Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design

Jeannine Falino, Museum of Arts and Design

Tuesday, April 10, 2012Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Crafting Modernism Cover

Jan Yoors, designer Annabert Van Wettum, weaver Marianne Citroen, weaver Lop Noor, 1966 Persian wool, cotton 60 x 84 in. Collection of the Rorimer family

J.B. Blunk Scrap Chair

J. B. Blunk Scrap chair, 1968 Cyprus 39 ½ x 49 ½ x 26 in. Courtesy of the J. B. Blunk estate

Jeannine Falino will show us the bold new directions taken in media and aesthetics in the postwar years. Art, craft and design of the postwar era mirrored the growth and transformation of American life from the postwar era through the turbulent 1960s. The works of influential artists and designers, such as Wendell Castle, Jack Lenor Larsen, Katherine Choy and Jan de Swart, will illustrate the importance of the period from 1945-1969 as an important transitional era for American craft and design in furniture, textiles, tableware, ceramics, glass, jewelry, sculpture and painting.

During the early postwar years from 1945 to the late 1950s, the independent craftsman lifestyle provided an inviting alternative to the anonymity of corporate production. The craftsman designer became increasingly influential in industry, and craft inspired modern design. Jeannine Falino will illustrate her thesis with examples from Reed & Barton, Knoll and Blenko Glass.

In the next phase of postwar design, the crafted object emerged as a work of art informed by Abstract Expressionism, pop art, funk and social commentary. Returning veterans were able to participate in studio art programs on the GI bill (and expand art programs). Those veterans were part of a diverse group of young men and women from around the globe who rediscovered and reinvigorated - perhaps even resuscitated - traditional craft media as an expression of cultural identity, artistic innovation and social views. Countercultural strains of rock’n’roll, controlled substances and the American flag (both as icon and anti-war protest) also contributed to the “groovy” celebration of the crafted object.

Such artists as Peter Voulkos and Lenore Tawney bridged the traditional divide between art and craft as they considered the sculptural and aesthetic qualities of craft media previously reserved for functional objects. Their pioneering achievements enabled the crafted object to assert itself as an aspect of modern art. At the same time, the art world became increasingly open to new expressions of alternative media, as Jeannine Falino will demonstrate with the works of artists such as Alexander Calder, Lucas Samaras and Claes Oldenburg. As craft entered the public realm through museum exhibitions and publications, craft also came to represent a counter-cultural lifestyle that added to the ongoing political and social dialogue in American art and life.

Jeannine Falino earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Providence College, and a master’s degree in art history from Boston University. She was a research assistant at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where she contributed to “The Art That Is Life”: The Arts and Crafts Movement in America 1875-1920. She also directed the cataloguing of 7,000 American drawings and watercolors at Yale University from 1985-1987.

Jeannine Falino is adjunct curator for the Museum of Arts and Design. She rose from the position of curatorial assistant at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1987 to curator of decorative arts and sculpture, leaving to become an independent curator in 2003. During her MFA years, she was a Winterthur Fellow in 1994. She became a co-curator of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City in 2007. Her focus is on metalwork, jewelry and 20th century craft.

7:15pm mini-exhibit

Share your hand-crafted items, made centuries ago or yesterday, in any medium: textiles (and clothing), silver, copper, pottery, glass, wood and paper.


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.