The State of Craft in Oklahoma

Photos courtesy of 108 Contemporary and Sean Tyler

State of Craft 2021

108 Contemporary Fine Craft Gallery - Tulsa, OK

Dec 3 2021- Jan 23 2022

by Sean Tyler

January 9, 2022

Thinking about American art capitols, the midwest and the south are rarely, if ever, factored in. Oklahoma sits at the intersection of the two, neither fish nor fowl, but not on the art world’s menu. A craft show in Oklahoma feels impossibly far off the beaten track, even in one of the most prestigious and well-funded craft galleries in Oklahoma.

Of course, craft materials are increasable acceptable in fine art spaces, some artists with a craft practice are highly collectable, such as Jeffery Gibson, Qualeasha Wood, and Erin M. Riley. The increasing reputation of craft arts is a recent trend that Oklahoma’s art community has reached for with both hands.

The State of Craft 2021 exhibition at 108 Contemporary Fine Craft Gallery in Tulsa Oklahoma gathers a survey of artists working in craft materials across the state.

Disclaimer: I am included in the show and will not be reviewing my work because I will either sound humorously self-deprecating or suspiciously confident.

The State of Craft 2021, juried by Jennifer Scanlan, includes a wide variety of media across the 22 artists: embroidery, soft sculpture, weaving, beading, woodworking, leatherworking, ceramics, and metalsmithing. The exhibition was split into 3 thematic groups, Voices, Self, and Earth, that roughly relate to the pandemic and other major events of the last two years. The show presents each artist’s statement alongside their work, which for a show with the variety of physical materials and conceptual subjects is essential to give each piece a fair shake. It does make for a dense show, but the work demands a long slow tour.

The immediate strength of the show is the variety; one of Taryn Singleton’s technicolor embroidery hoops can sit across from one of Jim Weaver’s leather vessels as equals, despite seeming to be from different universes.

Tayrn Singleton, A Shifting Foundation, Embroidery on digitally drawn and painted background, stretched over embroidery hoop; 8" x 8" x 1" - Photo courtesy of 108 Contemporary

Jim Weaver, Reconstruction of the Memory of Persistent Conflict, Acrylic on tooled leather, hematite beadwork; 2.5" x 11" x 8.5" - Photo courtesy of 108 Contemporary

Some works meet the traditional idea of a usable craft object, Joseph Jenner’s jewelry is completely wearable, while others barely tip their hats at the idea of being a vessel. Grant Akiyama’s Blue Jar, is still a stoneware jar, but it would feel deeply wrong to use it for storage.

Joseph Jenner, Eye Signet #3, 24k gold, sterling silver, black diamond; 1" x 1" x .5" - Photo courtesy of 108 Contemporary

Grant Akiyama, Blue Jar, Stoneware; 12" x 12" x 10" - Photo courtesy of 108 Contemporary

One of my personal highlights of the show is Halo by Whitney Forsyth, an 8-foot diameter circle of concentric ceramic leaves. The white circle between the patinaed outer ring and bullseye gives a sense of a ghostly fairy ring, or an eternally preserved earthwork. This work traipses over the origins of pottery into the realms of installation art.

Whitney Forsyth, Halo, Ceramic, oil patina; 8' x 8' x 6" - Photo courtesy of 108 Contemporary

Being included, I’m obviously not going to be too scathing about the show, but I do genuinely think it provides a different view of what art in Oklahoma looks like today. If people expect Oklahoma art is going to be about cows, maybe this will make a new myth that crafts are flourishing in Oklahoma, if only because we have nothing to do out on the prairie but quilt and make pottery.

The exhibit runs from Dec 3 2021- Jan 23 2022.