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Taking crafts beyond macrame

San Francisco museum, set to open Oct. 23 near Union Square, aims to expand the genre's boundaries and focus on contemporary works.

October 03, 2004|Jane Engle | Times Staff Writer

A modest-sized craft and design museum is opening this month in San Francisco. But its ambitions aren't modest. "A number of museums have taken 'craft' out of their names," said JoAnn Edwards, co-founder and executive director of the new San Francisco Museum of Craft+Design. "We want to restore it."

To that end, Edwards and the museum's other co-founder, her brother, Seb Hamamjian, plan to open the museum Oct. 23 in a 3,500-square-foot space two blocks from Union Square.

The museum's inaugural exhibition, "Dovetailing Art and Life: The Bennett Collection," will include more than 60 objects from the collection of Oakland artist Garry Knox Bennett and wife Sylvia. Highlights include works by Bennett, known for his unusual furniture designs; a 1959 ceramic fruit bowl by Charles Fiske; and a 2001 side table created by Canadian artist Gord Peteran out of woodshop scraps. "It's ingenious," Edwards said of the table. "It really challenges the line between art and craft."

Taking on the popular notions of what constitutes "crafts" is key to the museum's purpose. "There's nothing wrong with 'craft,' " Edwards said. "People think it's macrame and potholders. " In her view, a craft can be functional or not, decorative or not. But because a craft object is handmade and one of a kind, she said, it can be "more engaging and personal than some art."

The San Francisco Museum of Craft+Design will be one of just a few institutions that focus exclusively on contemporary craft, said Lloyd E. Herman, who is on the new museum's advisory board and is director emeritus of the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery. Los Angeles' Craft and Folk Art Museum and the Museum of Craft & Folk Art in San Francisco's Fort Mason Center mix traditional folk art exhibits and modern works.

Probably no museum will have an show quite like the one Edwards plans to open around Valentine's Day. Tentatively titled "Nouvelle Nuptials," the show "won't be political per se," Edwards said, "but it will push the envelope. You won't see pretty things." Objects may include a wedding dress made of zippers.

The San Francisco Museum of Craft+Design, at 550 Sutter St., will have free admission until Jan. 31. Then it will cost $5; $3 for students and seniors. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on other days; closed Mondays. (415) 773-0303 or

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