Smithsonian American Art Museum

formerly named

National Museum of American Art

Washington, D.C.



The Renwick Invitational: Five Women in Craft


"The Renwick Invitational: Five Women in Craft," the first in a new biennial exhibition series introducing the work of exceptional artists established in their respective craft fields, yet worthy of greater recognition, continues through August 20, 2000 at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The exhibition features metal forms by Myra Mimlitsch Gray, baskets by Mary Jackson, carved porcelain and wood by Janel Jacobson, jewelry and body ornaments by Sondra Sherman and fiber weavings by Consuelo Jiménez Underwood.

Eleanor T. and Samuel J. Rosenfeld have made the exhibition possible through their generous support.

"We are thrilled to provide a national forum to showcase the work of deserving artists from all regions of the United States," said Kenneth Trapp, Renwick curator-in-charge. "These five women demonstrate some of the creative vitality of current explorations in contemporary craft."

Gray's art challenges traditional ideas of household forms and their functions. She uses metals to create provocative statements that recall the history of metalworking in the decorative arts; that memorialize the lives and culture of socially prominent women; and that embody past domestic rituals surrounding such elegant objects as cream pitchers, sugar bowls, candlesticks, serving spoons and other objects little used today. Gray, who teaches metalsmithing in New Paltz, N.Y., has created ambitious trays in brass and copper, such as "Handwrought Brass Tray" (1998). Her oversize and monumental objects refer to function in their form but are too large in scale to be usable. (left: Myra Mimlitsch Gray, Sugar Bowl and Creamer III, 1996, raised, formed and constructed copper, sugar bowl: 11 x 7 x 5 inches, creamer: 11 x 9 1/2 x 4 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of James Renwick Alliance on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Renwick Gallery)

Jackson weaves sweetgrass baskets in the tradition of her African-American forebears, while making subtle variations on forms and techniques. She comments that she is sewing her ancestry into each basket. In "Open Vessel with Sweetgrass Spray" (1997), the unbound basket handle bursts forth, while the intricate weaving of palmetto, bullrush and sweetgrass creates exquisite light and dark patterns. By exaggerating the size and curve of the basket handle in "Untitled with Handle" (1999), Jackson, who works in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., creates an intensely elegant sculptural form. (left: Mary Jackson, Covered Box with French Knots, 1990, coiled bulrush, sweetgrass, pine needles and palmetto, 9 1/2 x 16 inches, David L. Rawle)

For 20 years, Jacobson created wheel-thrown porcelain boxes and vessels with delicate carvings that were glazed with limpid green and blue translucent finishes. In recent work - inspired by nature and Japanese netsukes (the intricate toggles designed to clasp kimonos) - Jacobson carves three-dimensional tableaux in porcelain and wood. Katydids light on wild plum tree branches in "Autumn Serenade" (1992), while a frog sits poised to lap up its lunch in "Ready!" (1991). "Each piece is an intimate look at creatures and plants in their natural environment, a story which might arouse quiet memories in the mind of the viewer," says Jacobson, who works in Harris, Minn. (left: Janel Jacobson, June Bug Moon, 1991, carved and blue-glazed porcelain, 3 3/4 x 1 1/8 inches, Michael and Patricia Owens)

Sherman, who recently moved to New Paltz, N.Y., from Savannah, Ga., is a sophisticated studio jewelry maker whose necklaces, rings and brooches seem to contain poetic meaning; each is displayed in a special presentation box fabricated by the artist. In "Armor and Amor" (1995) - the title alluding to men and women and their impossible expectations of romantic love - a pair of pendants (male/female) are suspended on a chain. Sherman chooses pink cubic zirconia for the "feminine" pendant - yet by setting the stones upside down, they take on a prickly character. For the "masculine" companion pendant, Sherman frames the crystals with delicate stitches of silver - evoking a pinstriped "power suit," replete with a Jester's collar. Sherman' s lyrical neckpieces, such as "My Waterfall" (1997), are designed to complement the wearer's movements. (left: Sondra Sherman, Venus and Cupid, 1991-93, Repousséed and constructed 24k gold, sterling silver, bronze, fine silver, chandelier crystals, glass, and watch hands, box: 15 x 9 x 2 1/2 inches, display area: 15 x 18 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches, neckpiece: 16 x 8 x 5/8 inches, Susan Cummins Gallery)

Underwood is a fiber artist whose pictorial wall hangings are imbued with social and political meaning based on her experiences as a Latina in San Jose, Calif. "Virgen de los Caminos" (Virgin of the Highways), 1994, references the crossing of undocumented Mexicans and other nationals from Latin America into the United States. The wall hanging questions the superficiality of national borders. Underwood places the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, in the center of the work and repeatedly stitches the word "caution," along with strands of embroidered barbed wire into the background. The artist questions, "Is the word 'caution' meant for the people coming in or for the people who already live here?" (left: Consuelo Jiménez Underwood, The Sacred Jump, 1994, woven, silkscreened, and assembled silk, gold wire, barbed wire, and paint, 83 x 38 x 2 iches, Lent by the artist)

In "The Buffalo Shroud-Almost 1,000 Left" (1995), Underwood printed nearly 950 bison footprints under a silk-screened and embroidered cloth as a reminder of the 60 million bison slaughtered in the 19th century. Underwood asks, "How could the buffalo be such a valuable resource - food, shelter, clothing - to one people, yet regarded as inferior by another."

A free illustrated brochure, written by Trapp, accompanies the exhibition.

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street, N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Public information: (202) 357-2700 (voice); (202) 786-2393 (TTY); (202) 633-9126 (Spanish).

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