There’s a misnomer, Saint Paul artist Josephine Geiger says, as it relates to crafts—the likes of which some believe should be relegated to church bazaars. The stained-glass artist says the American Craft Council (ACC) is making headway in dispelling that notion. “The council has done a phenomenal job in educating people about the quality of craft,” she says. “Just because it’s called a craft doesn’t mean it’s not excellent artwork.”
The opportunity to view firsthand the state of the American craft scene should not be missed, as the ACC celebrates its 75th anniversary at the ACC Show St. Paul, an annual juried event April 7 to 9 at the Saint Paul RiverCentre. The event will feature more than 225 of the country’s top craft artists who will share their handiwork in clothing, furniture, home décor, jewelry and more. “We probably say it’s the best show in Minnesota,” Lynn Nelson, president of LIN Public Relations, says. Between 10,000 and 12,000 patrons are expected to attend the show. (Baltimore, Atlanta and San Francisco also hold annual juried ACC shows.)
Minnesotans are known for, among other things, their commitment to creative endeavors. When the need arose to relocate the ACC headquarters from New York City, a feasibility study indicated that Minneapolis was the ideal location. The 2010 move to Minnesota, according to Geiger, energized the state’s creative community. “We’ve always been very strong. It’s in our DNA to support the arts,” says Pamela Diamond, the ACC’s director of marketing and communications, who adds wryly, “Maybe it’s because we’re freeze dried for several months and we’re more productive.”
Diamond also says the state provides a well-educated audience for artistic events, explaining that the craft shows are not just about encouraging purchasing power, but place an extraordinary emphasis on educating the public about the creative process. “With every generation comes a different aesthetic,” Diamond says, so providing a continuum of resources, which highlight the past while illuminating the present, is a pillar of the ACC’s mission. “We build bridges to welcome new makers into a 75-year-old organization with a heritage,” she says.
The organization’s legacy has built to 38,000 members. Geiger is among them and plans to participate in this month’s show. Geiger began her career as an architect, working for about nine years in the field. Thanks to a community education class, Geiger found a new creative outlet working with stained glass. “I absolutely fell in love with the process,” she says. The commonality of the two disciplines isn’t lost on Geiger. Both specialties require design and organizational skills, attention to detail and hands-on work. The difference rests in Geiger’s process. While architecture requires deliberate planning, she takes a more intuitive approach with the glass. “There’s still that ‘I don’t know what it’s going to look like’ to it,’ ” she says.
While ACC craft show attendees may be struck by the work of Karen Morris, who has attended the event since 2013, she is equally as impressed with the event-goers. “They appreciate the art,” Morris says. For seven years, Morris has designed women’s hats, from casual to high-end creations. She appreciates the support of the ACC. “The ACC helps artists promote their craft,” Morris says.
Artistic, smart, playful—words that describe the millinery and the milliner. Morris was born in Hong Kong. She recalls being drawn to fashion as a child, but her true passion began to take form at the races. Thanks to British influence, horse racing was part of Morris’ life growing up, and, naturally, women in attendance donned hats and fascinators of all forms. “That’s why I fell in love” with the craft,” she says.
Morris studied under the tutelage of Judy Bentinck, a well-known couture milliner based in London, and with another mentor from Ireland. Among other materials, she works with felt (rabbit fur), sinamay, straw and velvet. Regardless of the textile, Morris finds joy in the journey. “I like to go through the experience,” she says, even if challenges present themselves along the way. Morris considers dilemmas to be opportunities to develop technique or discover new ways of thinking. In the end, it’s primarily about her customers. “I love to see my clients wear my hats and be happy,” she says.
Glassblower Fred Kaemmer’s craft is a little less utilitarian than Morris’ work (though he does create glassware). He’s attended the ACC show since 2007. “It’s maybe the nicest craft show in Minnesota,” Kaemmer says. “It’s good to be a part of it.”
Kaemmer describes his aesthetic as embracing a contemporary bent that involves technical control “with a certain amount of serendipity,” he says. “I never quite know what the end result will be.”
Working out of his Saint Paul studio, Kaemmer finds inspiration from the northern climate (such for as a five-element icicle piece), and a series of paperweights and sculptures draw from time spent as a child, searching for agates along the St. Croix River and in the Apostle Islands, where he spent summers as a boy.
After receiving a degree in religion from Bates College in Maine, Kaemmer helped run a studio for Jim and Renée Engebretson and learned to work with glass while auditing classes taught by Jim at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Kaemmer discovered that refining his craft was easier than building self-confidence as an artist. Thankfully, the Engebretsons clearly saw his talent reflected in his creations. “Jim and Renée both recognized that I looked at glass in a different way,” he says.
Art in Abundance
In addition to showcasing artists, the American Craft Council (ACC) show at Saint Paul RiverCentre will feature on-site programs Make Room: Modern Design Meets Craft, Hip Pop, Let’s Make and Style Slam.
Make Room: Modern Design Meets Craft returns, highlighting the theme “In Space and Time.” The décor program features room vignettes created by four Twin Cities design teams inspired by objects of fine craft by show artists. In honor of the ACC’s 75th anniversary, the spaces will also nod to iconic images that celebrate the history of craft from the 1940s through today. Neal Kielar and Jon Mehus of MidModMen studio in Saint Paul will design a space paying homage to the 1960s.
“Hip Pop is an emerging artists program that highlights the talented makers who are new to the American Craft Show scene,” according to the ACC. “Participating artists are selected through a jurying process and grouped into shared booths, where each artist has their own display space. This community-based structure provides a supportive atmosphere for the best and brightest emerging talent to interact with each other—as well as with seasoned artists and show-goers – and sell their work.”
Let’s Make welcomes show-goers to the artistic process. Artisans provide interactive demonstrations, allowing the public to better understand the process by observing or participating in the creation of a piece of artwork.
Style Slam, which makes its second appearance at the event, marries four professional stylists with a select group of ACC fashion wearables, accessory and jewelry artists. Together, they demonstrate how the statement pieces can accentuate your wardrobe.
American Craft Show, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. April 7; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. April 8; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. April 9; Saint Paul RiverCentre.
On-site admission $12 one-day pass; online tickets $11 one-day pass; $5 after 5 p.m. (Friday night on-site purchases only); free children 12 and younger and American Craft Council members.