Museum Review: Fuller Craft, Brockton MA

This past weekend I took a trip (with my trustiest museum-going companions) to the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, MA.  It was my first trip there, and my overall impression was very favorable.  The museum has a lovely location overlooking a pond/reservoir, with wooded area around, and the building itself takes advantage of a lot of small courtyards and opportunity for natural light and indoor/outdoor sight lines.  It’s a very appealing space, though with a few drawbacks I’ll get back to later.  It’s a museum that deserves more attendance than it had the day we were there, for certain.

Here are a few highlights from our visit:

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From the sculpture-laden courtyard/patio, overlooking the pond. Photo by Meg Winikates.

Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators

“Fiber arts” can seem a pretty vague term.  What exactly counts as a ‘fiber?’  In the case of the Fuller’s exhibit, a lot: twigs, roots, aluminum strips and other metals, paper, plastic wire, the more expected silk, cotton, etc, and even leaves and ‘wasp nest fiber.’  It’s a variety that serves the exhibit rather than causing it to be too diffuse: the pairing of traditional techniques with unusual materials balances the use of traditional materials in fresh ways.  Understandably, I have a bias towards artworks that use natural materials (hello, job of 5 years), so a number of the pictures in the gallery below include tree materials, silkworm cocoons, etc. (There’s a full list of participating artists on the exhibition page if you need more information, too.)

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All of us really enjoyed this exhibit: there were surprising moments, impressive examples of craftsmanship, visually engaging pieces, and beautifully textured ones that you just *really* wanted to get your hands on (though of course we all knew better).

Annette Bellamy’s Floating

Alaskan ceramicist and fisher-woman Annette Bellamy had a lovely one-room installation up through 11/2, which was the favorite of at least half of us in the group.  The two dominant pieces in the gallery were Floating and Sinkers, one of which featured a softly twisting and chiming set of ceramic kayaks, the other very pendulous, larger-than-life ceramic sinkers like the weights one finds on fishing lines and nets.  The lighting design in here was particularly nice, too, with the shadows of the kayaks offering the illusion of fish flitting beneath the boats.

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The other part of this gallery that I really liked was a set of custom-adapted paddles, each inspired by a particular person or experience: a whale biologist’s paddle was shaped like a fin, a violinist’s like an abstract version of her instrument with curls of musical texture over it, a ‘phosphorescence’ paddle looked like coral and water bubbles, and Emily Dickinson’s featured buttons and lace.  As a gallery/installation, it was nicely designed and very effective.

Permanent Collection

The Fuller’s permanent collection exhibition space tries to do a lot in not a lot of room.  The intro panel mentioned four main thematic elements that guided the selection and groupings of objects, but there wasn’t a lot of room for those themes to be separated or further explained.  The strength of this set of galleries, therefore, was in the ‘eye-catchingness’ of particular objects or groupings, like the gorgeous seed-pod and flower-bulb inspired ceramics below.

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Many of the works in this space were highly individual, often humorous, imaginative, and clearly made with a great deal of skill and imagination.  The density of display in some ways is an advantage, as it leads you naturally to compare and connect the pieces you are seeing in a single glance.

A Few Missed Opportunities

A craft museum is all about the work of an artist’s/craftsperson’s hands–the Fuller even emphasizes this idea by incorporating a fingerprint into their logo.  In such a museum, one would therefore generally expect to find interactive or touchable pieces.  With two exceptions, notable because they were the only ones (a book you could examine while wearing gloves and a weaving activity), this was not the case at the Fuller, and it’s a shame.

To be fair, I don’t believe the museum has a large staff or a gigantic budget, and they are certainly pressed for space, since many of their ‘galleries’ are in fact glorified hallways.  However, there were so many points where a small interactive (touchable ceramic tiles with varied glazes or bases, magnet board with re-arrangeable design elements, ring clip of textile varieties, etc.) would have really carried the day, it was a bummer not to see them.  I realize as a person who has spent the last 8 years in very interactive-heavy spaces I have a bias, but kids are not the only ones who are drawn to interactive experiences, and I was not the only one in my party who missed the opportunity to appreciate the art-making process in a more visceral way.

Also, labels with slightly larger font size (and on a few occasions a *little* less text) would be helpful.  I understand a lot of people don’t want to take attention away from the art, but it actually takes more of your attention to squint at a tiny label than to glance at a readable one.

That said, it was a great visit, a fun way to occupy a few hours, a nice quiet destination if you like your museums more meditative, and I recommend you make the trip to Brockton to check it out for yourself if you’re in the New England area.

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