Thursday April 29, 2021 | by Lindsay von Hagn

Smithsonian's "Craft Optimism" virtual marketplace puts the focus on craft and sustainability

When Covid pandemic hit just over one year ago, cancellation of events of all kinds followed. The organizers of the 2020 Smithsonian Craft Show were determined not to cancel its annual craft showcase. Although the show had to be postponed for about six months, the Smithsonian successfully shifted to a virtual format that combined the Craft Show with Craft2Wear, the Smithsonian’s annual wearable arts program. This year, the Smithsonian Women’s Committee (which has sponsored the Craft Show Since 1982) collaborated with non-profit arts organization Honoring the Future to launch a brand-new crafts market in the virtual space that addresses climate-change. Titled Craft Optimism, this show features 100 artists selected by experts in the craft community and highlights work that either “helps to address climate change or reflect on the impacts of climate change in some way,” according to the show’s mission statement. Handmade works in a myriad of craft mediums divided into four categories - Jewelry, Wearable Art, Accessories, and Art/Home - are for sale through Saturday, May 1st, and can be viewed in the online catalog.

Proceeds from this virtual event will fund grants for education, research, and conservation throughout the Smithsonian’s museums and the National Zoological Park of the Smithsonian Institution.

The handful of participating artists who work in glass have their own unique approaches to the show’s theme of addressing the impacts of climate change.

Nicholas Kekic of Tsuga Studios in Vermont blows glass from his studio space that is located in a building that generates electricity from the nearby Connecticut River. He uses this renewable energy source to power his furnace, limiting his contribution to climate change in a way that is unique for running glassmaking equipment.

Nicholas Kekic creates his colorful blown glass vessels in a building that generates electricity from the nearby Connecticut River in Vermont. courtesy: smithsonian craft optimism.

Bicycle Glass Co. uses 100% post-consumer recycled glass from their Minnesota community to create lighting fixtures. However, according to their website, their use of recycled glass “isn't the only place we consider the environment. From packaging to utilities to operations, Bicycle Glass is always searching for new ways we can reduce our impact on the planet, provide for our community, and create a sustainable, quality product for you to feel good about.”

Using pre- and post-consumer glass recycled from their community, Bicycle Glass Co. creates sustainable lighting fixtures. courtesy: smithsonian craft optimism.

Mira Woodworth reclaims whatever glass she can find - often industrial glass like windows, shelves, show doors, etc. - into what she refers to on her website as Eco Luxury Art Glass. She will cut, break, and smash these objects and then piece the glass back together in a kiln to form colorful objects.

Woodworth’s artistic ethos aligns with the mission of Craft Optimism. As she says on her website, “I am in love with the idea of reclaiming the unwanted and refinishing it into gallery-ready works of art. To me, this speaks to a basic truth of the inherent (and sometimes secret) beauty in everything.”

She adds, “A certain optimism is conveyed when the viewer learns it was resurrected from rubbish. This optimism is what my work is all about.  It’s never too late for anything (or anyone) to be remade.”

Mira Woodsworth breaks and reconstructs recycled glass into stunning kilnformed "Eco Luxury Art Glass". courtesy: smithsonian craft optimism.

Single-use plastics have caused concern for years, and many individuals and companies have started making efforts to reduce their use of things like plastic shopping bags, cups, and straws for the benefit of the environment. Arlie Pemberton of Arlie Glass, whose home and studio are on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, sees the harmful impact of single-use plastics on the ocean and beaches first-hand. This inspired her to apply her colorful, bubbly flameworking style to a line of glass straws. She says, “In the grand scheme of things, plastic straws are a small part of the problem, but eliminating them is one of the simple first steps many people can take.”

Arlie Pemberton started making flameworked glass straws after noticing increasing plastic waste on the beaches of her home state, Hawaii. courtesy: smithsonian craft optimism.

Jeweler Amy Faust uses a variety of reclaimed materials in her eco-friendly fine jewelry, sometimes giving new life to vintage glass objects like bottles and jars, “[aiming] for transformation of material, value, boldness, and wear-ability.” In addition to glass, her work often repurposes porcelain, gemstones, found objects like pebbles, and even recycled silver for the settings. Her artist biography on the Craft Optimism website asserts, “No part of my work will damage the environment now or in the future and is made to last.”

Amy Faust creates eco-friendly jewelry, sometimes recycling glass from bottles and jars. courtesy: smithsonian craft optimism.

Works by artists working in wood, ceramics, fiber/textiles, metal, and other recycled or upcycled materials in a variety of styles and price points are also available in the Craft Optimism show. Registration is required, and more information about the registration process can be found here.

Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.