Ted Nierenberg -- a man who in his 50s looks as well turned out as his Dansk International tableware -- has hit the American Craft Council like a buzzsaw.
The Craft Council, the largest contemporary crafts organization in the country, in the last year or so has suffered great financial difficulties. The $1-million endowment from founder Mrs. Vanderbilt Webb has been exhausted, and the council ran a $300,000 deficit last year, Nierenberg said. To answer these problems, Barbara Rockefelle, chairman of the ACC board, has appointed Nierenberg as president, serving without pay.
Already, Nierenberg says, he has balanced the budget by insituting small economy measures, raising the general membership dues to $25, and soliciting donations. In the meantime he has instituted three important programs.
The Crafts Coundil is negotiating to buy the old Vanderbilt Mansion at 86th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York. Nierenberg said, "A patron has given us $1.7 million to buy and remodel a building for a new Museum of Contemporary Crafts. Wee hope to buy the Vanderbilt Mansion. But if we can't, we'll buy another landmark building between 72nd and 85th Street on Fifth Avenue."
The old Museum of Contempory Crafts, adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art, has been sold to the Modern for its expansion program. Currently, contemporary craft exhibits are being mounted in the headquarters building at 22 West 55th St.
Crafts Horizon, the membership publication, also is being revamped, with stronger graphics and a more journalistic approach to the text, according to Nierenberg. "We hope eventually to have a magazine good enough to sell on the newsstands. Americans are interested in crafts, both as collectors and as producers. We hope to make Crafts Horizon lively enough to interest everybody."
Strong regional council members who could bring money and their own region's expertise to the organization are being searched out be Nierenberg. "We hope to find people who are already working with craft groups and museums in their own area," he said.
Nierenberg was in Washington recently, on his way from the Baltimore Winter Crafts Market. He is founder and president of Dansk International Designs, Ltd., a pioneer firm importing Scandinavian design into the United States, and a leader in that movement. He also serves on the boards of six other companies as well as Carnegie Mellon University. Nierenberg was educated as an engineer, but he founded his design marketing company in 1955. Currently, the company also sells products from other sections of the world as well. He and his wife (they have four children) live in a house by Nierenberg and Dansk designer Jens Quistgaard in Armonk, Westchester County, New York.
The crafts community in this country is segmented, Nierenberg said. "We find crafts that are objects, one of a kind useful pieces, multiples and big production objects. Then there are the craft collectors, the craft audience. We need to find out why people are rushing by the thousands to crafts.
"ACC is asking itself, should we put on more shows in New York? Do we need a better educational program? I am hesitant to increase our New York based education services. Do we need more ACC services? The insurance plan we have for craftsmen now is better than Dansk offers. Should we run more seminars across the country? Well, we have task forces looking into all these programs."
Nierenberg said that Mrs. Vanderbilt Webb, who founded the Craft Council, is still going strong at 87. "She comes to all the council meetings and gets around with her cane very well. She does complain she can't throw pots the way she used to. It's wonderful to see people of that age contribute so much. My own mother, Rose Nierenberg, is 85 and still sells notions at Bloomingdale's. She's good at it, too. You go in for a button and find you've bought a dozen. The president of Bloomingdale's says they're going to institute a mandatory retirement at 95."