Mint Museum of Craft + Design

Charlotte, NC




The White House Collection of American Crafts

January 10 - May 30, 1999


Photo by Michael LoBiondo

It is perhaps fitting that the final stop for the national tour of the exhibition The White House Collection of American Crafts is part of the opening celebration of a new museum dedicated to the appreciation of international craft. The White House craft collection will be on display in Charlotte, North Carolina January 10th through May 30th as one of two inaugural exhibitions at the Mint Museum of Craft + Design.

The exhibition is organized by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Art. The Mint Museum Auxiliary is sponsoring its Charlotte appearance.

Assembled in 1993 at the request of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, The White House Collection of American Crafts features 72 works by 77 of America's leading craft artists of today. Michael W. Monroe, former Curator in Charge of the National Museum' s Renwick Gallery, selected works for the collection in celebration of a Joint Resolution of Congress and a Presidential Proclamation by George Bush that 1993 be the "Year of American Craft: A Celebration of the Creative Works of the Hand."

Right: Photo by Michael LoBiondo

The 72 works in the collection illustrate the imagination, vitality and manipulative skill of artists working in glass, wood, clay, fiber and metal in the 1990s. "As the most industrialized century of our history draws to a close, this collection stands as testimony to a belief in the value of works of the hand," wrote Monroe in the exhibition catalog published by Harry N. Abrams Publishers, Inc. "Despite our increasing reliance on computer technology, the intimate and physical qualities of the handmade object have never had more appeal."

Monroe emphasized that the collection does not pretend to be a broad, exhaustive survey of all facets of contemporary craftmaking today. The criteria for inclusion was determined by the architecture, historical settings and the furnishings of the White House period rooms, with careful considerations given to each room's color, texture and scale.

The most appropriate type of object for the majority of the settings proved to be the vessel form, among the richest areas of current craft expression in all mediums. A number of vessels selected by Monroe relate directly to classical and traditional shapes, such as Sonja Blomdahl's symmetrical blown glass Crimson/Green-Blue and John S. Cumming's exquisitely proportioned Porcelain Vase - Sang-de-Boeuf.

Exaggerations of form and color provide provocative contrasting relationships in many of the White House settings. Examples include Michael Sherrill's intensely colored, elongated ceramic Incandescent Bottles in the Vermeil Room, Harvey Littleton's blown glass Blue Orchid Implied Movement in the Blue Room and Ralph Bacerra' s "tree trunk" Teapot in an unusually vibrant and saturated hue of red, accented in gold and brightly colored geometric patterns.

Additional pieces in the White House Collection are indicative of the astonishing diversity of objects made today. Examples on display include Jon Kuhn's dazzling geometric glass sculpture Pastel Skies, Kari Lonning's woven and dyed rattan basket form Architexture, Suzanne L. Amendolara's sterling silver and 24K gold Flora, Scent Bottle and Ronald Kent' s Translucent Wood Bowl.

The backgrounds of the craft artists represented in the White House collection are equally as diverse. Self-taught Sam Maloof, at age 82, is still producing graceful wood forms such as the walnut Rocker # 60 in the collection. Potter Nathan Youngblood of New Mexico's Santa Clara Pueblo learned the elaborate detail work of his Black Carved Jar under years of study with his grandmother Margaret Tafoya, a pueblo potter.

Basketmakers Sharon and Leon Niehues first learned their craft through a book produced by the Arkansas Extension Service. Glassblower Dante Marioni developed his craft at the Penland (NC) School of Crafts and the Pilchuck (WA) Glass School. Melvin Lindquist used his engineering degree and background as a turret-lathe operator to develop new tools and innovative experiments in turning wood. Glass artists Dale Chilhuly and Mary Arm "Toots" Zynsky, metals artist Thomas Muir and ceramic artist Dimitri Michaelides are products of university training.

Craftsmanship is often transferred from one generation to another as represented by works in the White House collection by Melvin and Mark Lindquist, Harvey and John Littleton, Edward and Philip Moulthrop and Laney and Zachary Oxman.

Constant experimentation and the use of new technologies has brought about dynamic new possibilities for expression as evidenced by glass artist Sidney Hutter's employment of adhesives cured with ultraviolet light in binding cut and polished plate glass.

The White House Collection of American Crafts includes work by artists from all regions of the United States in all media, established masters to an emerging generation of new talent.

"We tried to elevate the role and visibility of American artisans, because there is some very fine work being done," said HilIary Rodham Clinton in an interview in ARTnews regarding the formation of the White House craft collection. "We look at some of the [decorative arts] that were given to the White House as gifts or were purchased in the 19th century -- and they were crafts of their time, so I think its important that we appreciate the artistry of crafts of our time."

The National Museum of American Art produced a virtual tour of The White House Collection of American Crafts on their Internet site at

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