By Kris Wilton
Sometimes a jug isn’t just a jug.
The 50-some ceramics, baskets, vases, and other assorted useful objects in “Living Treasures of North Carolina Craft,” on view at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton through August 5, are as much vessels for thinking about American culture as examples of handiwork.
The show celebrates recipients of the North Carolina Living Treasures award, which, in a rare institutional recognition of decorative art, the University of North Carolina Wilmington has presented to blacksmiths and weavers, gunsmiths and glass artists since 1986. For the Fuller, the show is also an opportunity to expose a New England audience to North Carolina’s rich cultural tradition, and to consider the links – and boundaries – between the vernacular and high art. “These artists represent a bridge between traditional crafts and contemporary artwork,” curator Perry Price told WGBHArts.
Some works are more ostensibly traditional, like Sid Luck’s “Face Tea Pot,” a subtly updated take on the vernacular “face jug.” Introduced by early African-Americans, the visage-adorned vessels were common in the South, but their original purpose is unclear. They may have been self-portraits, Price says, or instruments of the temperance movement, emblazoned with a scary face to remind the user not to overdo it.
Tempting as it is to read craft as a link to cozy Colonial America, “I think it would be doing it a disservice to see [the work] as relics of a previous time or to call it old-fashioned,” says Price. “Even though they have strong connections to historical Americana, these are living contemporary artists who are responding to contemporary issues and trends and what it means to be living in modern America.”
Which means works like Mark Peiser’s cast glass, which refers to the Hubble Space Telescope, or Billie Ruth Sudduth’s basketry, which uses mathematical formulas like the Fibonacci sequence to determine its graphic patterns – objects that draw on age-old practices but are committed to keeping them relevant and of the moment.
Floral Core #130, 2008 (glass). Photo courtesy of the artist, Richard Ritter.
Face Tea Pot, 2009 (salt glazed ceramic). Photo courtesy of the artist, Sid Luck.
Fuller Craft Museum
455 Oak Street
Brockton, MA 02301
Tuesdays – Sundays 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Thursdays 5:00 pm– 9:00 pm
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About the AuthorKris Wilton
Kris is a freelance arts journalist who has contributed reported pieces and reviews to outlets including the Huffington Post, Slate.com, Artinfo.com, Modern Painters, Art+Auction, Art New England, New England Home, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice, Bostonist.com, ARTnews, Philadelphia Weekly, Emerging Photographer, Photo District News, and RL Magazine.