by Miriam Blumenfeld
We are all connected to a veteran; be a family member or a story of war. During Summer 2015, I worked with the exhibitions team at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco to create a Gallery Guide that tells more in-depth stories about each veteran/artists. The Guide augments the exhibition Art and Other Tactics: Contemporary Craft by Artist Veterans (September 26th, 2015 through March 27th 2016); this exhibition shows crafts and art objects created by more than 30 veterans who are artists spanning the past half-century.
The Museum of Craft and Design strives to present relevant and engaging programs and exhibitions about craft and design. I believe that Art and Other Tactics is a great example of an engaging exhibition that will inspire audiences to reflect inwardly as well and contemplate the veteran experience. The relevance of this exhibition is timeless; our country’s history is built on the backs of our veterans who fought both willingly and unwillingly in many international conflicts that defined their eras. The opportunity to display art that reflects the veteran’s experience is crucial to understanding ourselves as Americans.
I worked with Curatorial Assistant and Registrar Ariel Zaccheo to develop a comprehensive booklet that gives a narrative to each piece of artwork. My research involved compiling and synthesizing biographies, articles, art critiques and interviews. The stories I came upon grounded and astounded me; each veteran used art to reflect on the trials of life. The connectivity between all veterans’ experiences is fascinating, while at the same time each story is unique and reflects a new component of the human condition.
Harvey Littleton was a glassmaker and served in an intelligence unit during the Second World War. After his service, Littleton pursued his long awaited passion of sculpture and glassmaking. Littleton fueled the United States small glass studio movement in the early 1960s; his collaborative experiments in glassmaking made the career of Dale Chihuly possible.
A Vietnam veteran and glass artists Michael Aschenbrenner jumped from a helicopter and injured his knee; for two weeks he had no access to medical aid. This injury stayed with him both physically and mentally and is reflected in much of his work. After his service Aschenbrenner attended University of Minnesota; a ceramics professor suggested exploring glass to best convey his concepts. The glass forms subtly show the form of a human bone in Aschenbrenner’s Damaged Bones series. Like injuries in war, the forms are splinted with wooden sticks wrapped in medical tape. The glass forms themselves are ghostly, “Life itself is fragile—like bone, like glass; and therefore all the more precious. The glass objects connect us to the limbs and bodies left behind and the limbs splinted, wired or bandaged left to heal.”
Jessica Putnam-Phillips was born into a military family. She was raised all over the world as a “Navy-brat”. Putnam-Phillips served in the US Air Force as a military intelligence specialist and deployed to the Middle East. During her time in the Middle East she became fascinated with gender roles. In Putnam-Phillips’ “Pretty Little Things” series, ceramic platters and plates depict female servicewomen in combat juxtaposed with traditional tableware motifs and decoration. Putnam-Phillips combines military iconography with traditional elements of classical Willow Ware china patterns.
The narratives I discovered caused me to reflect on my own life and the lives of veterans who have seen and experienced unspeakable tragedy and rebuilding.
- A film screening of PBS’s documentary Craft in America: Service (Thursday, November 5, 7pm) “Craft in America: Service explores the creativity and healing of our nation’s soldiers and veterans.”
MCD Speaker Series with artists featured in Art and Other Tactics exhibition
- Communication through Craft: Judas Recendez (Saturday, October 10, 2:00-3:30pm)
- Ehren Tool (Thursday, December 3 6:30 PM – 8:00pm
MCD Design Lab: Pam Deluco of Shotwell Paper Mill
A paper-making workshop with Pam Deluco that “reflects her innovative work on the Paper Doll Project, and with Combat Paper.” (Saturday, December 12 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM)
For tickets and more information visit: http://www.sfmcd.org/programs/adults/
For more information on USF’s Museum Studies program, click here.