Handmade Meaning: The Value of Craft in Contemporary and Victorian Culture
An exhibition investigating the connections between Victorian women's fancywork and contemporary Wisconsin craft. At the James Watrous Gallery, Madison, Wisconsin, December 17, 2010-February 6, 2011.
Today’s do-it-yourself (DIY) craft movement isn’t your grandmother’s knitting. Or is it? This exhibition raises provocative questions about amateur and professional art practice and the role of craft in shaping identity and creating community. A collaboration between the James Watrous Gallery, the UW-Madison Material Culture Program and the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, Handmade Meaning explores the relationship between rarely seen Victorian “fancywork”–hand-painted china, hair wreaths, and fine embroidery–and work by contemporary artists who incorporate traditional women’s craft processes and materials. Many of the Victorian objects, which are drawn from local historical societies and museums throughout Wisconsin, have never been exhibited outside their home communities.
Like a 19th century crazy quilt, the exhibit has come together in bits and pieces, with knowledge gathered from a variety of sources over time. The project started in Spring 2010 with a seminar class led by Ann Smart Martin of the Department of Art History at UW-Madison along with Martha Glowacki, director of the Watrous Gallery and Emily Pfotenhauer, project coordinator for the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. Undergraduate and graduate students in the seminar prepared a preliminary object list, researched individual makers and drafted object labels.