Paul J. Smith (arts administrator)
Paul J. Smith (born September 8, 1931) is an arts administrator, curator, and artist living in New York. Director Emeritus of the Museum of Arts and Design (formerly the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, of which he served as director in 1963–1979, and, following the change of the museum's name to American Craft Museum, 1979–1987), Smith has been professionally involved with the art, craft, and design fields since the early 1950s and is closely associated with the twentieth-century "studio craft movement" in the United States. He joined the staff of the American Craftsmen's Council (ACC, now the American Craft Council) in 1957, and was appointed Director of the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in 1963. In September 1987, after 30 years with ACC, he assumed the position of Director Emeritus to provide independent consulting for museums, arts organizations, and collectors.
- 1 Early years and education
- 2 Artistic activity
- 3 Curatorial career
- 4 Other professional activity
- 5 Awards and honors
- 6 Selected publications
- 7 References
- 8 Archival sources
- 9 External links
Early years and education
Raised in Bennington, New York, Smith graduated from Attica High School in 1948 and attended the Art Institute of Buffalo, where he received a scholarship and studied with local artists who served as faculty members, including Charles Burchfield and James Vullo. With an interest in exploring craft skills, he took courses at the local Buffalo YWCA craft program, where he later taught ceramic classes. He also took a few classes at the School for American Craftsmen (now the School for American Crafts) at the Rochester Institute of Technology; this interest led to his membership in the organization Buffalo Craftsmen, where he served as president in 1962, and his active involvement with York State Craftsmen, a state organization that held an annual craft fair in Ithaca, New York.
During the 1950s, Smith's paintings and other artworks (signed Paul John Smith) were included in several regional exhibitions, including the Western New York Show at the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, and the Finger Lakes Show at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester. In 1957 he was included in the new talent listing of the magazine Art in America. His jewelry and wood forms were shown in national competitions such as "Fiber, Clay and Metal" (1955–57) at the Saint Paul Gallery and School of Art and the ACC "Young Americans" competitions (1954, 1956, and 1958). In 1956, his work in wood was awarded a Young Americans Certificate of Merit. He also was represented in Craftsmanship in a Changing World (1956), the inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts. Since the 1980s, Smith's focus has been on photography, extensively documenting public events in New York and internationally, including the annual West Indian Parade and Coney Island Mermaid Parade. His photo collection also includes images of more than 300 artists, collectors, and other individuals involved with the American studio craft movement from 1985 to the present.
Upon joining the staff of the American Craftsmen's Council in 1957, Smith established a new ACC program for traveling educational exhibitions. Since 1960, when he became officially involved with the museum, he has been responsible for organizing and presenting over 200 exhibitions, ranging from surveys of contemporary craft to one-artist retrospectives and innovative thematic exhibitions. Notable theme-focused exhibitions he organized include Cookies and Breads: The Baker's Art (1966), Designed for Production: The Craftsmen's Approach (1964), The Teapot (1965), The Door (1968), Body Covering (1968), Plastic as Plastic (1969), Objects for Preparing Food (1973), Portable World (1974), and The Great American Foot (1978). He initiated more than 75 one-artist exhibitions, including retrospectives for Dorothy Liebes (1970) and Peter Voulkos (1978). Smith also played a pivotal role in opening the American Craft Museum's new facility at 40 W. 53rd Street in the fall of 1986. On that occasion, he curated the exhibition Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical, which toured nationally after its New York premier. A revised version, Craft Today USA, toured to fifteen European cities under the auspices of the United States Information Agency's (USIA) Arts America Program from 1989 to 1993.
In addition to organizing exhibitions at the museum in New York, he served as a curatorial adviser for a number of other important exhibitions of contemporary craft, including Objects USA (1969), a survey collection of craft works assembled by gallery owner Lee Nordness that toured in both the United States and Europe; Craft, Art & Religion (1978), the first contemporary craft exhibition to be held at the Vatican; and In Praise of Hands (1978), the first international craft exhibition in Toronto. He also served on the juries of Things People Make (1981) at the Durban Art Gallery in Durban, South Africa; World Glass Now (1982) in Sapporo, Japan; and numerous other international competitions. In 2001, as project director and guest curator for the American Craft Museum, he organized the major exhibition Objects for Use: Handmade by Design.
