Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hand-Made: The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show

Last Saturday morning we made our annual pilgrimage to the City of Brotherly Love to attend the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. This year, because of the sudden and unexplained demise of our favorite Chinatown bus line, we took Amtrak instead. That was the first of many differences from previous years.  The second? The fact that some of our all-time favorite exhibitors, like Ignatius Creegan and Rod Givens of Ignatius Hats, were not present. While we cannot fathom why (new jurors on the nominating committee? the economy? other unimagined factors?), we were more than a little disappointed. Not ones to dwell on negativity, we pushed onward to view and enjoy the works of the new and returning exhibitors.

The wonderful mixed media pieces by Kathleen Dustin always knock us out. Her sculptural evening bags are amazingly beautiful and wonderfully clever, and her booth is always like a jewel box. Here, Kathleen is modeling one of her necklaces. She is based in Contoocook, NH.

Luckily, Brooklynite Erica Rosenfeld made it through Hurricane Sandy relatively unscathed, but several of her friends in Red Hook did not fare as well. Her work in glass in positively fascinating.

Erica designed this piece - actually a necklace - so that when it is not in use, it can be displayed as a work of art.

Her glass art piece entitled "They Loved Their House So Much" was one of the most thought-provoking items in the show. From a distance, it looked like an arrangement of fish or snake scales.

Upon closer inspection, however, the viewer can discern photographic images embedded in many of the scales. Back-lighting helps highlight the subtleties of the work. It was at once humorous and yet other-worldly. Erica says the photos are not members of her own family, so it's not biographical.

We saw these dresses in one of the booths, and it was lovely to see them later on these sisters. Their father noticed that we were photographing their backs, so he helpfully called their attention. They came up with this pose themselves in a matter of a moment or two. They look great, and they seemed to really love one another's company.

One of our returning favorites is Myung Urso who is based in Rochester, NY. Her painterly and sculptural jewelry combines metal, paper and fiber in unexpected ways.

Valerie models one of Myung's bracelets.

A talented newcomer to this year's show is designer Annina King, whose makes stunningly complex and gorgeously constructed clothing for her Granate Couture line. Here she is next to a commissioned "Frock and Roll" coat with high collar and train.

This close-up of the coat's collar and shoulder helps give you an idea of the intricacies and beauty of her seaming and detailing. Annina said one of her influences is Norse mythology and symbols like the world tree in a nod to her Scandinavian heritage.

Erica Millner (below) and Mai Orama Muniz (not shown) are the brains behind the fabulous designs of Mio Studio in Lancaster, PA (Check out: Mai Orama Muniz & Erica Miner/Mio Studio). Here Erica wears two necklaces, one of sculpted wood and one of sterling. The sterling necklace has a clasp that can attach to any of the links, so the length of the necklace can be adjusted to the wearer's needs.

Here, Jean wears a Mio Studio design. The beads are made of holly (hollywood, get it?), and the facets are individually cut. Erica said she loves making asymmetrical facets while Mai much prefers symmetry. Opposite tendencies in a design team must make for an interesting balance in the resulting product collaborations.

We also met artiste Illia Barger whose clothing (kimono jacket and pants) was constructed from recycled tee shirts. Morpeth Contemporary gallery in Hopewell, New Jersey just exhibited her large-scale oil paintings of flowers in a show. She had a humorous and creative way of helping people like us remember how to spell her first name: It's like William, without the "W" and the "m", or "brilliant" without the "br" and the "nt". Check out her work at and check out her clothes at

We fell in love with Los Angeles-based Mary Donald and her sensuous sculptural works made out of upcycled found materials. Here, she models two bracelets made of bicycle tires. On her right wrist are shapes like huge seed pods. The shapes are dotted with small holes, all of which Mary cuts by hand with scissors. On her left wrist is another tire remnant on which smaller circlets of tire have been riveted at uneven intervals for a highly dimensional effect. The black/smoky color of the tires gives them a goth look, but they're light, airy, and silky smooth to the touch. Just behind her are two more of her cuffs. We saw five of them together, and they could have been a freestanding sculpture.

