Contemporary Craft

    Kim Fox's installation


    Gendered spaces, materials, forms ... and their transformation

    Author: Brooke Wyatt, HAA graduate student and HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018 

    Handwork is an exhibition of new work by Pittsburgh artist Kim Fox, currently on view in Contemporary Craft's BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery in the lobby of the Steel Plaza T-Station downtown. Six works are presented, ranging in size from the large-scale Eight-Pointed Star Quilt II (2018), a work that employs two salvaged wooden barn doors for its support, to the more intimate Log Cabin Quilt Block (2018), scaled to the size of the reclaimed wood lath that frames the composition. Fox engages a range of found materials, including vintage tin, paper dress patterns, and a tabletop that was used to cut glass in a hardware store, as seen in Blue Honeycomb (2018). In some cases, Fox links these materials to their previous location and function in manufacturing towns around Pittsburgh. Through wall-text information, we learn that the tabletop came from Clairton, PA, home of U.S. Steel's Clairton Works, the largest coke-producing facility in the United States. The salvaged wood used in another work, Honeycomb (2018), was found at the Jeannette Glass Works, defunct since 1983, but once one of Pennsylvania's premier consumer glass manufacturers. 

    In conjunction with these echoes of the region's industrial history, Fox's use of forms and patterns drawn from the world of quiltmaking reflects parallel traditions in the area's production of housewares and crafts. In Handwork, references to mechanized industry and factory production interface with the aesthetics of homemade, hand-stitched textile work to evoke a complicated reading of gender. Materials and techniques associated with masculinized spaces such as the factory floor and the realm of hard labor intersect with interior, domestic spaces often coded as feminine. The works allow layers of meaning to accumulate as found objects join together with the mark-making, collaging, and repetitive ordering that reveals the artist's working process. Fox combines materials and techniques from craft practice with more conventional fine art approaches, effectively playing with embedded hierarchies about which forms are most valuable or visually provocative. Through her material exploration of these binary constructions —masculine/feminine, public/private, fine art/craft, work/hobby — Fox's work unravels dichotomies to present a composite, layered meditation on labor, place, and the convergence of past and present.

    Bringing new interpretations to traditional paradigms of gendered space, material, and form is central to Fox's visual language, and reverberates with the work of Katie Ott, another Pittsburgh-based artist whose work is currently on view in the University Art Gallery (UAG) at the University of Pittsburgh. Part of the student-curated exhibition This is Not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation, Ott's work makes a queer and intersectional feminist intervention into the historically masculine domains of woodworking and furniture-making, literally turning the tables on established gender norms around art and craft practice. 

    Handwork is presented in conjunction with Contemporary Craft's biennial show Transformation 10: Contemporary Works in Found Materials, the Elizabeth R. Rafael Founders Prize Exhibition and is on view from September 14, 2018 to January 5, 2019

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Artist William Accorsi exhibiting his toy sculptures at The Store.


    A Look into the Past: Research on Craft Artists from the 70s in Pittsburgh

    Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft – Spring 2018

    When I first heard about an opportunity interning at Contemporary Craft, I was super excited because I had volunteered there in the past (and knew this would be a great line to add to my resume).

    Contemporary Craft is a nonprofit gallery in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. Part gallery, part store, they also have workshops in the basement where community members are welcome to take classes or even rent out a space and make art. Once I met my supervisor, Stephanie Sun, I was given a quick tour and introduced to the scrapbooks.

    My purpose was to research the gallery’s founder, Betty Raphael, and the artists who had held exhibitions at her former art gallery also known as The Store for Arts and Crafts and People-Made Things. The story of this pioneering gallery is conveyed through scrapbooks Raphael made for a period of 7 years. I was given access to tell the story of The Store through the scrapbooks’ many artifacts -- newspaper clippings, photographs, letters, advertisements, and event flyers.

    Betty Raphael was a trailblazer. She introduced the city of Pittsburgh to modern art in the 1940s, and then again in the 1970s and early 1980s. At first some rejected her. But hundreds of artists have passed through her gallery, both amateur, local, and internationally recognized. Reading through the names of the artists she supported, certain ones stood out—such as Alexander Calder, Paul Klee, and Wendell Castle.

    Before taking on this internship and starting my research I was unaware of this amazing woman and the work she did for the crafts movement. It’s been an enormous pleasure to read about all of her achievements and learning about all the artists who have passed through The Store. I’ve been able to learn about artists I had never heard of before but who have made a name for themselves in their particular field and continue to make art.

    Towards the end of my internship I compiled all of my research into a SCALAR storybook. The SCALAR storybook is an interactive online book that anyone can look through and where people can read more about the artists who came through The Store and contributed to this incredible movement. With my portion of the research done, I happily pass the torch to the next person who will continue sharing the story of Betty.

