1960 1970

5 Books on Women in Craft and Design
A Shelfie from Kayleigh Perkov, Graduate Intern at the Getty Research Institute

Hi, I’m Kayleigh Perkov, graduate intern in Web and New Media/Digital Art History at the Getty Research Institute. I’m an art historian and am currently finishing up my doctoral dissertation on the integration of digital technology into craft practice in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I first started focusing on craft and design because it has such a rich—and sometimes contentious—history of engaging with women makers. In the last few years this scholarship has only become stronger and more vibrant, so to celebrate Women’s History Month, here are some of the books that inspire me about women in craft and design.

The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Essays on Feminist Art by Lucy R. Lippard. (The New Press, 1995).

This book is creased for a reason; I come back to it constantly. Written by one of the foremost art critics of the latter half of the 20th century, Lucy Lippard tackles art and feminist politics in this anthology. Of particular personal interest is “Making Something From Nothing (Towards a Definition of Women’s ‘Hobby Art’).” In this essay, Lippard complicates the standard art/craft hierarchy and ideas of cultural respectability.

Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design by T’ai Smith. (University of Minnesota Press, 2014). 

Art historians have long noted how women in the Bauhaus were encouraged to specialize in fiber or clay, mediums associated with traditional concepts of femininity. In this book, Smith neither laments this fact nor endeavors to boost these mediums. Instead, she engages with a collection of understudied theoretical writings from the Bauhaus weaving workshop, offering a new lens to understand the works and process of weaving.

String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art by Elissa Auther. (University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

Auther offers an alternative history of American art in the 1960s and ‘70s, told through an engagement with textiles and fiber. Studying both feminists who valorized fiber—such as Faith Ringgold and Miriam Shapiro—and the use of fiber as material in the work of minimalist and post-minimalist artists—such as Robert Morris—Auther offers her own answers to the age-old question of why some works are considered “art” and others “craft.”

Live Form: Women, Ceramics, and Community by Jenni Sorkin. (University of Chicago Press, 2016). 

Sorkin provides a new historical grounding for contemporary participatory and socially engaged art by focusing on three major figures in postwar ceramics: Marguerite Wildenhain; Mary Caroline Richards; and Susan Peterson. In this book, Sorkin makes an important methodological, as well as historical, intervention. She asserts that ceramics as a field is less about the objects themselves, and more about the act of making, which connects both to theories of pedagogy and performance.

Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000: Diversity and Differences by Pat Kirkham. (Yale University Press, 2002).

An anthology edited by the influential design historian Pat Kirkham, this book is one I continually find myself reaching for in the early stages of a new project. Need an introduction to the work of women in fashion design or metals? You can find it in here. I particularly value this book because it explores the work of women across a spectrum of making, from one-off craft objects to mass-produced goods designed for the commercial market.


The five flags of the five northern Korean provinces

As South Korea considers itself the sole legitimate government of the Korean peninsula, note recognizing North Korea, South Korea has a committee and 5 appointed governors responsible for the Korean provinces under the control of North Korea. These roles are completely symbolic and the committee actually does not play any role in North-South relations or the unification effort. The committee also has no contingency plans in place in case Korea does unify. All of this is handled by the Unification Ministry.

“Day 26. No Goblin King yet.” -- Modern Wizard in the Labyrinth

My current temp assignment places me in the state’s largest office complex, as measured by square footage. Like the hospital where I once worked, the complex started as separate buildings, together forming an integrated plant for the manufacture of computer chips. Over the course of expansion, separate pieces of architecture merged into one convoluted maze. The company that originally filled these buildings now retains only a ghost of a presence; current primary tenants are another chip manufacturer that bought out the local division of the first and a division of the state’s Health Access Department, where I work.

I’m ostensibly here to do UAT testing, which in itself is its own recursion of absurdity, but, after several weeks, I’m now 86.2% certain that I’m in the Labyrinth. Here’s the evidence:

Everything looks the same. The sadistic genius who constructed this place started off with that thoroughly dank industrial style common to so many 1960s and 1970s office buildings: unadorned square forms the color of wet mud, cement walls, long rectangular windows impossible to open, raw metal pillars, endless corridors – all topped off with liberal use of jaundiced fluorescent lighting. After duplicating this style in several cubes, they then linked the cubes together with identical glass catwalks. I have walked around for fifteen minutes, expecting myself to be in one building, only to realize I’ve gone through three replications instead.

The landmarks aren’t landmarks. When I discovered that one of the glass catwalks had bird decals along its sides, I rejoiced, thinking I had found a way to differentiate it from all the other catwalks. But no. All the other catwalks have the exact same decals, in the exact same pattern, at the exact same positions. It’s like the place is working against me.

The arrows point the wrong way. There are signs pointing to two key locations, the cafeteria and the state offices. 95% of them actually show you which way to go, but 5% of them point you in precisely the opposite direction, just for shits and giggles. Of course I followed the 5%.

The maps show you where you aren’t. I came across a route for indoor walking that described a loop through several buildings. It showed a location where the route started, but there was no indication of where I was in relation to that starting point. What is the point of a map if there’s no basis for comparison?

The denizens have a sarcastic and scatological sense of humor. I saw a sign on a door that said, “We provide fast service…no matter how long it takes!” Also someone scribbled out the first word on the “Records Retention Room” label and wrote “Poop” instead.

Time runs differently here. You may have no idea where you are around here, but you’ll always know what time it is. Well, scratch that. You’ll always see a clock, as they hang throughout the halls at junctions both major and minor. You’ll probably never know what time it is, as each clock seems to preside over its own local time zone that varies from all contiguous ones anywhere between zero and ten minutes.

There are dangers untold and hardships unnumbered. To get to my office, for example, I must traverse the Fiery Corridor of Death, a catwalk in which the overcranked HVAC combines with exposure to natural sunlight to yield about 50 feet of heady, smothering heat. Then, of course, there are the Exits of Mockery, which means that the door most convenient to my car would sound a fire alarm if I opened it, so I have to circumvent it with a 10-minute walk in the opposite direction. And then there’s a Failure Analysis Lab, where, I assume, you are taunted with explicit details of all your past mistakes until you cry. Chilling.

I suppose that, if I solve the maze, I will escape and win a permanent job with decent pay and benefits. But what constitutes a solution? Should I be heading for the center? As far as I can tell, this place has no center. Should I be heading for an exit?

And who’s in charge of this thing? The Goblin King appears to be conspicuously absent, which I suppose is good because he’s an immature, petulant little shit. So should I be looking for Daedalus or perhaps Ariadne? Should I be on my guard for a Minotaur? Now that I think about it, I do hear a dull roar, but that could just be the air conditioning….