Barbara Zaretsky has a great eye for color and design juxtaposition. All of her work is done in natural dyes, which are identified on the tags. Despite the glare of the lights, it is easy to see the beauty and creativity of her work.

Every year the Craft Show invites a number of artisans from a featured country. This year it was England. Valerie has had a textile lover's crush on England's Katie Mawson since finding her red and pink sea anemone wool scarf at the American Museum of Folk Art several years ago. It was lovely to meet her and thank her in person for her wonderful work. At this booth, there was a yellow anemone scarf, which we were happy to discover sold later in the day to another New Yorker, Debbie, whom we stopped and chatted with.

We loved this mother and daughter pair, both trying on Christie Klug designs.

Jean fell in love with this red crocheted wire bracelet from Joy Raskin, who hails from Concord, NH.

Under her label "is-felt",  Jennifer Fecker creates bold and wearable hand-cut and stretched wool felt pieces to create a clean modern look which belies the underlying intricacies.

Both of us really liked this is-felt bracelet. (Image - PMA Craft Show)

We've mentioned Amy Nguyen before, but we just can't help mentioning her again. She is always pushing herself in new directions. Amy's work was featured in last month's Ornament magazine.

Here, Amy is wearing one of her coats while a client tries on another coat with a fine net overlay. It's hard to see it here, but the net overlay has been shibori'd in blue diamonds, and the insides of the diamonds have been cut away, leaving a fine shibori fringe. Amy's wearing Trippen platform boots, Jean's favorites.

We reconnected with Korean artist Jiyoung Chung, whom we first met two years ago and saw again at a couple shows last year.  Her interest in the art of ancient Korean Joomchi papermaking techniques has taken her on an exploration of the significance of women's work in Korea to women's relationship to each other across cultures and to their connection with nature. The foundation of her “Whisper-Romance” series are the many facets of broken relationships. While we have “horse whisperers” and “dog whisperers”, Jiyoung believes people today need “human whisperers” to heal what has been broken in our essential relationship with ourselves, to nature and to God. The holes, layers and free mounting of her work represent these conversations -- the whispers and the breath between them.

Each year, the Craft Show has an auction of selected works of the participating artists. In the center of this auction window is an intricately knotted teapot  by Ed Bing Lee. Mr. Lee has a wonderful sense of humor, and his booth featured a knotted hamburger,  a knotted cupcake and a knotted polar bear on an ice floe, among other wonderful pieces.

Rae Gold is based in Pittsburgh, PA. Her wearables are made of wool from hormone-free merino sheep with yarn that is spun in Rhode Island and custom woven in Pennsylvania. She likens this process to creating wearable sculpture.

Rae's work is bold, colorful and graphic and the fabrics feel surprisingly light. You can contact her via email @

Sharmen C. Liao is from Los Angeles. Her intention is to create jewelry that combines the best elements of metalworking with those of textile creation by applying freeform crochet and knitting techniques to fine silver and gold wire in order to sculpt soft, organic shapes. Torch-fired enamels and pieces of precious metal clay are placed in for color and weight. She creates gradations by interlacing oxidized wire with pure wire. And check out her Issey Miyake shirt.

We had to make a stop at the Ford/Forlano booth.  Steven Ford and David Forlano collaboratively make one-of-a-kind jewelry that combines polymer clay and sterling silver. They showed us one piece with an amazing and novel clasp. (When was the last time you felt moved to rave about a clasp?!) If they hadn't shown it to us, we never would have noticed. That's part of the subtlety of their work. They also showed us a necklace so perfectly crafted that you could wear it face up or face down. Gorgeous attention to detail!

Here is an example of one of their Cascade necklaces.
(Image - PMA Craft Show)

One of the emerging artists appearing for the first time at this year's show is fabric artist Veronika Braslavsky whose work appears under her nika design label. Valerie couldn't resist trying on one of her dresses. They all feel practically weightless, and look and feel terrific. Think of the froth on a latte. Veronika is a Detroit-based artist, who worked in other mediums for years before trying her hand at felt. You can see the abstract art influence in them. The white lines in the dress are all felted in, although they may appear to be cords.

