State Craft Icons On View At Mingei International Museum In Balboa Park – KPBS

Eight years ago, Rob Sidner was “puttering” around the Hawaiian island of Kauai with a friend, wandering in and out of shops. As the director of the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park, he is poised to notice quality craftmanship on his travels. He kept seeing beautiful wooden canoe paddles.

“And I thought these are really iconic of the state of Hawaii,” Sidner said. “My friend and I got to talking and he said ‘why don’t you think about an exhibition and see if there are iconic crafts for all the states.'”

And of course there are. Pennsylvania Dutch quilts represent the keystone state. Blown glass by Dale Chihuly helps represent Washington state, since the well-known artist was born in Tacoma, just outside of Seattle.

There are over 100 objects in the show, including textiles, glass, furniture, tools, baskets, signs, and ceramics. There are unexpected pieces: a saddle, a hitching post, cowboy boots, and an early lighted sign piece from Las Vegas.

Sidner, who curated the show and worked on assembling it for three years, chose American Indian baskets to represent California, as well as a leather and silver saddle made for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1939.

An image of furniture craftsman Sam Maloof’s iconic rocking chair, now on view at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park.

“I tried to have something traditional and contemporary from each state whenever possible,” Sidner said.

And sometimes it’s an iconic piece from an individual artist whose work helps define a state’s artistic heritage. California is also represented by furniture craftsman Sam Maloof’s signature rocking chair.

Sidner said there were surprises that developed as he assembled the show. He noticed themes, such as how significant Native American traditions are, both in this show and in American craft.

“I didn’t expect that I would be showing so much Native American work but there are about 15 states in which it is represented,” Sidner said.

“The story of Native Americans in this country is so tragic and still fraught today,” Sidner said. “To see so concretely how important their work is as we look at the history of American art is really satisfying.”

The importance of quilts in American craft was also apparent. “I don’t think there’s any other craft as iconic as the quilt, not for any one state but for the whole country,” Sidner said.

The exhibit will include state maps and an opportunity for visitors to submit their suggestions for iconic crafts for each state.

“Made in America” runs from Sept. 19 through Feb. 21.