USA Crafts & Traditional Arts Panel for 2006

Theresa Harlan (Chair)

Independent Curator and Writer, Vallejo, CA

Josie S. Talamantez

Chief of Programs, California Arts Council, Sacramento, CA

Tony Hepburn

Artist-in-Residence and Head of the Ceramics Department, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI

Betsy Peterson

Executive Director, Fund for Folk Culture, Austin, TX

Marirose Morris

Arts Access Specialist, Wyoming Arts Council, Cheyenne, WY

Statement by Theresa Harlan

For the members of the Crafts and Traditional Arts panel, the process of selecting six artists to receive the first round of USA Fellowships was challenging. One of the most daunting issues we faced was how to balance distinct differences between craft artists and traditional artists. Most of the contemporary craft artists received their artistic training at universities or art schools, whereas the traditional artists pointed to either their cultural community or a master practitioner as their artistic place of origin. What was critical for our panel was to focus on the artistic process and merit of each applicant. Should it matter that one artist gathers her raw materials from Alaska forests and weaves in the traditions of her ancestors while another utilizes the techniques and tools taught at Western art institutions? The inaugural panel answered no, but not without discussion.

Having served as an administrator for the California Arts Council’s Traditional Folk Arts Program and Artist Fellowship Program and as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowships, I have seen panels wrestle with the problem of how artists fit within specified categories. Panelists attuned to Western arts often have difficulty finding consensus on traditional arts such as the blues or saddle making. Folk arts panels don’t like to see Cambodian traditional court dancers incorporate Western themes into their choreography. Artist fellowship panelists question whether spoken-word artists should be in their own category or classified under performing arts or literature. Given the diverse and multifaceted nature of art practice, it is my hope that panelists will see past discipline categories or, rather, see them from a more encompassing perspective. We must look beyond what is familiar so that clarity and originality of artistic vision become paramount.

Given the diverse applicant pool that our panel had to consider, it would be far too simplistic to list the recipients as a furniture maker, a potter, a jeweler, a textile and clothing designer, and two weavers. Instead I would like to describe the recipients of the first USA Fellowships in Crafts and Traditional Arts as six visionaries whose exceptionally gifted and skilled hands enable them to transform creative thought into complex and stunning works of art.