collection, ranging from the 19th century utilitarian pottery and crafts of the Carolinas to today's art works created by studio artists and designers throughout the world.
Owen's Han Vase is representative of the changes in craft making brought on by America's Machine Age. By the 1930s, mass production nearly obliterated the demand for the hand-made work of fiber, clay and wood. The availability of glass and metal containers at the turn of the century threatened North Carolina's pottery lineage, the nation's oldest continuing ceramic tradition outside of Native American production. The marketing talents of Jacque and Julia Busbee, owners of Jugtown Pottery in Seagrove, NC, and the exceptional skill of their master potter, Ben Owen, became the model for traditional potters to adapt from producing crocks and jugs to more colorful forms and glazes in creating tourist wares vases, teapots, pitchers, tableware and specialty items. Owen's talent at blending indigent pottery skills with the inspirations of ancient Chinese ceramic forms to create his unique "Oriental wares" proved popular with visitors to Carolina resorts and with customers at the Busbees' crafts outlet in New York City. Collectors soon found their way to the tiny town of Seagrove which continues to flourish today with approximately 125 potteries and an innovative culture that blends studio pottery alongside traditional production methods.
Nearly three decades later, the Mint Museum of Art established the Piedmont Purchase Awards as a way for the museum to build its collection of noteworthy art. The museum's craft collection began in earnest with the 1964 acquisition of John Acorn's brazed steel sculpture Growth Form. That same year, the first in a series of Piedmont Craft Exhibitions was held. This annual and later bi-annual exhibition quickly became one of the most important venues for craft artists in the Southeast to showcase and sell contemporary craft. (left: Nils Landberg, Tulip Glass, 1957)
Much like the kiln openings of popular Carolina potters, there was great anticipation among craft collectors before the opening of each exhibition. Artists from the juried exhibit were invited afterwards to sell their craft at the Browse, Borrow & Buy Gallery (later the 501 Gallery) operated by the museum. In later years, the 501 Gallery operated out of the basement of Montaldo's, Charlotte's most prestigious department store. Decades later, through a magnanimous gift from Bank of America, Montaldo's was transformed into the Mint Museum of Craft + Design. The Piedmont Crafts Exhibitions ran for nearly 20 years. The works acquired over that period became the foundation of the museum's craft collection.
By the 1980s, collectors began to provide significant depth and scope to the museum's collection, beginning with the 1983 acquisition of Dorothy and Walter Auman's nearly 2,000-piece collection of historic North Carolina pottery. Allan Chasanoff's 1995 gift of a 453-piece contemporary ceramic collection provided an important link to the pioneers of the international ceramic movement and served as a catalyst for the creation of the Mint Museum of Craft + Design. Arthur and Jane Mason's subsequent donation of 120 works of turned wood document the seminal years of wood turning, and how it emerged into an art form (1985-2000). Established in 1998, The Founders' Circle, the museum's support group, enhanced the museum's holdings of ceramics, fiber, glass, metalwork and wood. Their contribution to the contemporary craft collection was instrumental in addressing and fulfilling the overall needs of building a comprehensive collection. Whereas gifts from several donors, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, provided a base holding of American studio glass, more recent donations by Lisa and Dudley Anderson highlight the work of Czech glass artists. In addition, the Baltimore album quilts, log cabin, Amish and crazy quilts from the Fleur and Charles Bresler Collection of historic quilts (1800-1955), provide an interesting contrast to the museum's collection of contemporary fiber art.
Since its inception in 1999, the Mint Museum of Craft + Design has earned international recognition for the exceptional quality, range and distinction of its growing collections. Experimentation and innovation in technique, material and design abound in Coming of Age, as seen in Harvey Littleton's White Flat & 90% Twisted blown glass, Bob Trotman's Polkadot Tornado Chair and Tina Rath's Purple Mink Hanging Wrap Necklace. Coming of Age traces the evolution of the museum's collection by illustrating the innovative work of 20th and 21st century craftspeople and designers, as well as the generous patrons who have helped to shape this institution. (left: Benjamin Wade Owen, "Han" Vase, 1937)
"The Mint Museum of Craft + Design continues to be an exciting work in progress," stated curator Melissa Post. "Coming of Age illuminates the depth and breadth of the museum's craft collection and the exciting frontier that awaits us in the field of design. Though this is a long-term project, we have already begun to compile a 'wish list' of 20th century design icons we feel are crucial to this project. The recent acquisition of a rare, silver-plate Tri-legged Sugar Bowl (ca.1875-1880) by the "father of Modern Design", Dr. Christopher Dresser, is perhaps the most significant acquisition in this area. There has been an outpouring of generosity by patrons interested in developing this area of the collection. In building our design collection, we hope the Mint Museum of Craft + Design will also become an important design resource, a leader in the field of 20th and 21st century design."
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