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.