Out and About – The Power of Craft
By Elizabeth Eby
Posted June 27, 2022
The Renwick is the Smithsonian Museum dedicated to American craft. This year marks the museum’s 50th anniversary. A fabulous anniversary show, The Present Moment, is on view now through April 2, 2023. The show is remarkable. More about that later (next week).
I’m posting this today so you can read it before the Fourth of July. This particular object is full of meaning related to the freedom and independence we celebrate with the American flag on July 4.
Yes, it is a dish towel. This dish towel was hung as a flag of truce by Confederate troops during Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. General George A. Custer was there and preserved it for the future. His widow, Elizabeth Custer donated it to the Smithsonian.
I was so stunned by the intensity of Sonya Clark’s installation that I failed to note its dimensions.
Hanging on the wall above it is a quotation from Sonya Clark: “Why do we know the Confederate Battle Flag instead of the Confederate Truce Flag that marked surrender, brokered peace, and was a promise of reconciliation? What would it mean to the psychology of this nation if the Truce Flag replaced the flag associated with hate and white supremacy?”
Craft is a hard term to define. What separates it from fine art? Monumental is a good example It would look out of place at the National Gallery or the Museum of American History. Before the Renwick you might have found it in an anthropology museum. The aesthetics of craft include humility and the artist’s fingerprint (surely there must be at least one thread out of place in this weaving), and even humor.
Monumental recognizes the meaning of that dish cloth but it also talks about the symbolism we can attach to a piece of cloth.
Out and About is an occasional photo feature by artist, photographer, gardener, and Capitol Hill resident Elizabeth Eby. She finds vignettes while out and about on or near Capitol Hill.