Craft Optimism

Thrive Brooch by Sarah Murphy. Image courtesy of the artist

The change in the presidential administration has many feeling optimistic about the coming years and with good reason.  With the stroke of President Biden’s pen, the US rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement which takes aim at the global climate crisis. While many Americans address environmental issues by exercising their right to vote, many wonder what else, as individuals, can one do offset consumer waste, carbon emissions and tackle the climate crisis?

Smithsonian Women’s Committee (SWC) and nonprofit Honoring the Future hope that this year’s annual SWC craft fair titled “Craft Optimism” will inform, educate and offer new perspectives on how artists create award-winning, aesthetically pleasing craft and artwork that also addresses the impact of climate change.  The online craft fair, which can previewed ahead of time, will take place online at from April 24-May 1 and feature over 100 juried artists from the US

Since the inception of the first craft fair in 1982, SWC has raised over $13 million to support grants that promote innovative educational and research projects.  For this edition of the craft fair, SWC partnered with Honoring the Future, an organization dedicated to engaging the public on climate change through educational projects.

Fish Bowl by Shirley Groman. Image courtesy of the artist

Juried, Curated and Environmentally Sustainable
The artist selection for Craft Optimism was based on one or both the following criteria:  the artist creates craft that either helps address climate change through its use of materials or the craft addresses the impacts of climate change.

According to Twig Murray, a committee member of the SWC, to select artists that met these standards, SWC sought the help of experts in the field of American Craft.  This included specialists at Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt, Renwick and the American Indian museums as well as private galleries and educators. Based on nominations made by these experts, SWC invited the selected artists to submit an application that included information about their work and process. Honoring the Future then reviewed each application to ensure that each applicant’s craft conformed to the one of the above criteria. In addition, SWC actively pursued the Smithsonian Institution’s equity and inclusion policies and actively sought works by American artists of Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Native origin.

Colin Selig bench made from repurposed propane tanks. Image courtesy of the artist

Fran Dubrowski, director of Honoring the Future, hopes that the craft show will educate people on ways in which they can address climate change. She believes in the arts’ ability to engage audiences. “Craft Optimism celebrates the power and creativity of craft artists who call attention to an Earth in crisis and who offer inventive ideas for curtailing human impacts on the environment,” she says.

The handmade objects exhibited online fall into two major categories.  The first consists of mostly decorative items including artwork or household goods such as furniture. The second features “wearables” such as jewelry and clothing.   SWC takes a percentage of all sales, funds which go to support innovative Smithsonian educational and research projects across 19 museums, research labs and the National Zoo.

Participating Artists
Over 100 artists will participate in Craft Optimism including many from the DC region.  Of note, three national artists, including Colin Selig, Sarah Murphy and Rowland Rickets have unique processes that illustrate the fair’s spirit of environmental sustainability.

Colin Selig’s demonstrates that reused materials can produce both aesthetically pleasing and functional objects.  He cleverly repurposes old propane tanks into fun, comfortable chairs simply by reassembling the metal components from one form to the next.  Selig hopes his technique will “inspire others to consider new possibilities for reusing materials.”

Hand-dyed fabric by Rowland Ricketts. Image courtesy of the artist

Since childhood, Sarah Murphy had always held a fascination for the colorful plastic pieces discarded during the production of steel cables at her family’s factory in Ohio.  A recent art school graduate, Murphy now uses the skills she developed to create jewelry from the remnant plastic pieces. Their colorful brilliance mimics the sparkle of jewels.

Rowland Ricketts and his wife Chinami grow their own indigo which they use to dye hand-made fabric.  Rowland then uses the large blueish-hued runners as backdrops for installations at museums around the world.  For Craft Optimism, he and his wife have, as Rowland puts it, “completed a sustainable circle of life” for the textiles by refashioning them into table runners and other useable objects.

Lastly, several local artists will be participating in the craft fair including Jessica Beels who uses found natural materials, ceramicist Shirley Groman whose work raises awareness about the Chesapeake Bay, Jenae Michelle who creates handbags out of old coats and fabric from the 1950s, Fiber artist Kim Schalk who fashions clothes from reused fiber and discarded plastic, and Topaz Terry who creates accessories out of bicycle waste.

Craft Optimism takes place April 24 through May 1, 2021 online at


Social Media handles :

Facebook: @ SmithsonianCraftShow

Twitter @craftshowswc

Instagram: @smithsoniancraftshowsswc

Other Websites:

Honoring the Future:

SWC Craft Show (general):

Smithsonian Women’s Committee:

Phil Hutinet is the publisher of East City Art, DC’s alternative art source. For more information visit