March 3, 2013

Smithsonian to exhibit Portland metalsmith's artwork

Jeffrey Clancy's reputation in the craft-art world just gained a substantial amount of weight, thanks to his inclusion in the prestigious exhibition.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

Jeffrey Clancy is a busy man, but he had no choice but to pay attention. The message felt emphatic:

click image to enlarge

Jeffrey Clancy leads a discussion of a student’s work of art with his MECA class, including Daniel Marcucio.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Jeffrey Clancy makes pieces that riff on functional tabletop objects, like these spoons. “The way he renders them is the opposite of practical,” says Daniel Fuller, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at MECA.

Courtesy of the artist

Additional Photos Below



"You must submit your materials."

There was no imploring or suggesting. The message was firm.

It came from a friend -- a former professor, no less -- and it pertained to a prestigious exhibition at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian was culling its list of artists to include in its "40 Under 40: Craft Futures" show, and Clancy, a metalsmith from Portland who teaches at Maine College of Art, was on the short list.

He just had to meet the deadline, which loomed the next day.

"I get a lot of emails," he said over a pint at Dogfish Cafe on Spring Street in Portland. "I ignore most of them. But this one got my attention."

Clancy did the right thing. He pulled the application materials together and overnighted them to the Smithsonian. Some time later came word that he had been accepted in the show.

In doing so, the Renwick conferred upon Clancy his status as one of the most important young craft artists working in the United States today.

In the simplest of terms, Clancy makes tabletop objects -- bowls, cups, various other vessels and seemingly utilitarian objects. But his work is much more complicated, and much more than mere ornamentation. He utilizes familiar motifs and techniques, but in new and unusual ways. He considers historic and contemporary materials, and exploits both to communicate his personal perspective.

A documentary about the show, which closed last month, debuted on the Smithsonian Channel in January.

"40 Under 40" has brought Clancy, who turns 37 in May, attention and financial reward. The Smithsonian purchased several of his pieces for its permanent collection, and raised his profile among collectors.

"The show got tons of press," Clancy said, "and they used my images in a lot of their advertising and promotion. It was pretty amazing to be recognized. I'm not great at promoting myself, so it was nice to be noticed."

That is a minor understatement. The exhibition was covered by major art and mainstream publications and programs, including The New York Times, NPR Weekend Edition and American Craft magazine.


The purpose of the show, said gallery director Nicholas Bell, was to feature 40 artists born since 1972, the year the Smithsonian American Art Museum established the Renwick to focus on crafts and decorative arts. Its intent was to investigate evolving notions of craft within traditional media.

Further, all the work chosen for the show was made after Sept. 11, 2001. Bell explained why in an interview with American Craft.

"The role of 9/11 in defining this generation's world view is critical," Bell told the magazine. "The oldest artist in this show was 29 at the time of the attacks, the youngest only 17. The dramatic shifts in culture since that day have shaped their adult lives and their careers so far.

"Not surprisingly, the economy and manufacturing are a common subject of interest for this group. And sustainability is an intense focus. Each artist values craft for its prescriptive power -- its potential to make life better."

This exhibition also highlighted strides in the American craft movement since that moment.

The worse things get in the world, Bell said, the more powerful craft becomes, "because creativity thrives on doubt seeping through our culture. And that's the bottom line: Craft is getting stronger. It's growing in ways that we would never have imagined in 2000. And its values are being shared by an ever-expanding population."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Jeffrey Clancy works in traditional forms such as bowls, cups and vases, but with a contemporary, often whimsical, twist.

Courtesy of the artist

click image to enlarge

Jeffrey Clancy, right, with Maine College of Art student Zach Nelson.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


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