The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show is an exhibition and sale of the finest work in contemporary craft and design presented by The Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
It all began in 1974 with A Touch of Gold, an exhibition and sale of jewelry, organized by The Women’s Committee. The positive and enthusiastic response to this event inspired the Committee to create an event that would both celebrate craft tradition and innovation in Philadelphia, thus launching the first Show in 1977.
Over the years the Show has grown out of three locations and found a home at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. More than 800 artists from across the country apply to the Show. The result is 195 artists in categories of basketry, ceramics, fiber decorative, fiber wearable, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, and wood.
In 2001, the Guest Artist Program was established and showcased artists from Japan. Since then the Show has hosted guest artists from First Nation, Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Finland, Canada, Israel, Korea, Scotland and Lithuania. At the 2019 Show, 22 guest artists from Israel will participate, thanks to the support of AIDA (Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts).
The Guest Artist Program has made an impact on many including gallery founder Rachel Lee. The 2017 Show was a pivotal point in Rachel Lee’s art career when she sponsored the works of 25 guest artists from Korea. The Korean presentation attracted the attention of other art institutions and collectors around the world. “After this experience, I felt like it was my calling in life to work to connect people in the art industry, from artists and museums to collectors and so on. Soon after, I started a small art consultancy company and from that Soluna Fine Art was born.”
The Show also offers emerging and university artists the opportunity to represent their work at a retail show. In 2010, the University Program, Craft U, began with Savannah College of Art and Design. “This show represents a great opportunity for students to experience the realities of the field and by doing so develop themselves as better artist and designers,” remarked Victor Ermoli, Dean of the School of Design at SCAD, in 2010. The 2019 Show will feature Moore College of Art & Design, Drexel University Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and SCAD Jewelry Graduate Study. Past participants include The University of the Arts and Kutztown University.
Each year, there is an awards ceremony to celebrate Best in Show and for Excellence in Clay, Fiber, Art to Wear, Glass, Wood, Metal, Jewelry, Design and New to Show. Says Patrick Benesh-Liu, Associate Editor of Ornament Magazine and Art to Wear prize sponsor: “In today’s world of fast fashion and online shopping, it is a special treat to talk with the makers face to face. The Craft Show is just the place for these human interactions, and for its consistent pursuit of the highest levels of American craft.”
The Show is the largest single annual fundraising event on the Museum calendar. In 2018, the Show netted $368,000. The cumulative 42-year contribution to the Museum exceeds $13 million. Funds raised support a variety of programs and projects and have touched all departments at the Museum. Each year a percentage of the proceeds is provided to the American Art Department for acquisitions of American craft.
A small group of committee members planned and administered the early shows. Today, there is a full-time manager, show chair and 100 committee members working year-round on this internationally-recognized show. Per Anja Levitties, 2019 Show Chair, “This year’s show will continue our long-standing tradition of bringing the finest in contemporary craft and design to Philadelphia. We are excited for our visitors to join us over the weekend of November 8-10 as we welcome master craftspeople, emerging artists, and guest artists from Israel.”