The Best of the ACC (San Francisco Edition)

By Regina Connell.

The American Craft Council’s San Francisco show highlighted, as usual, the high level of artistry across various categories of craft.

Lilith Rockett's perfect ceramics

Lilith Rockett’s perfect ceramics

The interior designer-maker collaborations were definite hits, with one we’d profiled—between designer Alison Damonte, Ealish Wilson and Lilith Rockett, a breath of fresh air with the unexpected pairing of a sexy mod style (pink lucite trays? yes) with handmade “wallpaper” by Ealish Wilson and Lilith’s ceramics.

So often, craft is seen as ponderous and self-absorbed: here it was lively and and spirited—a good sparkling rosé rather than a super serious cab.

We were happy to see the latest work by a number of design-forward makers, many of whom any eagle-eyed reader will see that we’ve profiled in the past. These are the ones who are doing some of the most exciting work that’ll push high-end craft further into our homes and our lives, as opposed to making appearances in galleries and art shows to be coo-ed over but not purchased.

What got me excited?

Nick Leonoff's cool lighting

Nick Leonoff’s cool lighting

Great glass and new lighting by Brooklyn’s Nick Leonoff: fine, sharp, in restrained, matte, colorways. This is great glass for those who avoid art glass like the plague. (You know who you are.)

Varian Designs classic and refined Freya Chair

Varian Designs classic and refined Freyr Chair

The classic and impeccably refined lines of Forest Dickey’s Varian Designs really popped in a stunning, modern display. Furniture for the boardroom, living room, life. Quiet luxury and obvious (but not self-conscious) artisanship, and what you should be investing in now.

John Liston's Ribbon table

John Liston’s Ribbon table

At the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, but still thrillingly exciting: John Liston‘s powder-coated steel ribbon furniture (and those candlesticks I’ve craved forever). His new club chairs are sleek and modern, real design statements rooted in deep craft.

John Liston Club Chair

John Liston Club Chair

Exciting work by James Aaronswho continues to play with the artistic possibilities of clay as canvas. His work is witty, joyful, clever like the ever-perfect guest you’ll never tire of. I loved the series of pieces with pencil drawings on them, but what continues to haunt me is this dark glazed tablet that’s mysterious, deep, ancient, and perfect for a modern home. Subtle (and let’s face it, impossible to shoot well), but then that’s the point of artisanal work, isn’t it: it’s not all show and gloss and glamour. (More on this below.)

Lilith Rockett‘s gorgeous ceramics—matte on the outside, but gloriously glossy within—have long been favorites and it’s lovely to walk into a booth to be surrounded by it all. Loving her latest light gray glazes but her signature white… Sublime. Very hard to choose.

Andrea Haffner returned with her splendid resin wall hangings, which feature things like pods and seeds and stems grouped into something reminiscent of a diorama or a segment of a cabinet of curiosities. They’re dramatic, graphical, organic, and very beautiful.

Andrea Haffner's Cabinet of Curiosities wall hangings

Andrea Haffner’s Cabinet of Curiosities wall hangings

Her way of framing them in steel and then suspending them from a blackened steel bar is a perfect modern touch. Jewelry for a wall.

Two new makers (to me) were clothing/textile makers. Now, the problem with so many clothing and textile makers in the higher end craft shows is that there’s a tendency to try to draw buyers in with bright color or exaggerated shape: “Here, look at me!” This, of course, makes me want to do the opposite, even though I know it’s the nature of the beast: the artisanship in textiles and clothing is an inherently subtle thing, rarely understandable unless you’re drawn in close enough to touch.

Paper Yarn Tunic by Kaoru Izushi

Paper Yarn Tunic by Kaoru Izushi

Madison Wisconsin’s Kaoru Izushi creates hand and machine-knitted pieces whose work, at first glance, didn’t look that extraordinary, but they have a twist and hidden structure to them that you notice once you put them on. (I saw a couple of fashion-forward young Japanese men snapping them up—always a sign of coolness.) The standout was a black paper yarn tunic that was stunning both on the body and off, both fierce and breathtakingly delicate, perfect for those of us who wouldn’t be caught dead in all those bright hues.

Also extraordinary was the work of Kathy Colt, who—again—was subtle, subtle, subtle. In fact, the colors and shapes were all a little too organic-looking (from afar) for my taste, but some instinct drew me in, and my first touch of a throw turned me into a believer—make that evangelist. Kathy’s a practitioner of what she calls “laminated felting” of wool and silk, a painstaking art form that results in unbelievably refined, soft and light textiles that she turns into scarves, throws, wall hangings, and cushions. Some of the pieces had a rocky, pebbly look, which was a complete, surprising, delightful juxtaposition to their lightness.

CCA Telling Tales through craft

CCA Telling Tales through craft

Finally, while the ACC seems to have gotten away from featuring young artists, California College of the Arts had another stand-out showing. Loved the hypnotic hand-printed textiles of Jay Tronlinger, the pottery of Jenny Rosen and Vlada Dronova (a haunting storytelling of the demise of Russian potteries in the form of cast porcelain vodka bottles), and these organic, raw rings by Hsiao Ai Wang. They’re poignantly beautiful and unlike anything I’ve seen.

Tabletop textiles by Jay Troninger

Tabletop textiles by Jay Tronlinger

Hsaio's organic rings

Hsaio Ai Wang’s organic rings

I loved seeing the collaborations and the evolution of the work of people whose work we know about, but honestly, I felt that the show lacked a little bit of spark that comes from showcasing truly new work that might even feel (gasp) uncomfortable in that setting.

There’s great making going on out there: Why isn’t it at the ACC show, which should have the best of it?  There are no other shows that display artisanal work—particularly modern work—at a high level. The challenge with shows like the ACC is that they seem to struggle between what’s worked in the past, and the direction that craft is taking. Could it be that the past is what’s winning?

For the sake of makers and the people who love great artisanal work—both past and present—I really hope not.

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