2013 Essay | Taking Shape: Celebrating the Windgate Fellowship

2013 Essay | Taking Shape: Celebrating the Windgate Fellowship

Taking Shape: Celebrating the Windgate Fellowship

By Cindi Strauss


Tom Alward
Vessel, 2013
local clay and stoneware
10.5 x 5 x 3.5

History has taught us that to meaningfully enact change over a long period, more than good ideas are needed. Dedicated people and financial support as well as a sound case statement and set of long-range goals are the catalysts that transform great ideas into successful achievements. For the field of contemporary craft, The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design (The Center) in Hendersonville (now Asheville), North Carolina, has acted as both catalyst and sustainer since its establishment in 1998, fundamentally reshaping the way craft is examined, appreciated, and promoted through a series of exceptional research, exhibition, and publication grants; yearly issue-based think tanks; educational programs; internships that train the next generation of museum professionals; and support for artists. With the backing of the Windgate Charitable Foundation as well as other donors, its visionary board and staff has led The Center to become one of the de facto thought-leaders in the field today.

While all of its programs can and should be heralded, The Center’s support of emerging craft artists is particularly exemplary. During the 2005 Craft Think Tank, participants from major museums, universities and art schools, writers, and independent curators, established the parameters for what would become the Windgate Fellowship.1 Rather than reinventing the wheel, the Craft Think Tank members and the board of The Center looked to existing models, including the Watson Fellowship program, the International Sculpture Center (ISC) Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Awards, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Fellowships, and the National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowships, to devise its program 2 Additional foundations established in the 20th century, most notably the Pew Foundation for the Arts, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and United States Artists, among others, have also taken a leadership role in providing research grants that signal the importance of investing in artists and their practice. By recognizing the value of providing monetary support to artists so that creativity, risk-taking, and skill-building can occur without impediments, these programs have made immeasurable contributions to the arts as a whole. Yet they mostly focus on more established artists, rather than those in early training. Universities and art schools have tried to fill this gap, with many offering research-based grants to undergraduate artists, but overall, the opportunities for meaningful support for artists at this stage of their career are too few. And craft, while a grant-receiving field for all of the fellowships cited above, is only one discipline competing for limited dollars.

JooHyun Lee
Untitled: 23 (twenty three minutes), 2012
6.5 x 4 x 3

With this knowledge in mind, in 2006, The Center established the Windgate Fellowship Awards, a program that grants funds to 10 graduating seniors with “extraordinary skill in craft.” In a structure that may be unique in the United States, over 50 national universities participate by identifying and nominating two artists each for the fellowship. Since 2006, the number of institutions and artist nominations has steadily climbed, culminating in a record 114 artists from 66 institutions in 2012.3 There is no question that this increase is due to the outstanding reputation of the program as well as the outreach that The Center undertakes each year to cultivate relationships with universities and art schools.

Windgate Fellows have come from all regions of the United States as well as from many different types of schools, including large programs such as the University of the Arts, Philadelphia; the Rhode Island School of Design; Virginia Commonwealth University; California College of the Arts; and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and lesser-known schools such as The Institute for American Indian Arts; the Appalachian Center for Craft at Tennessee Tech University; Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University; and Murray State University. After a rigorous review of each artist’s work and specific project proposal by a panel of past awardees, artists, museum curators, and academics, the fellows chosen receive $15,000 each to pursue their goals.

“Transformative,” “a priceless opportunity and experience,” “door-opening,” “it influenced the way I saw myself as an artist,” and “a rare gift” are only some of the general sentiments expressed by past fellows. The fellowship’s financial support of equipment, materials, and travel; its role as a bridge between college and graduate school or life as a working artist; and its instilling of confidence in young artists that their work is valued are all cited by the fellows as critical factors when describing its impact. As Dustin Farnsworth, a 2010 fellow, wrote: “The grant fostered bravery to take risks, the freedom flexibility to purchase materials, and the chance to seek and engage career-enhancing opportunities. By working for makers with strengths in areas where I felt deficits, I was able to reinforce and tighten my own craft processes…” Aaron McIntosh, a 2006 fellow, summed up another important legacy – the extensive network of artists and arts professionals cultivated through the fellowship. “All the exhibitions, workshops, schools, museums and libraries, as well as craft conferences and fiber symposia, provided my first professional contacts out in the larger fields of textiles, craft and fine arts. Many of the artists, educators, writers, curators and gallerists I met…have become vital parts of my professional and social networks…. And perhaps this larger connectivity of individuals committed to craft pursuits and inquiry will become the most enduring legacy of this important fellowship.”