Other professional activity
Since the 1960s, Smith has served on numerous boards and committees for arts organizations, including Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Penland School of Crafts, World Craft Foundation, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Boston University Program in Artisantry, Parsons The New School for Design, the Pilchuck Glass School, Friends of American Art in Religion, and Friends of Fiber Art. He is currently a trustee of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation and president of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.
Smith has traveled to 46 countries to lecture, serve on competition juries, participate in conferences, consult with arts organizations, and conduct research for exhibitions. He helped with the planning of the First Congress of Craftsmen in New York (1964), when the World Crafts Council (WCC) was formed, and attended all subsequent WCC conferences. He also has been an invited guest for cultural exchange by the governments of India, Germany, Morocco, Australia, Sweden and Finland. Through the USIA, he has given lectures and workshops in Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, and Botswana as well as in Australia and many European cities. As a member of the professional advisory committee for the “Gift to the Nation” Millennium Project by the Friends of Art and Preservation in Embassies, he assisted in assembling a collection of craft works for permanent placement in United States embassies. Smith has also advised The Center for U.S-China Arts Exchange at Columbia University since 1995 on their project dealing with ethnic culture in the Yunnan Province, and made three trips to China in 1995, 1997, and 2000.
Awards and honors
In May 1987, the Parsons School of Design of the New School for Social Research (now Parsons The New School for Design) awarded Smith an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts for his contributions to craft and design education. He is an Honorary Fellow of the American Craft Council, and an Honorary International Member of the Canadian Craft Council (now the Canadian Crafts Federation). The ACC awarded him the 2009 Aileen Osborn Webb Award for Philanthropy in recognition of exceptional curatorial contributions to the craft field. In November 2011, he received a “Legends” Award from the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts.
Books and exhibition catalogues
Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; American Craft Museum, 1986).
Objects for Use: Handmade by Design (New York: H.N. Abrams; American Craft Museum, 2001).
Masters of Craft: 224 Artists in Fiber, Clay, Glass, Metal and Wood (Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing; 2015).
Note: Smith produced and edited numerous other exhibition catalogues during his tenure at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts/American Craft Museum, many of which are accessible online at the American Craft Council Library.
Essays and articles
"Standards for Collecting Craft Art," in Craft Art and Religion: Proceedings of the Second International Seminar, 1978 (New York: The Committee of Religion and Art of America, 1979), pp. 49–52.
"Jurors' Statement," in Hokkaidōritsu Kindai Bijutsukan, et al., World Glass Now '82 (Sapporo: Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, 1982).
"A Tribute to Lenore," in Kathleen Nugent Mangan, ed., Lenore Tawney: A Retrospective (New York: American Craft Museum and Rizzoli, 1990), p. 13.
"Foreword," in Barbara Lovenheim, ed., Breaking Ground: A Century of Craft Art in Western New York (Rochester, N.Y.: Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 2010), p. 7.
"Toshiko Takaezu: Six Decades," in Peter Held, et al., The Art of Toshiko Takaezu: In the Language of Silence (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), pp. 13–17.
Contributed to Caroline M. Hannah, "An 'Exploding Craft Market,' 1945–1969," in Jeannine Falino, ed., Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design (New York: Abrams; Museum of Arts and Design, 2011), pp. 141–143.
Oral history interviews
Oral history interview with Paul J. Smith, conducted by Richard Polsky, 1990. Columbia Center for Oral History, Columbia University Libraries. Catalogue record
Oral history interview with Paul J. Smith, conducted by Lloyd E. Herman, April 19–20, 2010. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Transcript
Oral history interviews conducted by Smith
Susan Peterson, March 1, 2004. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Transcript
Alice Parrot, July 10, 2005. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Transcript
Lloyd Herman, September 21, 2010. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Collection record
Published features or interviews
ACC Outlook , Vol. 4, No. 5 (October 1963), pp. 1–2.
"An Interview with Paul J. Smith," in Museum News 50, no. 6 (February 1972), pp. 15–19.
Robert Kehlmann, "Consummate Connoisseur," in American Craft 47, no. 5 (October/November 1987), pp. 50–55.