    Explore Emily’s SCALAR storybook project here

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    Cyd and Kendall standing outside of the original storefront of the 'The Store', which is now occupied by 'Otto’s Shoe Store'


    The Untold Stories of 'The Store,' Verona, PA

    Author: Kendall Dunn

    Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft - Fall 2017

    Through my fall internship at Contemporary Craft, I have been conducting research on the life of Betty Raphael, the woman who brought modern art and craft to Pittsburgh. Before Betty Raphael’s work led to the creation of what is now Contemporary Craft, located in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, she opened the city’s first modern art gallery called 'Outlines Gallery.' She collected and displayed artworks by renowned modern artists Alexander Calder and Paul Klee, among others. After this stage in her life, she found a crafts store in Verona, PA, titled 'The Store for Arts, Crafts, and People-Made Things,' and reopened it under her management.

    To learn more about the physical landmark of the Store and Raphael’s legacy in the Verona community, a group of student interns and staff from the History of Art department ventured to Verona, PA, about thirty minutes from Pittsburgh. We drove up on the main street, Allegheny River Blvd, where the small town began. Our purpose was to find the original location of the ‘The Store’ and investigate its history as art historians. With the town being so incredibly small, we were able to track down the original location of 737 Allegheny River Boulevard in 1971, which is now occupied by the shoe store, 'Otto’s Shoes.' (In 1973, the Store would relocate to a bigger space, a few blocks down the street, at 719 Allegheny River Boulevard, now occupied by the fitness center 'No limits. Sport performance').

    As we scanned the outside of the building we saw the store owner looking at us curiously from inside.  We met the owner, Larry, and learned from him that he knew little about Betty Raphael, taking over this storefront around ten years ago. Before he moved into the building, his friend, Gloria, housed her store there, and before that, the whole entire building was used as a theatre. Larry also disclosed information regarding his father’s involvement in the art world when he was younger. His father owned Geisler Brothers Art Dealer on 5627 Penn Avenue in East Liberty. His father was mainly in charge of making safety and instructional posters for the steel factories in Western Pennsylvania. Later on, he offered Larry the family business but Larry decided to pursue shoe sales.

    As another possible lead for information about Betty Raphael, Larry then directed us to Gloria, the owner of 'Gloria’s Fixations.' Gloria, too, did not know much history of the storefront and did not have any knowledge regarding Betty Raphael. But, she did direct us to our next destination: The Verona Municipal Building which houses a special history room of Verona.

    The History Room contained information about the railroads, the community, various pictures, objects, newspapers, and other documents. We learned that the Social Women’s Club was a huge part of Verona’s community. Additionally, there were many scrapbooks that recorded the crafts and arts that occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s.

    While we did not discover any specific mentions of Betty Raphael, we did enjoy learning more about the history of Verona. Now, when I resume my work at Contemporary Craft, looking through the personal scrapbooks of Betty Raphael, the visit has made me curious even more curious about the owner of 'The Store.'

    Explore Kendall’s SCALAR storybook project here

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    Robert Sterns, “Verona Has a ‘Handy’ Approach to Art: The Sociable Workshop,” The Pittsburgh Press, March 4, 1973: 12. Betty Raphael’s Scrapbooks, Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


    Organizing the community through art and crafts

    Author: Cyd Johnson

    Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft - Fall 2017

    Before starting my internship at Contemporary Craft I first watched a documentary, Tracing Outlines, and was immediately enchanted with its founder, Betty Raphael. How could I have lived in Pittsburgh my whole life and not have known about this awesome woman who started a modern art gallery downtown in the 1940s? After watching the documentary on Outlines gallery, I was excited to learn that at my internship I would be flipping through her large leather-bound scrapbooks and learn about other, somehow even more inspiring projects.

    After Outlines Gallery closed in 1947, Betty Raphael got involved with the Riverview Community Action Corporation, a volunteer community service organization for the boroughs of Oakmont and Verona which provided used clothes to people in need, either giving the clothes away or selling them at a bargain price, but needed storage rooms for all the clothes they were receiving. Raphael reached out to a small craft store in Verona that was preparing to shut its doors, called “the Store for arts and crafts and people-made things.”  She agreed to continue selling the works of local craftsmen in the Store if they could also use the space as storage for the clothing.  

    Shortly thereafter, a project grew out of the Store called the “Sociable Workshop.” The Store’s original director, Beth Cameron Walter, described it as a place “where professional artists and designers work with students, hobbyists, retirees and handicapped people in a non-profit program for the hand arts." They paid unemployed people to come to the workshop and take classes with professional designers and craftspeople. The objects made in the Sociable Workshop were sold in the Store, and two-thirds of the profits were given to their makers, while the other third went towards other community projects such as a bus that ran between the boroughs and helped transport people to/from the Workshop. (A bus system which, by the way, is still in place today).  

