A Crafty Champion

A Crafty Champion

Steel, brass, ferrous metal lectern, 1989, Albert Paley


The image was irresistible. The Museum of Arts and Design, in publicizing their latest exhibit, What Would Mrs. Webb Do? A Founder’s Vision, sent out a press release showing the elderly Mrs. Webb, revving the engine of a red Norton motorcycle, a gleeful grin on her face. The suggestion? That Mrs. Webb may very well have been a rebel, but most definitely, with a cause. Aileen Osborn Webb, a native of Garrison, New York lived a life of privilege (born in 1892 to an art collector father and a philanthropist mother, educated in New York and France, and later wife of William Henry Vanderbilt, great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt) but was also a champion of progressive, unconventional artisans, creating at first the American Craft Council, the School of American Craftsmen and the World Crafts Council to support their work, and then eventually, in 1956, the Museum of Arts and Design. The exhibit, using select pieces from the past 60 years, showcases the fundamentals on which the entire museum is based: craftsmen, artists and artisans who can reimagine everyday objects into innovative works of art:  a music rack serves as a curved sculpture, made of oak and rosewood; a lectern (Albert Paley, 1989, above) is created from steel, brass and iron; a chest of drawers, a weather vane, a candlestick; all remarkable pieces redefined through the eyes of their makers. What would Mrs. Webb do? Looks like she has masterfully done it.

» The Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle, 212.299.7777, thru Feb. 8, 2015