They may not be making things just like they used to, but you will find craftsmen, living in Washington and other places, turning away from the mass-production, big-hype, the-medium-is-the message, hit-and-run type of "Thing," and turning to the attention to quality and detail that we yearn for but never expect.
Nine such artist/craftsmen are exhibiting today and tomorrow, from noon till nine o'clock, at the Wolfe Street Gallery (31st and M Streets NW). One of them is Thom Feild.
Feild made his mark on Washington early. At the age of 11 he was putting together productions for the Melrose Theatre. Since then, among other things, the 28-year-old designer and fabric craftsman has designed the advent calender for the Smithsonian, which at $6 is selling very well at the institution's shops.
Much of what Feild and comrades in quality are showing are wearable -- from scarves to woven jackets to kimonos, at prices ranging from 50 cents (for porcelain buttons) to $300- $400 (for silk kimonos). What sets them apart from the designers and makers of such articles we are used to seeing in stores, is the distance they have put between themselves and the mass producers. Everything is made, from design to finished product, in the studio. It all bears the mark of its maker.
"It's a secret society that's concerned about quality in design, about quality in material," said Feild of his colleagues. "They've all decided not to take certain breaks. They don't sacrifice things like material, which is really an issue now. Everybody wants everybody else to look good. That kind of attitude is something you just don't get working in a larger design studio."
Feild recently exhibited at the Renwick Gallery some designs that have gone into prints for books, scarves and kimonos. They start with the simplicity of falling leaves on the kimono and resolve with tiny repeating squares containing Koreanesque arrangements of circles and lines. Or perhaps it is the other way around.
In his studio in Northwest Washington, he begins with his own designs, cuts only the finest silk, uses only genuine silk thread, only buttons that manage to fit, somehow (calico buttons, buttons he finds only in a New York button "museum") to make vests and shirts.
The same attention to detail he puts into book designs: printed silk jackets on mulberry paper.
Others are showing things such as woven baskets -- made of grape vines and soft woods you at first think look perfectly ridiculous, then discover are made the way they are because they actually work.
"I really don't want to get so tied to retail," says the red-headed, sort of D.H. Lawrence-looking Feild. "I'd rather build the name -- Raisin Hopes Design -- raisin' hopes for better design." Other exhibitors in the two-day show are: Ellen Baum, Edward Behr, Linda Bills, Ben Compton, Steven Dallmus, Martie Homer, Kirby Mentzer and Helene N. Zuckerbrod.