It's always a question, debated over the years with great passion, whether artists follow or whether they lead. But if the artworks to be shown at the 15th annual ACC Craft Fair, scheduled next weekend at the Convention Center, are any indication, craftspeople are right in step with the times -- toward home and toward tighter purse strings.
After its rustic beginnings in the '70s, -- the age of the brown-speckled bowl and the wooden spoon -- the American craft movement shifted and deepened in the '80s into the realm of art, of extravagance and high style. But now, as we move into a new decade, there's a subtle shift back toward center.
"During the mid-'80s there was a definite movement toward personal-statement work," says Carol Sedestrom Ross, a senior vice president of the American Craft Council. "Now people are looking at function, which is in my mind a derivative of the economic situation."
Ms. Ross, who is the founder and now chief executive officer of American Craft Enterprises, the unit of the ACC which promotes and produces craft fairs, noted the shift reflected in the recent downturn at the major auction houses. "At Sotheby's, Christie's -- certainly things are less dramatic than they were two years ago. But people still have money to buy things that they need or use or that bring them a certain degree of pleasure.
"So we're seeing a lot more craftspeople doing hand-woven rugs or throws, afghans, as well as furniture -- there's a tremendous growth in handmade furniture. What is the word they're using, cocooning? . . . to say that people are paying a lot more attention to their personal environments in their home and in their office. I think that's part of the sociology of what's behind this."
This year in particular, there's a new emphasis on lighting, an area that has been largely overlooked by craftspeople in the past.
"Lighting is something that has been developing as a trend," Ms. Ross says. "It has to do with the fact that commercial lighting nTC that's available is pretty ho-hum, I guess. I know for myself, when you go out to buy a lamp for your home, unless you want something very high-tech there's not much out there. So I think it's a gap that craftspeople have seen as an area to work in, an opportunity to do something interesting and creative. And there is a demand for it."
"Lamps seem to be something people use a lot," says blacksmith and metal designer John Graney of Layton, N.J., who will be bringing some dramatic postmodern torchiers to the show. Ten years ago he did his first electrified chandelier but now has expanded into sconces, table and floor lamps and fixtures that create mood lighting. He also does furniture, fireplace tools, sculpture and mirrors, but says about a fifth of his work now is in lighting fixtures.
He looks to European glassmakers for some of the globes for his fixtures. Others are antiques that he collects.
"Iron is such a solid, impenetrable medium that I like to make it graceful," he explains.
Ken Adams of Willow Grove, Pa., uses granite, alabaster and marble in his fixtures but primarily works in anodized aluminum. "The bodies of most of the fixtures are anodized aluminum," he says, "polished and coated with a palette of colors: pink, blue, green, yellow, gold or mixed within a piece."
Although some people have seen an art deco influence in his work, he says it's a mixture. "It's decoesque, I guess you could say, but I think it's more postmodern with kind of a Euro influence, also Italian and Japanese influences."
Ian McCartney of Grand Rapids, Mich., who has been working in neon for nine years, is bringing fixtures, mainly sconces, that mix both artistic media and light media. His work incorporates neon into conventional incandescent lighting fixtures.
"The neon is decorative rather than just a light source," he explains. "I'm trying to push the limits of neon beyond simple signage."
His dramatic sconces, made of either ceramic or stainless steel, have small bits of neon as an outline or design element.
"There's been a void in terms of craft lighting, in terms of things that plug in and light up," he says.
He also finds old radios, repaints them and then embellishes them with neon. "They're real American," says Mr. McCartney, who grew up in England and moved to the United States when he was 13.
According to the artist, singer Pia Zadora has two of his neon-embellished sconces, which retail for $900 each, in her Las Vegas apartment.
The influence of years spent as a jeweler can be seen in the work of Mark Keyasko of Stone Ridge, N.Y. Although he started as a sculptor, a shoulder injury forced him into the smaller forms in jewelry.
Now that his shoulder has healed ("My girlfriend is a physical therapist," he says), he has returned to larger works, but keeps some of the same forms he used as a jeweler. He has been doing lighting fixtures for about a year.
"One of my pieces is a blown-up version of a lady's lapel pin," he says. "Another is the shape of a bolo tie blown up."
His work is very dramatic, featuring 45-degree angles and using plexiglass, glass and heavy gauge metals -- one has metal "twisted like a vertebrae."
By sheathing fluorescent tubes in acrylic painted with translucent "candy colors," he says, he is able to achieve the look of neon without the logistical problems of neon.
Ron Hinton of Lawrence, Kan., went from metal containers and sculpture to lighting fixtures by placing his metal sculpture on the wall and lighting what he calls "negative spaces" in his work. "I think of them as wall reliefs that have a lighting aspect also," he says.