Touring Craft Objects

Renee Reese, Mint Museum. Charlotte, NC, Facilitator                  

Allison Cummings, Mingei International, San Diego, CA                

Rona Frank, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, Recorder   

Susan Hambly, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA                   

Nancy Howard, Mingei International, San Diego, CA                     

Joe Lantz, Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO                       

Amy Krupsky, Smithsonian/Renwick, Washington, DC                  

Alayne Yellum, San Jose Museum of Art, CA          


I. Our discussion began with an agreement that the title of the discussion was changed to Touring Craft Objects from Touring Craft Museums as many museums have craft objects but fewer are solely devoted to craft.


II. Touching – Craft items innately invite touching, how do we keep visitors from doing so?

  • Provide objects for touching on a cart or in a basket so that visitors can feel the material and get an idea for how objects are constructed.
  • Make a visual/mental connection with everyday objects that are made with similar material or in a similar way.
  • In one case, a museum asked the artists if visitors could touch the pieces they created. The museum also asked if photography was permitted.
  • In all cases, docents should define the ground rules for whether touching was permitted or not.
  • Signage regarding the touching/no touching policy of a museum is essential.


II. Craft vs. Art – this was a lively discussion!

  • Visitors may need to be educated about the fine art quality of craft objects.
  • In museums where craft objects are mixed with paintings and traditional sculpture, the distinction between art and craft may be more or less evident to the visitor and the docent should address visitors’ perception of the difference.
  • Craft objects are often imbued with history, tradition and culture. These are important aspects to discuss with visitors.
  • In general, there is a growing interest in craft and a rethinking of the fine arts designation in terms of craft objects.
  • Many docents used the term Arts vs. Art in their tours.


III. Process - can be central to an appreciation of craft objects.

  • A description of the process involved in creating a craft object may be of great interest to a museum visitor. This may be especially true in the case of hobbyists.
  • Discussion of process helps to underscore the presence of the artists’ hands being involved the creation of an object.


IV. Arrangement of craft objects by the museum – may enhance the visitor’s experience.

  • Objects may be arranged by media, giving the visitor an appreciation for raw materials and the different ways they can be manipulated by the artist.
  • Objects may be arranged thematically, telling a story that crosses material and process.

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