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Crafting a Legacy


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The White House was a crafty place during the Clinton years, thanks in part to George H. W. Bush. It was his presidential proclamation that made 1993 the Year of American Craft, inspiring Bill and Hillary to inaugurate a White House craft collection. They asked Michael Monroe, then curator of the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, to invite prominent artisans to contribute one recent work each, and between '93 and '95 six dozen pieces in wood, glass, metal, fiber, and ceramics were incorporated into the presidential residence. Currently on exhibit at Northwestern University's Block Museum, the collection is also a snapshot of where the craft movement was ten years ago. Glass, that flashy huckster of a material, gets prominent play: Dale Chihuly's Cerulean Blue Macchia With Chartreuse Lip Wrap fronts the Block brochure, and Dante Marioni's 1993 pitcher and bowl Yellow Pair appear on the catalog cover in a photograph that juxtaposes them with the Washington Monument. There are teapots, of course, and pieces in every medium convincingly got up to look like something they're not--take Ken Carlson's copper Porcupine Basket. A major question is whether craft gains anything by shedding function; Zachary Oxman's menorah and Sam Maloof's rocking chair offer a chance to reflect on that. The White House Collection of American Crafts is on display through August 24 at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum, 40 Arts Circle Drive in Evanston. Admission is free; hours are 10 to 5 Tuesday, 10 to 8 Wednesday through Friday, and noon to 5 Saturday and Sunday. Free parking is available on campus after 4 and on weekends. Call 847-491-4000.

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