Beyond Useful & Beautiful: Rethinking Domestic Craft

October 1, 2011 — January 8, 2012

This fall, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) presents Beyond Useful & Beautiful: Rethinking Domestic Craft, on view in the large gallery October 1, 2011 – January 8, 2012.

Craft has always had a strong tie to the domestic sphere. Historically, craft objects were made with a functional purpose, whether it was ceramic plates used for meals or quilts to keep people warm at night. Other crafts, such as needlepoint, served as leisure activities for women and frequently decorated people’s homes. This strong connection between craft and the home is critically explored in Beyond Useful & Beautiful: Rethinking Domestic Craft. The exhibition presents a variety of media—including furniture, wall paper, ceramics, quilts, needlepoint, glass and metal—in a series of domestic vignettes or “rooms” set up throughout the large gallery.

One of the founding fathers of the Arts & Crafts Movement, William Morris, famously said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Taking this quote as a jumping-off point, HCCC Curator, Anna Walker, selected works by 13 contemporary artists that critique concepts of beauty and usefulness in their practice. The show features artists from all over the U.S., including four from Texas. Walker stated, “Beyond Useful & Beautiful is HCCC’s first exhibition in two years that is not based on a particular craft material or group of materials but, instead, explores an overarching conceptual theme—that of craft’s relationship to the home. Investigating domestic themes is a strong national trend in contemporary craft, and this exhibition attempts to capture this trend with brand-new work from 13 exciting artists.”

Of the five artists using furniture in their work, Dallas artist Shannon Brunskill is of particular note. Her piece, Vanity, has a cast-glass “mirror” affixed to an heirloom vanity. The subtle cracks found in the glass would typically cause the work to be seen as damaged, but Brunskill is actually interested in drawing attention to the imperfections, not hiding them. In this body of work, she references the fractures or damage everyone has from his or her childhood by using a process of annealing to intentionally crack the glass. Within the domestic sphere, her work speaks to the past lives of objects and the hidden history of events that each generation inherits in the form of hand-me-downs.

Throughout the exhibition space, artist Alison Owen will create a site-specific wallpaper installation that both reacts to the space and to the work of the other artists. Owen uses the dirt and debris she finds in her installation site to recreate historic, handmade wallpaper patterns. During the week leading up to the opening, she will clean the gallery and collect debris to create intricate designs, which she will then add to walls throughout the entire space. She draws inspiration from the other works in the show and may even reference these artworks in her wallpaper patterns. Upon viewing her work, visitors are often first struck by the beauty of her designs and then shocked when they realize the piece is made from dust, dirt and hair.

Inspired by her grandmother, who frequently began needle-point projects but never finished them, Mary Smull collects forgotten needle points from online auctions and thrift stores and then completes them with white yarn. By using only white yarn, Smull completes the pieces physically but not visually. With this practice, she preserves the labor initially invested by the anonymous artists and asks the viewer to question how people value the time of a trained artist versus a hobbyist. Needle point is an artistic medium that traditionally has been considered “women’s work,” and Smull highlights the conceptual ideologies related to how our culture values this type of leisure activity versus “high” art forms.

Featured Artists
Shannon Brunskill – Dallas, TX (glass)
Venetia Dale – Milwaukee, WI (metal)
Jennifer Ling Datchuk – San Antonio, TX (ceramic)
Jan Harrell – Houston, TX (enamel, metal)
BA Harrington – Madison, WI (furniture, wood, fiber)
Darryl Lauster – Arlington, TX (ceramic, furniture)
Lauren Mayer – Longmont, CO (ceramic)
Alison Owen – Providence, RI (installation)
Mary Smull – Philadelphia, PA (fiber, needlepoint)
Blake Jamison Williams – East Lansing, MI (ceramic)
Aaron McIntosh – Richmond, VA (fiber)
Jennifer Halvorson – Carbondale, IL (glass)

Above, from left to right: Shannon Brunskill, Vanity. Cast glass and found objects, 60″ x 48′ x 16″. Photo by Sean Brecht. Venitia Dale, Touchmarks: No. 901 Made in India. Pewter. 14″ x 13.5″ x 13″. Photo courtesy the artist. Mary Smull, Blue Boy. Found unfinished needlepoint completed by artist using only white yarn. 20″ x 26″. Photo courtesy the artist.