Josh Copus
Jar, 2012
wood-fired clay
30 x 26

As the Windgate Fellowship nears its 10th anniversary, two initiatives that will help the program take stock are planned. One is fellow-driven: Dustin Farnsworth approached The Center about convening past and present fellows so that they may connect and reflect with each other as well as discuss ways to strengthen the fellowship in the future. Called “Towards 10 and Connected,” the meeting will occur during SOFA CHICAGO 2013. The second initiative is Taking Shape, the first exhibition to survey artists awarded the Wingate Fellowship as a group. Drawn from recent objects made by artists whose fellowships occurred in 2006–2010, the exhibition highlights the diversity of aesthetics, processes, and materials found in craft today. Ceramics, fiber art, furniture, glass, jewelry, metalwork, photography, and sculpture are represented in the work of Tom Alward, Josh Copus, Andrea Donelly, Dustin Farnsworth, Jenny Fine, Erin Rose Gardner, Kathleen Janvier, JooHyun Lee, Aaron McIntosh, Nate Moren, Alexis Myre, Elizabeth Staiger, Amelia Toelke, and Thoryn Ziemba.

Craft continues to shift and respond to cultural and economic changes in the world, with younger artists often taking the lead in forging new paths to address these fundamental differences. Taken as a whole, the work in the exhibition clearly embodies the maxims used to describe craft in recent years—the pieces are expansive in concept, move beyond media-specific boundaries, and intersect with other artistic disciplines. Artists such as Aaron McIntosh, Dustin Farnsworth, Nate Moren, Erin Rose Gardner, and Alexis Myre exemplify these trends. Yet within this realm, it is heartening to see young artists remaining committed to skill and craftsmanship. Exhibition artists Tom Alward, Josh Copus, and JooHyun Lee, in particular, speak eloquently about the important role craftsmanship plays in their work. These qualities ensure that many traditions will endure, even if the end result is beyond what we can conceive of today.

As this exhibition attests, the Windgate Fellowship selection panel seemingly have an unerring eye for spotting the best and brightest of rising craftspeople. A review of these artists’ post-fellowship curriculum vitae shows acceptance into the most competitive and rigorous graduate programs, inclusion in national exhibitions and publications, and gallery representation for the majority of Windgate Fellows. The fact that so many of these artists are making a living from their craft is remarkable, and while the hard work and talent all come from the artists themselves, the support of the Windgate Fellowship has been invaluable in making their careers possible. 


Cindi Strauss is Curator, Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts and Design at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Published in conjunction with the SOFA CHICAGO 2013 special exhibit Taking Shape, presented by The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design and juried by Cindi Strauss, Assistant Director of Programming and Curator for Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts and Design at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

1 Participants in the 2005 Craft Think Tank were Glenn Adamson, Carmine Branagan, Diane Douglas, Stuart Kestenbaum, Mark Richard Leach, Martha Drexler Lynn, Lydia Matthews, David Revere McFadden, Jean McLaughlin, Tina Oldknow, Suzanne Ramljak, Howard Risatti, Ken Trapp, and Consuelo Jiminez Underwood.

2 I would like to thank Marilyn Zapf, Assistant Director of The Center for Craft Creativity & Design for providing this and other information relating to the establishment of the Windgate Fellowships.

3 The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design. Windgate Fellowship & Museum Internship Report, Years 2011 & 2012, 6.

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