Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 21, 2010: Washington - Renwick Gallery, Foggy Bottom

The most affecting exhibition I've seen so far has been at the Renwick Gallery of American craft. Somehow you expect to see small-scale, superficially amusing items at a craft gallery - nothing of great meaning or importance. But the exhibition 'The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese Internment Camps, 1942-1946' was both heart-breaking and inspiring. With little else available to them in terms of material comforts or productive employment, many of the internees turned to crafts, and you can see how much time and attention was lavished on them. All of the items are labeled with what the artist did before their internment, how long they were in the camp, and what they did with their life after the camp - really hitting home the disruption to everyone's lives.

From a cultural standpoint it was fascinating to see how different artistic trends developed at the various camps - a camp with someone expert in embroidery would come to have many beautiful embroidered pieces; another camp with many shells in the soil would come to make intricate artificial flower arrangements out of tiny shells. There was a film that described how different crazes would take off - a National Geographic issue about birds would inspire carving of miniature birds.

Surprisingly, some people who produced amazing, intricate works of art in the camps didn't continue their artistic pursuits after their release. It was inspiring that these activities filled a void in their lives when there was nothing else to fill it. I wonder whether it was too painful a reminder of that time to continue their art, whether it didn't serve a purpose once they returned to their complete lives, or whether they never had the time and energy to return to it - rebuilding their lives, which had been on hold for so long, must have been a great struggle.

The remainder of the gallery was fairly small - a second floor with some paintings and some contemporary craft, with a few good pieces. The most remarkable thing was the stairway - not only were the steps carpeted in red, but the handrails were covered in red velvet. That just seems impractical.

After the gallery I walked over to Foggy Bottom to a farmer's market. It was considerably smaller than the Dupont Circle market, but I was still able to pick up some nice produce (peaches, pattypan squash, tomatoes) and a peach blueberry pie.

Photos: Art of Gaman flower pins, made of shells and beans, by Shigeko Shintaku Iwa Miura, and Grace Ayako Ito (Terry Heffernan photo from the Renwick website); Art of Gaman birds, carved from wood, by Himeko Fukuhara and Kazuko Matsumoto (Terry Heffernan photo from the Renwick website); Renwick Gallery staircase with velvet-covered handrails; Beth Lipman's all-glass 'Banquet' 2003; Karen LaMonte's 'Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery' 2009, also in glass

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