Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

When Modernists Get Crafty

Just before Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to tour the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) exhibition, Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design, with curators Jeannine Falino and Jennifer Scanlan. The moment I walked in, I was a little bit embarrassed I hadn’t been before, as the opening vignette features a large, pristine piece of Irving Harper‘s “China Shop” fabric, designed while he was working for George Nelson. Given my obsession with midcentury and architectural textiles, what took me so long? The argument of the show is that modernism wasn’t a one-way industrial street, and that, during the 1950s and 1960s, there was a great deal of back-and-forth between craft and design, the rough and the smooth, and there is a tremendous amount of eye candy, including Betty Cooke and Art Smith jewelry). DCrit graduate Chappell Ellison has written an excellent summary of the show over on the Etsy blog, so I won’t do that. Collapsing the boundaries between craft and machine, and versing designers in multiple disciplines is part of the legacy of the Bauhaus. And indeed, Dorothy Liebes’s experiments with Lurex and natural fibers and close cousins of Anni Albers’s earlier experiments in wool and cellophane.