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Taking A Trip With ‘San Diego’s Craft Revolution’ At The Mingei

Douglas Deeds, Chair made with recycled beer cans, first made in Syracuse, New York, ca. 1960. Courtesy of Douglas Deeds.

Mingei International Museum’s latest exhibition, “San Diego’s Craft Revolution: From Post-War Modern to California Design” showcases the work of over sixty artists and thirty years of undocumented local art history. The exhibition considers the work of local craftsmen and craftswomen from the postwar period of the 1940s through the 1970s. Works range in medium from sleek copper sculptures to handmade chairs and jewelry. While the range of works is quite eclectic, what stands out the most is the design infused into these everyday objects and the artists behind the works themselves.

So many of the artists featured in “San Diego’s Craft Revolution” are, in fact, women. Take for example, Arline Fisch, an artist of the 1960s and ‘70s working with large-scale jewelry that was meant to be worn as body ornament. Though her “Halter and Dress” piece from 1968 might appear showy when photographed on the female form, it simultaneously showcases both the body ornament itself and the wearer—ultimately, photographs of Fisch’s pieces speak to the tumultuous ‘60s themselves. It then appears that though Fisch was creating large-scale jewelry or body ornament, it went beyond the everyday to something more ceremonial.

Malcolm McClain, Pot, late 1950s, slab-built stoneware, 13 ½ x 12 x 10 ½ in. Collection of Laurence McGilvery. Photograph by Steve Oliver.

Lynn Fayman, self-portrait, ca. 1954. Courtesy of Danah Fayman.

Comparatively, husband and wife team, Ellamarie and Jackson Woolley’s large-scale copper-pieces “Reflective Sun” and “Creative Sun” of 1964 feature crumpled copper pieces transformed into an abstract sun form. The works were originally commissioned for the Civic Theater as a means to play off the interior light. In the thirty years since the original commission, the works have faced many unknowns. It is only now, in the current Mingei exhibition, that the Woolley’s works can finally be showcased to the public.

Mingei’s latest exhibition sheds light on an often forgotten moment in San Diego’s own art history: that of the craft revolution. The exhibit is part of Southern California’s recent arts initiative, “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980.”

“San Diego’s Craft Revolution: From Post-War Modern to California Design” runs through April 15, 2012 at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park.