Kutztown University Visual Arts or KUVA featured a number of interesting pieces ranging from textiles to furniture and baskets, from  table top to wall hangings, from ceramics and glass to fibers.  Valerie checks out one of the wall hangings. The Savannah College of Art and Design also had a booth with wonderful - and wonderfully priced - student work.

Annie Neill, another of the artisans from England, showed both men's and women's knitwear, with beautifully woven and quite colorful scarves and hats, socks and fingerless gloves.

Another London-based presenter, , Briget Bailey of Bailey Tomlin, showed the most facinating finely woven headgear and evening bags. Valerie (shown here with Bridget) couldn't resist getting into the act. First, with a "peas in the pod" fascinator. Bridget's attention to detail, and her true-to-life renderings of her subjects, is stunning. Don't forget to look at Bridget's calla lily neckpiece of woven straw (sinamay?). Briidget also does the dye work herself.

Bridget does her own updated riff on Schiaparelli's famous shoe hat with a woven, high-heeled sandal fascinator which could not have failed to have brought a smile to the lips of the late Anna Piaggi.  Viewable on the far right is the "Crown of Thorns" hat. Not shown is an amazing teapot featuring a bunch of grapes. The teapot lid can be removed to make a cocktail hat, and the teapot serves as an evening bag. Be still, my beating heart!

On returning to New York, we parted ways at Penn Station, where this trio was playing an extended verion of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean when this picture was taken. The sax player was on a roll, and had a number of the male onlookers dancing in the hall in the midst of rushing passersby. When one of the guitarists did a solo, the sax player did the mashed potatoes and the moonwalk. Pity we don't have a video of that. Or a shot of him from the side - he had a marvelous mane of gray hair.

STAY TUNED for more coverage of the Philadelphia Museum's Craft Show on Wednesday! There is simply too much ground to cover in one posting.

What we're wearing: 

Valerie is wearing red wool hat by Parkhurst, gray felt coat by Searle, scarf of felted squares by Tiiti Tolonen, beaded squid earrings by Olya (Etsy), black jacket by Ivan Grundahl, white cotton shirt by Lifestyle Focus, vintage red leather belt by Coach, gladiator sandals by Nicole.

Jean is wearing an Amy Downs turban; black coat by High Use; black jacket by Kyodan; black and white polka dot pants by Heydari; vintage bakelite, plastic and resin bracelets and rings; black patent bag by Lux De Ville; black and white polka dot shibori bag from MOMA; black and white creepers by Underground.

VINTAGE ALERT:   And just a reminder that we will be appearing at Jeanne Stella's next New York event, the Pier Antiques Show, on November 17 and 18. We'll be giving style advice for 5 cents a pop from 12-1pm each day. Worth every penny!

Couldn't see us in the page above? Here's a fuzzy blow-up. Stop by our table!


  1. Those items are such works of art. The jewelry, the clothing, the scarves- beautiful.

  2. Excellent thumbnail sketches of these incredible artisans - thanks for bringing us along! I'm particularly drawn to Erica Rosenfeld's and Annina King's work.

    I must also tell you how much appreciated your comment on my blog, which absolutely made my day!

  3. I just love going to the shows with you two -- not only do you check out the best artists but also the interesting clientele there, which is usually half the fun.

  4. I want to go to the show next year!

  5. It takes "fashionistas" to find the unique in wearables, and you did at the PMA Craft Show. Thanks for the great coverage, it was good to see the great work f so many of my friends in the craft world.

  6. "Whisper-Romance" series gave me goosebumps.

  7. Very effective stylization of the attractive woman, absorbed in her sewing. Nice flowing purple cloth leading into the distance. Quite different, and somehow the same, as this woman resting from her sewing in a sunny garden, painted by American impressionist artist Frederick Carl Frieseke, The painting can be seen at, and ordered as a canvas print.