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Smithsonian Craft Show presented 122 'best of the best' artisans

Mike Shuler's pink ivorywood segmented plate. He creates "segmented" bowls and plates from hundreds, even thousands of slender, precisely cut mostly exotic hardwoods, to form intense, intricate patterns.
Mike Shuler's pink ivorywood segmented plate. He creates "segmented" bowls and plates from hundreds, even thousands of slender, precisely cut mostly exotic hardwoods, to form intense, intricate patterns.
Mike Shuler's pink ivorywood segmented plate. Shuler won Best in Wood at Smithsonian Craft Show. Photo by Smithsonian Craft Show

High fashion molded from child's clay, jewelry made from zippers, baskets made from Spanish Dagger Agave cactus fibers, and tea pots made from rusty cans and flame throwers are just a few intriguing items at the Smithsonian Craft Show, regarded as one of America's best juried show and sale of fine crafts.

The craft fair presented 122 "best of the best" artisans, only one-tenth of all the applicants. Although it ended April 13, its online auction continues until April 22 at 9 P.M. Proceeds fund Smithsonian Institution projects.

  • Best in Show: Kathleen Dustin, a mixed media creator of evening purses and jewelry, who told me she was "shocked". Dustin makes striking, brilliant wearable art from child's material of polymer clay. "Of course, I do a bit of magic in between." Some of the media she mixes with it, like boar bristles and horse hair, do seem like ingredients of Macbeth's witches' brew. She includes a bit of wood from near her studio in Contoocook, N.H. The purses displayed range from $980 to $500, and her earrings begin at $98.
  • Silver Award: Christine Love Adcock, whose baskets are made from fibers taken from nature, like Spanish Dagger Agave cactus, Dragon Trees, Jacaranda seed pods, among others. The Santa Barbara-based artist and her husband-collaborator Michael, a potter, gather much of their own materials, she told me. The unique baskets range from about $325 to $950.
  • Best New Exhibitor: Amy Nguyen, of Amy Nguyen Textiles in Boston, chosen among 23 newbies. Her latest designs are inspired by Japanese rock gardens, a reflection on their peacefulness, she told me. Key pieces reflect Japan's most famous rock garden, Ryoanji or "Peaceful Dragon Temple" in Kyoto. Nguyen hand-dyes fabrics, like silk organza and silk linen, using the ancient shibori technique. Then she does "some intense quilting" to create her striking, elegant, architectural coats and other items. One of her most magnificent coats is $2,300.
  • Best in Wood: Mike Shuler, who creates "segmented" bowls and plates from hundreds, even thousands of slender, precisely cut mostly exotic hardwoods, to form intense, intricate patterns. A pink ivorywood bowl is $9,500, and a Brazilian tulipwood bowl is $4,000. California-based Shuler also creates "organica" vases and other items from a pinecone, an artichoke, or a blossom.
  • Excellence in Ceramics: Eric Serritella, who carves and then treats clay to look like wood, a trompe l'oeil effect. He combines his "love of clay as an artistic medium with love of philosophy, love of trees, and the environment." He also told me his "concept is the beauty of impermanence and imperfection."
  • One of many favorites: Paveen "Beer" Chunhaswasdikul, who switched from auto mechanic to artisan. He says he gets his inspiration "from old rusty metal cans, flame throwers, machines, and engines that I find at yard sales and flea markets and then transform them into clay teapots." The Thai-born Alabaman, whose father named him "Beer", puts "all my heart and soul into every piece of artwork." Grenade-shaped mugs, anyone? Tin-can-like teapots, perhaps?
  • And the show's first Visionary Award, honoring "artists who have risen to the pinnacle in the world of sculptural arts and design" goes to 81-year-old furniture artist Wendell Castle, known as the father of the art furniture movement, and to 69-year-old sculptor Albert Paley, the first metal sculptor to be awarded the American Institute of Architects' (AIA) Lifetime Achievement Award. Castle's and Paley's works are in the online auction.

"One must either be a work of art or wear a work of art," as Oscar Wilde once said.

For more info: Smithsonian Craft Show, www.smithsoniancraftshow.org, through April 13, National Building Museum, 401 F Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Online auction until April 22 at 9 P.M. Proceeds support education, exhibits, conservation, and research at the Smithsonian Institution.