What to expect (and buy) at Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Contemporary Craft Show this weekend
The Convention Center show is a hub for one-of-a-kind holiday gifts, from custom-made knives to sculpted teapots and comic strip-printed mugs.
Nearly 200 of the nation’s premier craft artists are in town this weekend for the 43rd annual Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Contemporary Craft Show, which takes over the Convention Center on Friday through Sunday.
Master crafters from as close as Point Breeze and as far as Washington state are selected through a highly competitive jury process that winnows a pool of more than 875 applicants down to 195. All their wares — including jewelry, light fixtures, hand-carved wooden bowls, custom knives, modern furniture, and wearable works of art — will be for sale.
“It’s like you’re going to a museum, but the artists are right there to chat with you,” says Anja Levitties, the 2019 show chair. With a wide range of styles and prices, the show attracts both collectors and people shopping for holiday gifts.
Here’s a small sample of the artists and goods you’ll find on the Convention Center floor.
Mick Whitcomb, light-fixture artist from Springfield, Mo.
Inspiration: I’ve always collected 19th-century scientific innovations, and I wanted to find a way to keep them relevant. You have a 150-year-old microscope that no longer makes sense as a scientific instrument — but made into a functional lamp, it can remain appreciated for its historical significance and aesthetic qualities.
Primary materials: Most of the objects I’m working with are from the latter half of the Victorian period. The staple building materials were brass and cast iron, which can make the light fixtures pretty heavy. A typewriter desk lamp might be 30 or 40 pounds. The bulbs are reproductions of incandescent Edison bulbs.
What to expect at the show: 100-plus pieces (30 on display at a time). On the lower price end are lights made from turn-of-the-century telegraph-related instruments and Kodak cameras. In the middle range are lights utilizing items like electric fans, typewriters, and apothecary scales. The most expensive item is a tripod-mounted floor lamp made with an early 19th-century Vernier compass.
Price range: $145-$4,800.
Surprising fact about you: I’m color-blind, so I’d never make it as painter. Also, right after college, my wife and I moved to Indonesia, and we used to manufacture surfboards in Bali.
Ian Petrie, ceramicist from Point Breeze
Inspiration: Aesthetically, I’m getting inspiration from comics and manga. What I like for my work is that I’m pulling just one image out of a comic, so it doesn’t have the before or after, and you’re forced to construct the narrative for yourself. The viewer gets to reevaluate it every time they’re using the item. Most themes are based around a slice-of-life approach.
Favorite comic: I’ve always been drawn to contemporary American comics vs. superhero styles. One of the big ones that opened my eyes was Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. It showed me comics can be treated more like a novel to create these real-world emotional experiences.
Primary materials: I do the drawings on paper with a dip pen and use ink washes for shading. I take each image into Photoshop and turn it into a half-tone image. That’s screen-printed using a special ceramic ink, which is then transported onto ceramics that I make. Some of the pieces have layers of gold luster that obscure part of the illustration. As the piece is used over time, the gold luster slowly fades, and the viewer is able to see what is hidden behind, say, the speech bubble or window. It creates a delayed narrative.
What to expect at the show: Around 150 pieces, including mugs, plates, bowls, vases, and platters; everything is completely usable.
Price range: $9-$500; pieces average around $60.
Surprising fact about you: I’m an avid trail ultra-marathon runner. My last race was a 100-miler. It took just over 27 hours straight.
Harold Kalmus, knife maker from Arden, Del.
Inspiration: I try to make knives that are beautiful but won’t be intimidating to use. Some of the styles are fun and others more elegant, but none of them are so precious-looking that you’d be afraid to put them to use. I’m a minimalist, but everything should have one touch of something really nice, like a mother-of-pearl inlay on a plain black handle.
Primary materials: I use two types of steel for the blades. There’s a high-carbon steel that professionals often prefer because it’s easier to sharpen, but it also rusts easier if you’re not cautious with it. I also use a stainless steel, which requires less care but is a bit harder to resharpen.
For the handles, I use a lot of black ebony or strikingly colored woods, like Osage orange and Redheart, or those with interesting patterns, like birdseye maple, which has these little eye-like spots.
What to expect at the show: 50 knives, including paring, cheese, utility, Japanese-style nakiri and santoku, and 6-, 8-, and 9-inch chef’s knives.
Price range: $200-$500.
Surprising fact about you: I play classical piano, which may not have been the wisest hobby choice. In a profession where I’m playing with sharp and hot objects, grinders, and other tools of destruction, I’ve had to cancel a few lessons due to finger injuries.
Ahrong Kim, ceramicist from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Inspiration: My inspiration starts from my grandmother. She used to be a personal seamstress for the vice president of Korea before the outbreak of the Korean War. Growing up with her, I was always surrounded by fabrics full of rich color and patterns, which have become a large part of my style. The figurines are an expression of my emotions. When I came to the U.S. back in 2011, English wasn’t my first language, so my work became my emotional diary.
Primary materials: Clay and glaze.
What to expect at the show: 10 sculptures and 50 functional wares (teapots, mugs, jars, glasses).
Price range: $160-$280 for functional wares; $3,000-$4,000 for sculptures; $1,500-$2,200 for Trophy teapots.
Surprising fact about you: I like coffee over tea, so I use my teapots for soy sauce. Dumplings and sushi are my favorite, so I always have soy sauce on the table.
Steve Noggle, wood turner from Morgantown, N.C.
Inspiration: I’m all about the wood. In the bowls, you can see the grain and the texture of the wood from the inside and also the outside. While I have decorative work, more than half of the work I make is functional, yet designed to be a beautiful statement on the table.
Favorite woods: Ambrosia maple is my favorite. Beetles drill into the wood, which brings this fungus that stains the wood with these really neat streaks. I also use a lot of burl wood. When you see that tumor-like growth disfiguring a tree, that’s burl wood. It has more interesting grain patterns than straight-grain wood.
What to expect at the show: 50 to 60 pieces, including bowls, bowl-shaped vessels with legs, decorative closed-form pieces, and platters.
Price range: $150-$2,000; functional serving bowls average between $250 and $400.
Surprising fact about you: I’m entirely self-taught, but I was at one time a forester and I have a forestry degree.
See work from all the artists coming to the Contemporary Craft Show at pmacraftshow.org/artists.