    The Sociable Workshop grew into a master-apprentice program, attracting nationally known craftspeople to come in and create easily reproducible designs for people with some technical skills, but who lacked creative ingenuity. The objects produced in the workshop began being noticed by retailers, first with a line of Santa Clauses sold in several New York department stores (including a window display at Cartier), and handmade objects being sold at Gimbels, a local department store. After seeing the displays, Park Smith called Betty Raphael and asked her to produce 800-1500 pillows/month for his stores. This led to the expansion of the Sociable Workshop into a new space, and the employment of nine weavers, four finishers, a manager, and two assistants. Despite Betty Raphael pouring her own money into it, the Sociable Workshop was always in debt. While they received some federal funding as an anti-poverty program, it was never enough. Raphael, with the help of the Riverview Community Action Corporation, decided that they had enough support within the community to fund-raise this and other community outreach projects. They hosted a Bootstraps Twin-Boroughs party to fundraise. Objects from the Store were sold at the fundraiser, and all the volunteer groups put their best foot forward in attempts to raise the money the government refused to give them. In the words of Betty Raphael herself, "Who can say how far a community or city neighborhood could go today toward 'taking care of its own' if the government would help rather than hinder their efforts?" 

    In scouring these news articles and advertisements beautifully arranged in her aging and delicate scrapbooks, a single quote from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette art critic, Donald Miller, properly summarized my findings: "No one has ever worked harder or more cleverly to promote crafts in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania than Betty Raphael. She deserves more success."  This got me thinking -if Betty Raphael couldn’t sustain this project, can anyone? And, are there any arts organizations, today, that are actively thinking about community outreach in such a powerful way? I figured talking with my co-workers at Contemporary Craft would be a good place to start since it is Betty Raphael’s remaining legacy.

    The outreach coordinator informed me of programs they do a few times a year, as well as many connections they have in education with schools and museums. Contemporary Craft maintains its status as a non-profit, offering a free gallery space and programs that work in schools and with the women’s shelter in Pittsburgh. I understand that Betty Raphael struggled to secure funding in the 1970s, and I can’t imagine that getting government funding for a project of the magnitude of the Sociable Workshop would be any easier in 2017…

    Is it still possible? I am now determined to find out. 

    Explore Cyd’s SCALAR storybook project here

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    • Deinstallation
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    Natalie (left) is examining works for condition reports and Kate (right) is cutting foam


    Delighted to Make Your Acquaintance: Deinstallation of Edward Eberle Exhibition

    Author: Abigail Meloy

    Fine Foundation Fellowship at Contemporary Craft - Summer 2016

    During my Saturday shifts at Contemporary Craft I would routinely stop, stroll around, and admire the individuals works in Edward Eberle Retrospective, including the one presented here. The ceramic artist’s fame arose from the deconstructed forms of his works and his streams of consciousness approach to painting the surfaces of his pieces. The exhibition had recently closed and we needed to prepare the objects for their travel to The Clay Studio in Philadelphia. We had our supplies: foam boards, leftover bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, and tape, lots of it.

    One of my intern supervisors diligently worked on condition reports, documents that evaluate and note the state of the object’s appearance and quality. They are used for insurance purposes and serve as accounts to the individuals receiving the objects. Unlike packaging a painting, a fairly simple process, we were challenged to work around the unusual shapes that made these works distinctive. Like a sculptor, we carved each work’s negative from layers of foam after tracing an outline of the object.

    It took us four days to pack all that was moving onto Philadelphia. I became more acquainted with each object: not only the way in which it could fit in a box but also its weight, quirks, blemishes, and stress points. Rather than reading the dimensions of the objects on their label or admiring them from a distance, I handled them, looked at their underside, and traced the mesmerizingly intricate scenes with my fingertips. Ultimately, I gained a greater appreciation for the works themselves.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Marvelous Marketing: A Semester at Society for Contemporary Craft

    Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft - Spring 2016

    I currently serve as a marketing intern at Society for Contemporary Craft (SCC) in the Strip District. SCC is a small, nonprofit arts organization that aims to engage the public in creative experiences through contemporary craft. One of my primary duties as a marketing intern is to write and copy-edit media alerts and press releases for upcoming programs, events and exhibitions. Additionally, I am learning how to create content for various types of traditional and online marketing strategies, including online calendar submissions, social media and blog posts. I’ve also assisted with marketing research by monitoring and reporting on attendance and visitor surveys, which SCC will use to see how the organization is doing in comparison to previous years. SCC has provided me the opportunity to contribute towards inter-departmental projects; I have conducted exhibition research for the upcoming Fiberart International 2016, wrote text panels for satellite gallery exhibitions and assisted with artwork installation/de-installation at various locations, including a glass case at the Pittsburgh Airport!

    A major project I completed this semester is a promotional marketing video about SCC’s latest socially engaged art exhibition Mindful: Exploring Mental Health through Art, which aimed to break down societal stigmas surrounding mental health. I conceptualized, filmed, and edited a two minute video about the “Thought Cloud,” an interactive activity that encouraged written and sketched reactions, thoughts and words of encouragement from Mindful visitors. This video will hopefully travel with Mindful to other galleries over the next year in order to convey how the “Thought Cloud” works and the benefits of its reproduction. I was also in charge of writing a majority of the press materials for Pattern and Place: Quilts by Valerie Goodwin, a solo-artist exhibition that will be on display at SCC’s BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery from May 6th through July 4th, 2016.

    As a museum studies minor, this internship has provided me with the opportunity to see how a small, nonprofit arts organization approaches marketing strategies and has further solidified my decision to work in this industry after my graduation from the University of Pittsburgh.

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