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The Renwick at 25

The Renwick at 25 presents just over one hundred works of art by ninety-two craft artists in celebration of the silver anniversary of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Except for seven pieces lent as promised gifts, these works are drawn from the Renwick's permanent collection. Most of these objects have never been on public view, and a substantial majority have been acquired by the Renwick Gallery since 1990. As a result, the selections themselves offer a perspective on the directions the Gallery has pursued in its collecting in recent years. At the Renwick, rather than collecting or exhibiting any piece on the basis of a possible practical function, the primary consideration is always the work's artistic merit. In addition to the obvious—that objects are chosen first for the museum's permanent collection and later for display in an exhibition—these particular objects were chosen to represent the wide variety of media employed by craft artists, the full spectrum of diversity of the artists themselves, and the broad range of aesthetic concerns presented by craft artists in their work.

"Craft" refers to works of art—often one-of-a-kind pieces—created from materials associated with traditional trades and industries, in particular clay, glass, wood, metal, and fiber. The studio craft movement in the United States is in fact merely the most recent manifestation of the urge to make serviceable objects from available natural materials, an urge that dates to ancient or even prehistoric times. Since the 1950s the contemporary studio craft movement has evolved in ways that often blur the traditional distinctions between the decorative arts and painting and sculpture.

In the never-ending argument about whether "craft" is "art," we often return to the issue of what materials are appropriate for artistic expression. Craft artists have chosen their materials deliberately and consciously for the very expressive purposes they fulfill, but which other materials cannot provide. In the family of art, craft is but one of many children, and is no less legitimate because of its uniqueness.

—Kenneth Trapp
Curator-in-Charge, Renwick Gallery