Assistant Curator Whitney Richardson talks about craft and helps us understand how a functional, everyday object (like a teapot) makes its way into an art museum.
[Untitled]: Why is this teapot considered art?
WR: This teapot is artwork that’s often referred to as craft or decorative arts. The two terms are often used interchangeably. I would pose the question, how could this teapot not be seen as art? It was imagined, designed, created, and sold by the artist. Just because it happens to have been a functional object, doesn’t take away from its value as a work of art.
Why is this teapot in the Museum and not the one from my kitchen?
Perhaps the one in your kitchen should be in a museum! Was it made by a well-known artist? Is its design exceptional? Is the history of you or your family widely enough known that it would interest a museum visitor to know what sort of teapot you used?
These are all questions I consider when bringing a teapot, for example, into the Museum’s Collection. In the case of this teapot, it was made by a well-known artist in Asheville named William Waldo Dodge. He trained as an architect at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), but left to enlist in the Army for WWI. After the war, Dodge came to the VA hospital in Asheville to heal from injuries he sustained in the war. While there, he took occupational therapy classes in silversmithing and never looked back. He went on to establish an architecture and silversmith shop, and lived here for the rest of his life.
Dodge was an accomplished silversmith and made some strikingly beautiful forms (like this teapot). Its wooden handle and lid handle were both inspired by the shape of dolphins. The story behind the maker, his great skill, and his connection to Asheville all make this teapot right for the Museum to have in its collection.
How is decorative art different from fine art?
Decorative arts have been defined differently from the fine arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture) since their inception. But it is still curious to me why! Rationally, it makes sense. One must possess a teapot in order to make tea, but not everyone could have or afford a painting painted by a famous artist. Somehow the necessity of decorative arts made them lesser, but as a museum curator (especially one who studies decorative arts), I would push back against this. Making is a means of self-expression. Whether the end result is a painting or a teapot, the artist’s inspiration and handiwork is seen in the end product.