"Remembering the American Craft Museum," in Studio Potter 32, no. 1 (December 2003), pp. 3–16.
Suzanne Ramljak, "Interview: Paul J. Smith," in Metalsmith 27, no. 5 (2007), pp. 20–23.
Joyce Lovelace, "Who Was Aileen Osborn Webb?" in American Craft 71, no. 4 (August/September 2011), pp. 47–49.
- "Museum History," Museum of Arts & Design, http://madmuseum.org/about/history. Accessed September 14, 2013.
- “About the Council: Our History,” American Craft Council, http://craftcouncil.org/history. Accessed August 15, 2013.
- "This Month in Craft History: September 2012", American Craft Council. Accessed August 15, 2013.
- A brief overview of Smith's early career can be found in Glenn Adamson, “Gatherings: Creating the Studio Craft Movement,” in Jeannine Falino, ed., Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design (New York: Abrams; Museum of Arts and Design, 2011), p. 41, as well as a biographical entry in the same text, p. 311–12. Fuller documentation exists at the ACC Library archives and in the Paul J. Smith Papers, 1955–2011 at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; see http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/paul-j-smith-papers-11572.
- See Craftsmanship in a Changing World (New York: American Craftsmen's Council, 1956). Accessible online at http://digital.craftcouncil.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15785coll5/id/2614. Accessed September 14, 2013.
- For a list of Museum of Contemporary Crafts and American Craft Museum exhibitions from 1956–90, which includes images of the works included in certain exhibitions and several digitized catalogues, see "Museum of Contemporary Crafts/American Craft Museum Finding Aid (1956-1990)," American Craft Council, https://craftcouncil.org/library/archives. Accessed September 14, 2013. The exhibitions and other projects Smith organized received extensive press coverage in national publications; selected press material is held in the ACC Library archives.
- Images from these retrospectives are available online through the ACC Library's Artist Archive Collection: Dorothy Liebes and Peter Voulkos. Accessed September 14, 2013.
- Craft Today USA: Final Report (New York: American Craft Museum; United States Information Agency, 1993). See also, e.g., Betty Werther, "Craft Today USA," in American Craft 49, no. 5 (October/November 1989), pp. 32–39. Documentation on the tour of the exhibition and its press reception in the cities to which it traveled is held in the ACC Library archives.
- Exhibition catalogue: Lee Nordness, Objects U.S.A. (New York: Viking, 1970), p. 21. See also "Lee Nordness Business Records and Papers circa 1931–1992," Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (Collection Summary), or Glenn Adamson, “Gatherings: Creating the Studio Craft Movement,” in Jeannine Falino, ed., Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design (New York: Abrams; Museum of Arts and Design, 2011), p. 43.
- Sandra Alfoldy, Crafting Identity: The Development of Professional Fine Craft in Canada (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005), p. 210.
- See Objects for Use: Handmade by Design (New York: H.N. Abrams; American Craft Museum, 2001).
- "Board of Trustees," Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, http://louiscomforttiffanyfoundation.org/board_of_trustees.html. Accessed September 15, 2013.
- Friends of Art and Preservation in Embassies published a volume documenting the project: see Emily Russell, ed., Gift to the Nation (Washington D.C.: Friends of Art and Preservation in Embassies, 2001).
- "American Craft Council College of Fellows," American Craft Council, https://craftcouncil.org/about-acc/acc-awards/american-craft-council-college-of-fellows. Accessed September 15, 2013.
- "Aileen Osborn Webb Awards 2009," American Craft Council, November 9, 2009, http://craftcouncil.org/magazine/article/aileen-osborn-webb-awards-2009. Accessed September 14, 2013.
The Paul J. Smith Papers, 1955–2011, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
The American Craft Council Library and Archives, American Craft Council, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- The Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts In America, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
- Objects USA exhibition in the Museum of Arts and Design collections database.
- "Episode V: Process," Craft in America, PBS, 2009. Interview segment with Paul J. Smith: Video on YouTube
- Masters of Craft: 224 Artists in Fiber, Clay, Glass, Metal and Wood, Schiffer Publishing, 2015.