Jo Lauria in Conversation


In May 2007, Sally von Bargen interviewed Jo Lauria, a long time AJF member and previous board member. She is the chief curator for the touring exhibition Craft in America: Expanding Traditions and co-author of the companion book Craft in America: Celebrating Two Centuries of Artists and Objects.

Craft In America
Cover, Jo Lauria and Steve Fenton (ed), Craft in America. Crown, 2007.

Jo Lauria: Yes, both thrilled and exhausted and humbled to be part of such a noble effort. It is a wonderful project and I am honored to be associated with it.

Will you share with us how the various components

the television documentary, the companion book and the national exhibition

fit together?

The analogy is the human body. The book gives the historical framework, the backbone, the structure, the context of why crafts came into existence, why they are important to our cultural heritage and why the handcrafted object and the activity of hand-making has endured and continues to thrive even in today’s post-industrial society. The PBS documentary focuses on the lives of some of the key artists of our time, conveying the ‘backstory’ (their personal narratives) and giving shape to the structure. It serves as the nervous system with attendant emotions and reactive responses. It poses the question, ‘Why do artists engage in craft making?’ And answers it resoundingly with two reasons: passion and deliberate choice. The exhibition represents the senses as it provides the channel for a sensory experience

the actual viewing, being enveloped by the objects, the physical journey navigating through the display of assembled objects can be a spiritual experience for some, for others a profound aesthetic one. It also enables learning about our culture, our heritage and our traditions, one handmade object at a time. Seeing craft objects on a television screen or reproduced in a book does not engender the same connection with the viewer 

the urgent, intense and critical exchange of immediate sensations communicated when one is in the presence of and shares space with objects. The exhibition makes possible this intense, sensate experience.

What motivated your involvement in Craft in America?

I believed in the worth of the projects, the potential impact they could have on the field of crafts, design and decorative arts and I was committed to the creative direction and mission as outlined by Carol Sauvion, the founder and executive director of Craft in America. To write a book about American crafts with co-author Steve Fenton (and several contributing writers) that gave voice to our diverse native and multi-cultural communities seemed a unique contribution. Craft in America offered me the opportunity to organize an exhibition of masterpiece, craft objects, a proposal that proved too seductive to resist.

Significant historical surveys of craft objects, expansive in both concept and size, are few and far between, as they are often costly and unwieldy to organize and can be challenging to place with appropriate host venues. But I think the efforts are well rewarded as these exhibitions resonate with viewers and can be very emotive. In fact, they have the potential to be transformative 

as craft objects are accessible, vital and validating, they reveal our shared histories, they are the legacies of our heritages and most importantly, they are the potent expressions of our individualism. In short, I wanted to participate in something where the whole could be greater than the sum of its parts.

I think it is fair to say that Craft in America is the first major exploration and public discussion in the twenty-first century of American craft and as such will continue to inform the national exploration of artist-made objects for years to come. Well done, Jo, thank you.


  • Sally von Bargen

    Sally von Bargen holds a BFA from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Masters in Teaching from Seattle University. She began making and collecting contemporary studio jewelry after an accomplished career as business leader and founder of PhotoDisc, the first company to deliver digital photography via the internet. After PhotoDisc merged with Getty Images, she led Getty’s global commercial photography division until 2001 when she left to pursue her interest in art jewelry. She served on the AJF board focusing on web strategy and finance.

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