A photo of Smug Mug by Houston artist Jason Kishell is on the cover of Humor in Craft, a new coffee-table photo book that author Brigitte Martin, artist Nathan Dube and Kishell are discussing and signing on Saturday at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. (Dube and Kishell both have work included in the volume.)
As soon as she saw the mug by Kishell, Martin knew that was what she wanted on the cover of the book. “You have craft, you have art and you have an area in craft and art that overlaps,” says Martin. “That’s the area that I’m dealing with. You will see some functional objects. The mug by Jason Kishell, yes, it’s a mug, but it goes beyond its function. This is what this whole book is about, the overlap of craft and art.”
Martin, who is the editor of Crafthaus, an online social network for artisans, began the book after seeing work by Crafthaus members that showed a sense of humor. “I started to notice that some of the work was just humorous,” she tells Art Attack. “The artwork was quirky, or the way they showed the work was funny. I started to collect images of the work, and somehow the idea formed to do a book on the topic.”
Martin says she hopes the humor in the pieces helps the book reach an audience beyond people who are already fans of craft art. “I’m married to a non-artist. My husband is an attorney. If I speak to him about craft, I lose him after five seconds. First his eyes glaze over and then they roll back in his head. However, if I show him an image that’s funny, he’s more willing to engage with the work because he has something to latch onto.”
At first she was going to organize the book according to medium, a section on furniture, another on glass, another on ceramics. “When the images came in, I could not put them into categories anymore. They were each unique expressions. I had to come up with another way to structure the book.” In the end, she arranged the artists alphabetically.
The first part of the book is made up of images, and the second part is made up of artist commentary. It’s all written in plain English, no art-speak. “When you get coffee-table books, you get lots of images, but not a lot of explanation. Or if you do get explanation, it’s not very approachable. It was important to me to give the artists a voice in my book,” she says. “I want this book to be read and to be enjoyed, and for that I needed it to be in plain English.”
Although images of craftwork from around the world cross her desk every day, the diversity of humorous work was a surprise to Martin. Among the artists featured in the book is Richard Ford, who creates furniture for children. His work looks as if it came straight out of an Alice in Wonderland movie. In his artist statement, Ford writes about wanting to engage viewers but also admits, “I always wanted to be a stand-up comic but never had the guts, so I live vicariously through my furniture.”
Susan Taylor Glasgow contributed an image of a chandelier dress created from glass. Glasgow describes her work as “the result of homemaking skills gone awry.” Instead of applying her skills to the usual housewife duties, Glasgow cooks, arranges and sews glass. (Yes, sewsglass.)
The book includes images of work by an artist known simply as Mrs. Smith. Martin describes her as a middle-aged housewife who also happens to be a guerilla artist. Adept at knitting and sewing, she says her friends and family — even her dog — all have more than enough of her “woolies” so she’s moved on to decorating the rest of the world. “She sees a bus stop or a phone booth and thinks it looks forlorn, so she decorates it,” says Martin. One image in the book, A Touch of Comfort at a London Bus Stop, shows a bus stop shelter decked out in ruffles made from a cheerful pink, green and white print. A ruffled trim runs around the top of the shelter, another covers the seats. Mrs. Smith has even fixed two stuffed pillows to the shelter’s wall and wrapped bows around the structure’s legs. In A More Homely Kiosk, she’s added bright orange curtains tied back with yellow bows to the doorway of a phone booth; she’s added a tall white vase holding long-stemmed fabric flowers to the inside. “It’s all very tongue-in-cheek,” laughs Martin.
Author Brigitte Martin and artists Jason Kishell and Nathan Dube appear at 11 a.m. on Saturday for an artist’s talk and book signing at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft at 4848 Main. For information, visit the center’s website or call 713-529-4848. The event is free.