Featuring a range of objects created over the past 60 years, the exhibition What Would Mrs. Webb Do? A Founder’s Vision celebrates Aileen Osborn Webb, who established the Museum of Arts and Design, then the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, in 1956. On view from September 23, 2014, through February 8, 2015, the exhibition explores how Webb, through her advocacy work at MAD and other leading institutions across the country and internationally, championed the skilled maker as integral to America’s future.
"Aileen Osborn Webb was one of the great visionaries of the twentieth century," says Glenn Adamson, MAD’s Nanette L. Laitman Director. "Her progressive conception of how the world around us can be made more humanely, more responsibly, has never been more relevant. With this project, we want to remind people of this amazing woman’s many achievements, and show how the Museum today is carrying her mission forward."
With over 100 works encompassing glass, ceramics, wood, metalwork, and fiber, nearly all from the Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition pays tribute to Webb while also illustrating the ongoing impact of her advocacy. Represented makers – all of whom directly benefitted from the support of Webb and others who shared her ideals -- include Sam Maloof and Joris Laarman (furniture); Jack Lenor Larsen and Lia Cook (textiles); Peter Voulkos and Jun Kaneko (ceramics); Harvey Littleton and Judith Schaechter (glass); and John Prip and Myra Mimlitsch-Gray (metal). What Would Mrs. Webb Do? also explores the contributions of Nanette L. Laitman and the Windgate Foundation, two key proponents for skilled makers today.
A press preview for the exhibition will be held September 23, 2014 at 9:00 am.
“Modern makers owe a debt to Mrs. Webb, who created the first professional framework for craftspeople to meet, exchange ideas, and show their work,” says exhibition curator Jeannine Falino. “We are sharing some of the best pieces made during her tenure along with examples by artists today who continue to benefit from her progressive ideas.”
The exhibition is organized in two parts. First is a selection of outstanding work by American makers from the 1950s to the late 1960s whose practice directly benefitted from the support of Webb. This part of the exhibition highlights the many crafts-related institutions that she launched, such as the American Craft Council, the School of American Craftsmen, and the World Crafts Council. All still form a vital support structure for today’s makers. Here the exhibition also surveys the museum’s achievements under her direction, with a focus on the landmark exhibition Objects: USA, which opened in 1969 and subsequently traveled to thirty museums here and abroad.
The second part of the exhibition focuses on those who carry Mrs. Webb’s vision forward to the present day. Nanette L. Laitman (a current trustee of the Museum) promotes our mission in countless ways, and also provided support for 235 recorded oral histories of American craftsmen by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Excerpts of these interviews are highlighted in the exhibition alongside key examples of these craftsmen’s works of art. Some of the Museum’s most recent and celebrated acquisitions on view also underscore the role played by the Windgate Foundation in shaping the current discourse on contemporary craft through its support of makers and non-profit institutions–the Museum of Arts and Design among them.
What Would Mrs. Webb Do? showcases the strength of the Museum’s permanent collection. From groundbreaking works by early masters Wharton Esherick, Anni Albers, and John Paul Miller, to recent creations by Judith Schaechter, Hiroshi Suzuki, and Joris Laarman, visitors are presented with a breadth of achievements that Mrs. Webb first set in motion. The Museum of Arts and Design continues to uphold Webb’s commitment to creative, skilled entrepreneurs with projects like NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial (on view through October 12).
Highlights from the exhibition include the following works:
Wharton Esherick’s library ladder (1966). Considered the dean of the modern studio craft movement, Esherick was honored in 1959 as the subject of the Museum’s first one-man show.
Merry Renk’s White Cloud wedding crown (1968), which was made expressly for the Museum’s Objects: USA exhibition, and is shown alongside her original working templates.
A large earthenware vessel (1957) thrown by Austrian-born potter Gertrud Natzler, for which her husband, Otto Natzler, created a rich volcanic glaze.
The Young Hercules (1967) by Ed Rossbach, which revisits ancient, diminutive Coptic textiles with a broad, crocheted rendition, fragments included.
Marguerite Wildenhain’s delicately scaled yet rigorously thrown pitcher from the 1950s that was owned by Mrs. Webb, an avocational potter.
Betty Woodman’s large wall installation entitled Pompeii (1991). The American Craft Council is honoring Woodman this year with the Gold Medal for Consummate Craftsmanship.
The quiet perfectionism of jeweler Thomas Gentille’s pin (1991) made of synthetic resin and pigment inlays reveals the artist’s use of non-precious materials to exquisite ends.
MacArthur Foundation recipient Tom Joyce’s Inlaid Square Bowl (1998), in which Joyce updates the blacksmith’s traditional role of crafting objects for use to fashioning a vessel for contemplation. Like many artists in the exhibition, Joyce’s oral history was recorded by the Archives of American Art thanks to the generosity and vision of Nanette L. Laitman and excerpts of his comments will be on view. See his newly-installed outdoor sculptures on the Broadway side of the Museum.
The trompe-l’oeil creation Story Book (2002) celebrating the book arts and executed in wood, a fabulous feat of the imagination made possible through deft craftsmanship and expert design. Made by Michele Holzapfel with a team of craftsmen including David Holzapfel, Donna Hawes, Dan MacArthur, Kim Thayer, Steve Smith, and Brown & Roberts Hardware.
New collaborations, reminiscent of the postwar designer-craftsman era, that are carried forward by artists like Ted Muehling, whose Branch Candlesticks (2002) were fabricated by German porcelain manufacturer Nymphenburg.
Joris Laarman’s Maker Chair (2014), comprised of 3-D printed puzzle parts that assemble to create furniture. Through its name and method of fabrication, the Maker Chair reflects the changing notion that creating has expanded beyond the physical to include the virtual world.