Craft Optimism: Artwork in Harmony with the Environment

By Phil Hutinet on April 26, 2021
Thrive Brooch by Sarah Murphy. Image courtesy of the artist

Visit Craft Optimism online HERE

Craft Optimism
Smithsonian Women’s Committee (SWC) and nonprofit Honoring the Future hope that this year’s annual SWC craft fair titled “Craft Optimism” will inform, educate and offer new perspectives on how artists create award-winning, aesthetically pleasing craft and artwork in harmony with the environment that also addresses the impact of climate change.

Since the inception of the first craft fair in 1982, SWC has raised over $13 million to support grants that promote innovative educational and research projects.  For this edition of the craft fair, SWC partnered with Honoring the Future, an organization dedicated to engaging the public on climate change through educational projects.

The online craft fair, which can previewed ahead of time, will take place April 24-May 1 and feature over 100 juried artists from the US.

Fish Bowl by Shirley Groman. Image courtesy of the artist

A Juried, Curated and Verified, Environmentally Sustainable Exhibition
The artist selection for Craft Optimism was based on one or both the following criteria:  the artist creates craft that either helps address climate change through its use of materials or the craft addresses the impacts of climate change.

According to Twig Murray, a committee member of the SWC, to select artist that met these standards, SWC sought the help of experts in the field of American Craft.  This included specialists at Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt, Renwick and the American Indian museums as well as private galleries and educators. Based on nominations made by these experts, SWC invited the selected artists to submit an application that included information about their work and process. Honoring the Future then reviewed each application to ensure that each applicant’s craft conformed to the one of the above criteria. In addition, SWC actively pursued the Smithsonian Institution’s equity and inclusion policies and actively sought works by American artists of Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Native origin.

Fran Dubrowski, director of Honoring the Future, hopes that the craft show will educate people on ways in which they can address climate change. She believes in the arts’ ability to engage audiences adding that “Craft Optimism celebrates the power and creativity of a diverse group of craft artists who call attention to an Earth in crisis and offer inventive ideas for curtailing human impacts on the environment.”

The handmade objects exhibited online fall into two major categories.  The first consists of mostly decorative items including artwork or household goods such as furniture. The second features “wearables” such as jewelry and clothing.   SWC takes a percentage of all sales which supports innovative Smithsonian educational, outreach and research projects and initiatives across 19 museums, research labs and the National Zoo.

Due to the fragile nature of many materials used to create the objects sold at the craft fair such as ceramic or glass, in past years, Murray observes that participants tended to be mostly from the East Coast.  However, this year’s online platform has alleviated the need for shipping objects to an in-person location which facilitated and increased nationwide participation.

Murray says that there are three things to “get excited about” at Craft Optimism including the quality of the objects presented, that each item is environmentally sustainable and that the proceeds benefit both the Smithsonian and the participating artists.

Colin Selig bench made from repurposed propane tanks. Image courtesy of the artist

Participating Artists
Over 100 artists will participate in Craft Optimism including many from the DC region.  Of note, three national artists, including Colin Selig, Sarah Murphy and Rowland Rickets have unique processes that illustrate the fair’s spirit of environmental sustainability.

Colin Selig’s demonstrates that reused materials can produce both aesthetically pleasing and functional objects.  Selig cleverly repurposes old propane tanks into fun, comfortable chairs simply by reassembling the metal components from one form to the next.  Selig hopes his technique will “inspire others to consider new possibilities for reusing materials.”

Since childhood, Sarah Murphy had always held a fascination for the colorful plastic pieces discarded during the production of steel cables at her family’s factory in Ohio.  A recent art school graduate, Murphy now uses the skills she developed to create jewelry from the remnant plastic pieces. Their colorful brilliance mimics the sparkle of jewels.

Rowland Ricketts and his wife Chinami grow their own indigo which they use to dye hand-made fabric.  Rowland then uses the large blueish-hued runners as backdrops for installations at museums around the world.  For Craft Optimism, he and his wife have, as Rowland puts it, “completed a sustainable circle of life” for the textiles by refashioning them into table runners and other usable objects.

Lastly, several local artists will be participating in the craft fair including Jessica Beels who uses found natural materials, ceramicist Shirley Groman whose work raises awareness about the Chesapeake Bay, Jenae Michelle who creates handbags out of old coats and fabric from the 1950s, Fiber artist Kim Schalk who fashions clothes from reused fiber and discarded plastic, and Topaz Terry who creates accessories out of bicycle waste.

Craft Optimism takes place April 24 through May 1, 2021 online HERE.  For more general information go to

Social Media Handles
Facebook: @SmithsonianCraftShow
Twitter @craftshowswc
Instagram: @smithsoniancraftshowsswc

Online Resources
Honoring the Future:
SWC Craft Show (general):
Smithsonian Women’s Committee: