Curator, writer and historian, working across the fields of design, craft and contemporary art.

Modern Craft


Modern Craft

A central theme in my work has been modern craft: the application of skilled making to the world around us.  

Despite the fact that it is frequently positioned as inferior to fine art and industrial production, craft is in fact a vital presence in both spheres. I’ve pursued this idea recently in the book Art in the Making, co-authored with Julia Bryan-Wilson, published in 2016 by Thames and Hudson, and in this essay for the V&A.  

In my two-plus years as director of the Museum of Arts and Design, I attempted to reclaim the institution’s founding mission to champion craft. This initiative was expressed in exhibitions such as NYC Makers, Pathmakers: Women in Art Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today, and monographic shows about furniture artist Wendell Castle, mannequin impresario Ralph Pucci, Dutch designers Studio Job, and the groundbreaking ceramic artist Peter Voulkos.  

I’ve also investigated the cultural history of skill in three books, Thinking Through Craft (2007), The Craft Reader (2010), and Invention of Craft (2013). By considering the idea of craft from multiple perspectives - art and design practice, engineering, politics, and assertions of identity - I have argued for the crucial importance of artisanal values to modern life.  

My essays on craft have also appeared in other contexts, such as a discussion of handmade copies in the edited volume The Studio Reader and a not-quite-final goodbye to craft in Nation Building, as well as regular contributions to the leading British publication Crafts Magazine.

Finally, along with the other co-editors of the triannual Journal of Modern Craft, published by Taylor & Francis, I have built a platform for scholarly discourse on the subject. The journal’s affiliated website offers some freely downloadable articles, blog posts, and related content.