The Museum of Arts and Design celebrates the enduring legacy of its founder Aileen Osborn Webb with What Would Mrs. Webb Do? A Founder’s Vision, an exhibition highlighting Webb's advocacy and dedication to skilled makers across America, and featuring objects drawn largely from the Museum's permanent collection.
As a patron and philanthropist, Webb pioneered an understanding of craftsmanship and the handmade as a creative driving force behind art and design. The first half of the exhibition features work by American makers from the 1950s to the late 1960s whose practice directly benefitted from the support of Webb and others who shared her vision, while highlighting the many crafts-related institutions that Webb launched, such as the American Craft Council, the School of American Craftsmen, and the World Crafts Council that still form a vital support structure for today’s world of makers. What Would Mrs. Webb Do? also surveys the museum’s achievements under her direction with a focus on the landmark exhibition Objects: USA, which opened in 1969 and traveled to thirty museums in the USA and abroad.
The second half of the exhibition features the stakeholders and supporters who carry Mrs. Webb’s vision forward to the present day, like advocate and philanthropist Nanette L. Laitman who has promoted the Museum’s mission in countless ways while also providing support for the recording of 235 oral histories of American craftsmen by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, excerpts of which are highlighted in the exhibition alongside key examples of these craftsmen’s works of art. Some of the Museum’s most recent and celebrated acquisitions on view also underscore the role played by the Windgate Foundation in shaping the current discourse on contemporary craft through its support of makers and non-profit institutions –the Museum of Arts and Design among them.
The strength of the Museum’s permanent collection is on display for this exhibition due to its foundational role in showcasing the work of makers in all media since opening its doors in 1956. From groundbreaking works by early masters Wharton Esherick, Anni Albers, and Harvey Littleton to new creations by Judith Schaechter , Hiroshi Suzuki, and Joris Laarman, visitors are able to grasp the sweep of the field and breadth of achievements over the last sixty years that were first set in motion by Mrs. Webb.
The Museum of Arts and Design continues to uphold Webb’s commitment to creative, skilled entrepreneurs with projects like NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial (on view through October 12).
What Would Mrs. Webb Do? A Founder’s Vision is organized by adjunct curator Jeannine Falino and curatorial assistant Barbara Gifford.
Support for What Would Mrs. Webb Do? A Founder's Vision is provided by Barbara Nitchie Fuldner, Barbara G. Fleischman, and Martha J. Fleischman. Additional support is made possible in part through the Collectors Circle, one of the Museum's upper level support groups.