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Evolution of the Word “Curate”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I read with great interest recently, “Choose Your Art Wisely – The Curation Issue.”  featured in the Chicago Tribune “Arts & Entertainment” section. All the articles in the section were curation-related and several grabbed my attention. It got me thinking about my experience with the word "curate," and I reminisce here about the history of my passion for curating or promoting crochet art.

I am the author of The Fine Art of Crochet, an art book that captures a moment in time from 1915 to the present and documents the use of crochet as a medium of artistic expression. If thought of as a crochet art exhibit of modern times, then I am the curator of the exhibit within the pages of my book. The book, and its colorful art and amazing beauty, is a long-held dream and the brief history that follows will shed some light on why. I hope you will purchase the book as a treat to yourself this holiday season!

At the time I didn’t realize I was “curating,” but over a 10-year period in which I was intimately involved with many crochet art exhibits as a volunteer for the Crochet Guild of America, I was, indeed, doing just that! Working together with other knowledgeable folks, I juried submissions, chose the art for exhibition based on a theme or a concept, and took part in hanging the exhibits as well.

I learned to crochet in the 1970s and it was a time when crochet was neither overly popular nor mainstream. I truly believe that the designers of that time were gifted artists yet they were not given the respect they deserved. Because many crocheters, me included, were in the closet, there was not a huge demand for patterns. I was craving classy crochet patterns from I could learn from. I was always on the look-out for interesting and artistic crochet and because there were very few crochet magazines, I had to search elsewhere. Here and there, I would find examples of crochet art in magazines I subscribed to such as Threads, Fiberarts and American Craft magazines; it was truly a thrill when a stunning full color feature of crochet would come along! I clipped those articles and have saved them to this day!

In 1993, while I was planning the first-ever national crochet conference held in Chicago,"Ancient Roots, New Beginnings."  I strongly believed that crochet art should and would be an essential part of the package.  In my eyes, it was an incredible way to educate not only crocheters, but the public at large, about the beauty and versatility of crochet. It was during the process of setting up the first-ever crochet art exhibit at the conference that I began to learn what curating was all about. Many thanks go to Susan Lutz Kenyon who assisted me with that first exhibit. It was a wonderful success due to the hard work of many!  

Calls for Entry were sent out to crocheters who creativity and artistic bent on crochet I greatly admired. I gleaned my knowledge of these people from books in my collection; I didn’t know them but admired them from afar. I also invited artists who I had read about in the art magazines mentioned and placed calls for entry in them.  There were not many crochet magazines at the time.

The exhibitors were chosen from slides submitted of the artists’ work; it was before the digital age! They paid a small fee to enter and their work was chosen on the basis of the quality of their slides. Slides views of artwork had to be precise and bad photography generally eliminated their chances of being accepted. The artists were also responsible for providing any special props necessary to display their work as well as  postage to return their works post-exhibit.
Ellen Moon: Jacket
Chunghie Lee
The response I received that first year was gratifying. Crochet-only exhibits were unheard of at that time and crochet artists were receptive to showing their work in a venue such as the Crochet Guild annual conferences where they would be greatly appreciated by passionate crocheters, as well as the general public. Even though the exhibit hung during just the conference weekend, it was well worth the time and effort to pull together such an outstanding example of crochet art.

These exhibits were held in the conference hotels and they continued until 2003. We had insurance for the works of art which was very costly but essential; and a cadre of volunteers stood by as “docents” to ensure that the art was not handled and that it was safe overnight.  

In addition to the annual conference exhibits, I also curated two major crochet art exhibits for the Crochet Guild. “Chain Reaction” was co-sponsored by the Crochet Guild of America (CGOA) and the now defunct Textile Arts Centre in Chicago. Juried with Arline Fisch it was a "juried and invitational traveling exhibition of contemporary crochet that challenged traditional expectation."
Exhibit catalog: art of Norma Minkowitz:
Fish by Fisch: silver wire crochet by Arline Fisch
Tracy Krumm: Shroud with Tong
Carol Ventura: Harvest
Norma Minkowitz: Final Resting Place
Karen Searle: Image & Reality

“The Rhythm of Crochet”

was sponsored by the CGOA as part of its tenth anniversary celebration and was partially funded by the Bead Society of Greater Chicago and Solutia.” Juried with Eileen Troxel and Carol Ventura, this invitational traveling exhibition of contemporary crochet departed from pre-conceived notions.
Sonya Clark: Dendrite
Todd Paschall: Marilyn Monroe I
Carol Ventura: He Said, She Said Too
 I've included some tidbits that informed me below.

Naomi Beckwith, Art Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago: “We’re in a moment when performance and conceptual art has become a vibrant genre for contemporary art museums. How do you say ‘something happened, now it’s gone in the context of a museum?’ As a curator of this, you’re a midwife: It’s coming into the world no matter what. It needs a safe place. So my relationship with the art doesn’t stop with exhibition. It’s my job to know this work or artist for the length of our careers. It’s about the meaning of ’curate’ to shepherd, to be constantly responsible for something.1

I remember going to WalMart and having an anxiety attack. ‘Why are there 62 brushes to choose from?’ Curating is like a better word for ‘I have to make informed decisions.’”1

Christopher Borrelli: “On one hand, there’s the persistent, traditional art world definition : ‘A curator provides context, connoisseurship. A curator chooses, but not only chooses. Curating is more than a reflection of a person’s interests. It is scholarship, framing ideas, telling stories, showing the edge that exists between the thing curated and the rest of us.

One of the roles of the professional curator is the obsessive, rigorous arranging of materials to tell a story. Some call that Facebook. I have a Netflix queue, which I maintain, nurture, cull and arrange just so. Therefore, I curate movies.

Mary Ann Jacob, professor, School of the Art Institute, Chicago: ‘What I love about everyone using this word is that a decade ago I doubt many people even knew what curation was about.”2

Lisa Graziose Corrin, director of the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University when asked “What is Curation?: Depends who you ask, because it has changed so much..Over 25 years, I’ve watched it move away from being just about an individual who served as a connoisseur, a kind of guardian of a quality. But today you are as likely to find trained artists as curators as you are to dind trained art historians. Actually, once artists got into curating, then people began thinking about how anytime you make carefully honed choices, you’re curating.

Q: Is There a difference between curating and simply choosing?: Choosing objects, thoughtfully assembling them, usually accompanying them with some sort of interpretation that make the ideas transparent to a visitor to the museum – that is also curating. But curators are not just decision-makers. It is also storytelling. It’s also about sharing what you know with a wider public, taking complicated information and being civic-minded about it.” 3

Chicago Tribune, October 6, 2013. “Choose Your Art Wisely: The Curation Issue.
1-Borelli, Christopher. “Young and In Demand,” p. 3
2-Borelli, Christopher. “I, Curator,” p. 2

3-Borelli, Christopher. “Q: What is Curation Now?,” p. 4.

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