Graduate Student Symposium | Long Shadows: Tradition, Influence, and Persistence in Modern Craft

Jennifer Lee, hand-built pots in the studio (1993, 1991, 2008), Collection of the artist, London, photograph by Jon Stokes, © Jennifer Lee

Graduate Student Symposium

Long Shadows: Tradition, Influence, and Persistence in Modern Craft

Friday, November 10, 2017, 10 am–5 pm 

In his 2003 article “The Long Shadow of William Morris,” Edward S. Cooke Jr. argued that “American scholars of twentieth-century material culture remain mired in the celebration of either individual craftspeople or designers and emphasize historical narrative at the expense of critical analysis or interpretation.” Cooke ascribed this limited view, in part, to the influence of the arts and crafts movement advocate William Morris, whose emphasis on individualism discouraged an understanding of craft’s true social and economic role.

In the years since Cooke’s article, a new generation of scholars has begun to construct an alternative map of modern craft—one in which the idealistic figure of the solitary studio craftsman has been displaced from the center, making way for a multidimensional account of skills at work in myriad kinds of situations. Building on these new approaches, this symposium looks at some of the questions that remain. One of these is the proper understanding of what Cooke called “historical narrative” in the analysis of modern craft. Should we resist conceptions of tradition as inherently vague and mystifying? Or does tradition still have an important role to play, as an anchor and binding agent? How should we understand the phenomenon of knowledge transmission, once guild-based apprenticeships began to decline drastically in the nineteenth century? Most generally, what role does the past play in contemporary making? This program will be live streamed.

Keynote Lecture 

Prime Objects: Digital Clay and Its Modernist Origins

Friday, November 10, 2017, 5:30 pm 

Jenni Sorkin, Associate Professor of Art History, University of California, Santa Barbara

Sorkin’s lecture considers the gendered history of American ceramist Adelaide Alsop Robineau’s (1865–1929) famed, labor intensive Scarab Vase (1910) as an unlikely precursorone hundred years laterto digitally printed clay, utilized today by ceramists working in the 2010s. Her talk will be live streamed.  

The symposium is free and open to the public. Advance registration is recommended. Online registration is now closed, but onsite registration will be available on the day of the symposium. For further information, please contact Research ( | 203 432 2824).
This program is inspired by the exhibition “Things of Beauty Growing”: British Studio Pottery, on view at the Center from September 14 to December 3, 2017.
Download a full program of events here. (pdf; 489 kb)