American Arts & Crafts reflect the people within our borders, which is a more diverse group of people than almost anywhere on earth. People have come here for adventure, for opportunity and sadly, sometimes in chains.
The arts and crafts heritage of the U.S. is a kaleidoscope, a trip in a time machine, with a dash of rebellion and industry to boot. Today’s artist and artisans are bridging the gap between the past and the future and between the many cultures that exist in this country.
Let’s look at three artists who incorporate their heritage in their art. I’ll also share ideas for incorporating your heritage in your creations.
Wendy Maruyama was one of the first women in America to receive a masters in furniture making. She has shown her diverse works around the country for more than 40 years. Maruyama has something to say and that something has evolved during her career.
Her use of traditional Japanese imagery, materials and forms is evident in her work. You can also see Maruyama’s personal vision and even her sense of humor.
Maruyama has focused on many subjects including “The Tag” Project where she use tags from interned Japanese-Americans to create sculptures. Her Wildlife Project revolves around the beauty of the African elephant and the cruelty of their treatment by those who should be protecting them.
You may be surprised to learn that Maruyama is also hearing impaired and has cerebral palsy. She has transformed her many challenges into inspiration. Maruyama expresses herself with her art and as a university professor with intensity and clarity.
Michael A. Cummings
Michael A. Cummings is an African-American artist and craftsman who specializes in quilting. In America quilt making has traditionally been a practical pursuit of making a product to keep us warm. Cummings has taken what many think of as a female craft that is limited and prescribed to new heights. Cummings’s works are thoughtful, beautiful and engaging.
He brings together fabrics from African and American sources as his palette to paint a wide range of pictures. His work highlights famous Black figures in history and the news, and lives of African-Americans and their unique experiences. This includes images of what African-Americans have contributed and some of the pain endured along the way.
Consuelo Jimenez Underwood
Consuelo Jimenez Underwood is a woman with a plan. In my recent phone interview with the acclaimed Latina artist I learned about her 10 year plans. When she was 9 years old she started to envision her college education and goals. At 70 her plan is to create 3 to 4 pieces each year for the next 10 years.
Underwood’s father was recruited from Mexico to work in U.S. after WWII. She said she has had many painful experiences during her life and she feels it is her calling to make the world somehow “spin a little smoother.” Underwood’s work incorporates the difficult issues of the time, but there is always a positive spin.
She said her works relate to the deep past, precolonial times, the 50s and 60s when she was growing up, through the 80s, 90s and today. Underwood sees herself as part of all these times and hopes to draw from them and find a way to point to a better future.
Underwood’s Borderlines collection includes the four border state’s flowers. With the help of local school children she also incorporates the flower of the state her exhibit is visiting. The piece demonstrates that flowers have no borders. Undocumented flowers cross the border as if it wasn’t there.
Connecting Your Art to Heritage
My heritage is solidly European including mostly Scottish, Irish and English. As a child I was fascinated by the stark and yet delicate silhouette artworks on my grandmother’s wall. Silhouettes are an art form created in many cultures but my grandmother’s arose from the European and later American mainstream tastes.
I have cut free-hand black paper trees most of my life. Sometimes for decoration and sometimes just for the meditative process. Recently, I found an alternate technique on Creativebug called Watercolor Silhouette. It produces a silhouette portrait of a person or animal using watercolor to add a modern twist. Try it and you can easily create a lovely work of art and become part of the evolution of craft and art from the traditional to the contemporary and beyond.
Check out these books for more inspiration and instruction.