Take a moment to look around you, and the space you have created. Where are you sitting? Look up from your computer. Do your eyes see a photo, a vase, or a memento that reminds you of a happy time? Does your space provide you with comfort, energy or peace?
Jennifer Zwilling, Art Historian, Adjunct Professor and Curator of the recent contemporary craft exhibit Nurture, believes we can make our surroundings serve us better when we choose to surround ourselves with objects that inspire us. Jennifer looks at craft objects as being items that are imbued with use, ones that convey our nonverbal ideas and emotions through our aesthetic environment. We spoke with Jennifer to learn more about trends in craft, how she connects the past and present, and also about how she believes art and life are unified when we surround ourselves with beautiful things that are well made.
How did you become interested in craft?
“I majored in History, and I was really interested in social and cultural history. As an undergraduate, I went to Spain and saw the architecture and the history and the art all being intertwined and I got really excited about studying history through art. I came back to the U.S. and went to graduate school at Temple in the Tyler School of Art. I was much more interested in architecture and fashion and things that people use because I feel that they are imbued with the history of use, the history of people living with those objects and how they expressed their nonverbal ideas through these objects.”
What do the past and present have in common regarding decorative arts and modern craft?
“Craft objects are imbued with meaning. Understanding how people lived in the past can be so instructive. I think it helps us better understand how we’re relating to our modern world when we look at how people 100 years ago related to their surroundings…[they] were living as we are, and when you take our modern life out of the picture, you can see what still exists, and find those universal qualities of humanity.
When you look at a room in a Renaissance home that people used, and maybe see the dress that the woman was wearing when she was sitting down writing [a] letter, those objects can actually tell you the history in some ways, even more, because you understand the posture that she had to sit in to not be uncomfortable in this fancy dress she was wearing and the kind of chair that she would sit in, and how her skirts fell to the ground and the kind of inkwell that she was dipping her quill pen into and all the things around her imbued her life with beauty and with an aesthetic sensibility that you could never really get from reading a letter. …. Then we can think about the same thing when we’re sitting down at our desk at work with our computer in front of us and see meaningful photos and whatever we gather around ourselves. We do that in order to create a space that speaks to us, or is comforting to us or provides us energy.”
What are the trends you are seeing in the craft world?
“An interest in the past and an interest in ornaments is something that’s hot right now. People are interested in beautiful objects. Now it’s not about just creating something out of a beautiful material, rather, people appreciate hand work, hand carving, or hand embroidery as a level of ornament that is parts of a really well designed structure. Ornament can be modern, original and fresh while also being inspired by the past.
It seems you had the chance to explore connections and new trends in your recent curated exhibition.
“The exhibition “Nurture” gave me the opportunity to connect the artists who I know in Philadelphia, and the different visions that they have and the themes that are connecting them.
In the exhibition, it’s not nurturing a child or a relationship, but nurturing our understanding of the past
and that continuity and humanity. That’s always what it comes back to when I try to explain to somebody why I’m doing what I’m doing. I believe that all of this helps us understand humanity better, and that will make the world a better place.
I’d like to continue to explore this in the future”.
To be continued… Learn more in a second post coming soon!