michael monroe: curator, change-maker, visionary

Over the course of the past 30 years, Artful Home has evolved in many ways—from a name change to an expansion into new areas of art, craft, and design. But one thing has remained constant: our collection has always been juried. And the team responsible for jurying the collection has always been led by the same remarkable person: Michael Monroe.

Michael Monroe (image courtesy of Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc)

Michael Monroe (image courtesy of Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc)

According to Susan, an Artful Home merchandiser, “Michael Monroe is one of those rare people whose modesty, sense of humor, and amazing generosity to artists actually mask his tremendous achievements in the field in which he has worked, the field of Fine Craft.” In addition to leading our Artistic Advisory Panel, Monroe is currently the Director Emeritus for the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington. Previously, he was the curator-in-charge of the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery—the nation’s most prestigious venue for 20th-century American craft. During his tenure at the Renwick Gallery, he worked with former First Lady Hillary Clinton to curate the White House Collection of American Craft. He also served as president of New York City’s Peter Joseph Gallery and as executive director of the American Craft Council. He has received several prestigious awards and written numerous books on a broad range of topics related to contemporary craft.

"Nick Chase's bottles are beautifully proportioned, and provide excellent broad surfaces for his application of delicate but graphically strong patterns of leaves. Note the soft warm interior glow that warmly contrasts winter's frosty exterior imagery." - Michael Monroe (shown: Leaf Bottles by Nick Chase)

Nick Chase‘s bottles are beautifully proportioned, and provide excellent broad surfaces for his application of delicate but graphically strong patterns of leaves. Note the soft warm interior glow that warmly contrasts winter’s frosty exterior imagery.” – Michael Monroe (shown: Leaf Bottles by Nick Chase)

Originally from Racine, Wisconsin, Monroe received a BA from the UW-Madison School of Art and an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. His timing was perfect for becoming a change-maker in the field—both UW-Madison and Cranbrook were hotbeds for the development of Fine Craft in America, and he attended both institutions at a wildly exciting moment in the visual arts.

Before the 1960s, craft disciplines (such as pottery, glassblowing, and fiber arts) were considered the poor cousins to the fine arts (such as sculpture, painting, and drawing). However, things changed during the 1960s. Craft artists began experimenting and pushing the boundaries of their chosen disciplines, opening up exciting opportunities for other artists and helping to elevate craft to the level of fine art. All of this was happening at UW-Madison and Cranbrook at the moment that Michael Monroe was in attendance, which greatly influenced him and propelled him into the role of change-maker in the field.

With his incredible background, knowledge, and experience, it is no surprise that Monroe is a perfect fit for Artful Home—someone we are thrilled to have guiding our jurying team. But what exactly does it mean to jury artwork, and why does it require the help of someone with so much expertise?

"I enjoy the touch of Egyptian references in this unique sculpture of bronze and glass elements, created using the ancient technique of lost wax for both materials. The Pozycinkis achieve a sense of whimsy in this ritualistic procession by harnessing birds of flight to transport a mysterious treasure." - Michael Monroe (shown: Swallow Carriage by Georgia Pozycinski and Joseph Pozycinski)

“I enjoy the touch of Egyptian references in this unique sculpture of bronze and glass elements, created using the ancient technique of lost wax for both materials. The Pozycinkis achieve a sense of whimsy in this ritualistic procession by harnessing birds of flight to transport a mysterious treasure.” – Michael Monroe (shown: Swallow Carriage by Georgia Pozycinski and Joseph Pozycinski)

Jurying is a process of evaluating artwork based on a number of factors—originality, craftsmanship, integrity—in order to decide whether to include it in a particular collection, gallery, or exhibit. It is a very common practice throughout the art world, including galleries, art fairs, and competitions—though it is less common online.

