I WOULDN'T ordinarily lead with a lengthy quote, but much of the language in the Museum of Contemporary Craft's literature on its new State of Oregon Craft exhibit cuts to the heart of my interest in regional products (not just clothes!):
"Craft is the stuff of everyday life. It is a tangible rubric for measuring the state of the state and for discovering how we live through what we make... We see craft and design as verbs for profound inquiry and engagement with the world." Moreover, as curators Nicole Nathan and Namita Gupta Wiggers point out: "In Oregon, craft is deeply connected to place through regionally sourced materials, processes based on locality, and the communities which support making... Craft is a way of living that combines pragmatism with innovation, legacy, and longevity."
To provide a craft-based equivalent to fine-art biennials, Nathan and Wiggers took on the enviable task of hitting the road, traveling all over the state to research and select a diverse range of creators. Some of those chosen for the exhibit have a longstanding heritage: Hamley & Co., a (gorgeous) saddle-making and leatherwork company in Pendleton was founded in 1883, for instance, or even Portland's Bullseye Glass Co. and Sisters' Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, which have both been around since the '70s (pretty long in the tooth for the craft world). These objects are displayed alongside relative upstarts like Portland's Mudshark Studios, who you'll probably recognize for their signature Portland Growler Co. ceramic beer vessels, but who also do work in (arguably) less glamorous contexts, like dental offices. (You've got to appreciate the wit in featuring a dental spittoon under museum glass.)
State also challenges some of the stereotypes of what craft museums traffic in. Indeed, there are ceramics, like those of Willamina's East Creek Anagama, which uses a wood-fired kiln modeled on a Korean design from the eighth century. And baskets too, of course, such as Coos Bay/Portland's Sara Siestreem, whose work is an inquiry into the traditional techniques of Northwest Native American weavers. Elsewhere in the exhibit are works like an Andy Paiko and Ethan Rose collaboration called Transference (originally displayed at the museum in 2009), which is a study in glass art, computer technology, and sound installation, a wall-mounted "performer-less glass armonica" that coos digitally cued tones as you peruse the space. A life-sized, glowing skeleton greets you from across the room as you ascend to the gallery's second story. It's Portlander Eric Franklin's Embodiment, which combines practices of physiology and flameworking, and would look equally at home at OMSI, a really hip medical school, or even perhaps a sci-fi convention.
From the decorative to the prosaic, key elements tie State's pieces together, as well as connect them with the experience of living in this craft culture-rich state. Each object has a narrative of how a region's population share and evolve techniques, are shaped by the resources (natural and otherwise) of our physical surroundings, and are imbued with the stories of their creators.
If State properly translates, you may never look at "things" in quite the same boring light again. (And who wants to?) Museum of Contemporary Craft, 724 NW Davis, Tues-Sat 11 am-6 pm, through Aug 15, mocc.pnca.edu