"In this elegant vase, Thomas Kelly captures the essence of the Flamenco dance with its dramatic energy and flamboyant movements. The vase's flawless execution in hot blue transparent glass is contrasted with swirls of frosted elements adding to the visual excitement." - Michael Monroe (shown: Large Flamenco Vase by Thomas Kelly)

“In this elegant vase, Thomas Kelly captures the essence of the Flamenco dance with its dramatic energy and flamboyant movements. The vase’s flawless execution in hot blue transparent glass is contrasted with swirls of frosted elements adding to the visual excitement.” – Michael Monroe (shown: Large Flamenco Vase by Thomas Kelly)

To jury an art collection is no easy task. Though anybody can have an opinion about art, it is actually quite challenging to evaluate artwork in the thoughtful, systematic way required for jurying. Michael Monroe has perfected the skills that this process requires. Not only does he have a passion for fine art and craft, he is able to communicate clearly and thoughtfully about what makes a particular piece exciting and beautiful. His perspective and guidance have been—and continue to be—simply invaluable to our Artistic Advisory Panel.

Though Michael Monroe heads our Artistic Advisory Panel, he is not the only person involved in the jurying process. An experienced team of art world specialists work with him, enriching the process with their unique perspectives and ideas. This team meets once a month to individually evaluate each new artist who applies. Acceptance is no easy feat; only a fraction of the artists who apply are accepted into our collection.

"Feeling a kinship with the innocence, honesty, and directness of primitive art, Erik Wolken constructed this table base, whose carved and painted legs were inspired by African tribal warrior shields." -- Michael Monroe (shown: Table for my Tribe by Erik Wolken)

“Feeling a kinship with the innocence, honesty, and directness of primitive art, Erik Wolken constructed this table base, whose carved and painted legs were inspired by African tribal warrior shields.” — Michael Monroe (shown: Table for my Tribe by Erik Wolken)

Susan, who sold her artwork through Artful Home before being hired as a merchandiser, has experienced the jurying process from both sides. She says of her time as an artist, “My work was juried by Michael Monroe. His comments and excitement about my personal work stay with me even today.”

Now a member of Artful Home’s Artistic Advisory Panel, Susan reminisces, “I remember when our juries were held twice a year, and Michael flew in for a week each time to view carousels of slides. He always checked our ‘Catalog Sample Room’ to see in person what was on the shelves. He always gave a talk to the staff about the work we were featuring or new work and artists he had just discovered. Once, he shared his slideshow about curating the collection for the White House in commemoration of the Year of American Craft during the Clinton presidency.

Susan continues, “A personal note about getting to work with Michael for the past 10 years: he knows everything, and what he doesn’t know, he gets excited about and quickly researches. He loves finding new artists with unique vision and impeccable craftsmanship. When a new artist like this comes to his attention, he drops everything to follow up.

Following one of our juries where we saw the work of a furniture maker who Michael thought encapsulated these qualities, he called the artist and set up a studio visit. He learned about this young artist, offered advice, and immediately became involved in helping him through the next hoops. Thousands of artists can attest to their own version of this experience. For these artists, all you have to do is mention his name and their eyes soften. They become engaged in the conversation in a whole different way. ‘How is Michael?’ they always ask, and then offer forth one of their stories about when Michael first saw their work, and how their relationship began.”

"An attraction to the bold graphics of discarded highway signage inspired Boris Bally to collect, recycle, and fabricate furniture of great wit and distinction. His chairs - with fragmented words, symbols, and arrows splashed across their surfaces - seem to symbolize urban grit and rhythms." -- Michael Monroe (shown: Transit Chair by Boris Bally)

“An attraction to the bold graphics of discarded highway signage inspired Boris Bally to collect, recycle, and fabricate furniture of great wit and distinction. His chairs – with fragmented words, symbols, and arrows splashed across their surfaces – seem to symbolize urban grit and rhythms.” — Michael Monroe (shown: Transit Chair by Boris Bally)

With such an impact on individual artists as well as the broader field of Fine Craft, Michael Monroe’s influence on today’s art world cannot be overstated. We are honored and humbled to have him involved with Artful Home, and to have his generous spirit, his enthusiasm for fine art and craft, and his incredible breadth of experience informing and defining what Artful Home has been over the past 30 years—and what it can become.


This piece is part of a series celebrating Artful Home’s 30th Anniversary. Read more HERE.

By |2018-04-03T11:50:21+00:00September 18th, 2015|30th anniversary, artful lifestyle|

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