Blue Green Iridescent Vase by Lisa Zolandz
Blue Green Iridescent Vase by Lisa Zolandz Credit: Courtesy of Zolandz

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The Smithsonian Craft Show is a prestigious event in the arts. More than 100 artists have historically been selected out of about 1,000 applicants across craft mediums, organized in these categories: ceramics, decorative fiber and basketry, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather and metal, paper, wearable art, and wood. This year, the show is coveted for yet another reason: It is one of the few craft fairs in the country that has not been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Before all of this, 90 percent of my sales were through craft fairs and art shows,” says Manassas, Virginia-based ceramicist Lisa Zolandz, who has pivoted to online sales through her website and is showcasing artwork in the Smithsonian show for the first time this week. The 107 artists who have been accepted to the Smithsonian’s virtual event are also invited to display their work during the in-person event next year.

“That was a relief to me,” Zolandz says, “because I didn’t want my one opportunity—potentially only one opportunity—to be in the Smithsonian Craft Show to just evaporate.”

The Smithsonian has put on the show since 1982. It’s typically held in April, but was postponed to October this year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The multifaceted program, called “Craft the Future,” is up from now to Oct. 25. These were the original dates that the Smithsonian’s annual fall celebration of wearable craft art, Craft2Wear, was to take place. The reimagined online craft show is combined with Craft2Wear, and includes a wearable art boutique. The organizers partnered with the online auction platform Bidsquare to create a virtual marketplace; a gala and a live auction are also on the schedule.

Wiwat Kamolpornwijit, who has worked full-time as a jeweler in Alexandria for about 10 years, is exhibiting his work in the Smithsonian Craft Show this week for the second time. He has also displayed his creations twice at Craft2Wear. To him, the virtual platform is no match for the in-person events. “It doesn’t have the same effect where people can pick up the artwork and talk to the artists,” he notes, fondly recalling that he saw the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at previous Smithsonian shows he was a part of.

D.C. history and current events are also wrapped up in the artists that participate, like Susan Sanders who joined The Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria right as it was beginning in 1974 and has had a studio there ever since. She is also a veteran of the Smithsonian shows. In this year’s fair, she is featuring a colorfully hand-painted, geometric 3D-printed brooch called “Virus” that she says she made just before the coronavirus outbreak.

To learn more about their art, City Paper asked these three Washington-area artists what they’ve been working on, how the pandemic has impacted their crafts, and what inspires them. 

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lisa Zolandz 

Washington City Paper: What have you been working on lately?
LZ: I’ve been working on developing new glazes plus making more work for the online events that I’m participating in, so mugs, vases, small decorative pieces. I mostly make iridescent and crystalline glazes. It’s ceramic porcelain with a glaze that I make myself, and my focus right now is the iridescent and the gold crystals.

I have a lot coming through the kiln right now. I’ve been getting some really great results with my iridescent work. So I have mugs and vases that just have so much color and they just kind of change in the light.

WCP: How has being at home during the pandemic changed your relationship with craft art?
LZ: I miss the in-person shows. Sometimes they can be hard, you know, weather and it’s tiring, but I miss it. You don’t have the same interaction with people when you’re selling online. The little bit of travel is fun and [there are] more deadlines, because not everything has transitioned to an online show. Without a deadline I don’t think I accomplish as much.

It’s a weird time, so I kind of ebb and flow with how valid and important it is, what I do. I’m not saving lives or anything. But since we’re spending so much time in our homes now I think small objects of beauty can bring some extra happiness. I’ve definitely had those philosophical conversations inside my head.

WCP: What inspires your artwork?
LZ: With my work with the glazes it’s just a continual process of exploration. My background before the arts was in the sciences so I’m really drawn to the chemistry aspect. Especially with a little bit of extra time now I’ve taken apart glazes more and pushed chemistry around to see what else I can find. It just seems like the possibilities are endless but until you try it you never know what’s there. 

You can analyze the chemistry of a glaze. So making a glaze is a bit like baking where you’re adding exact amounts of certain ingredients—chemicals, natural materials—but they have a chemical analysis that is published for them so you know what you’re getting out of each material that you’re adding, whether it’s calcium or zinc or sodium or potassium. So it’s kind of a nitty-gritty look at the numbers, make more glazes up, run them through the kiln and see what I get.

There are some people that really do like the glaze chemistry aspect, there are some people that use the glazes you can just buy that are pre-prepared. You can also follow a recipe for glaze that’s already published, like a cake recipe. Maybe without looking at the chemical analysis you might think, well what happens if I add more silica, or in this cake recipe what happens if I add more sugar, and just experiment that way. I’m a little obsessive with glaze chemistry. There are some of us that are into it. 

Wiwat Kamolpornwijit

WCP: What have you been working on lately?
WK: In particular I have been working on color and pattern. I’ve been working on texture. It’s hard to get supply of polymer right now because of COVID-19. I talked to one of the stores that I usually buy from and they mentioned the transportation—I don’t know exactly what happened. 

I have to go into all my scraps because when I work with polymers, I keep all the scraps. I don’t want to throw them away. So I kind of recycle all the scraps and process them, mix them up, cut them up, rearrange them to reuse them and get new color and texture. So that’s what I have been working on. Polymer comes with many different colors. I just mix different colors to make my own color palette and patterns. 

WCP: How has being at home during the pandemic changed your relationship with craft art?
WK: I know the first month I [didn’t] even worked in polymer; my mind was [somewhere] else. I [had] to make a plan to survive. So it actually took a while before I started working in polymer again. I started doing some freelance [work] as an interpreter, then I came back to polymer. That’s the only thing that makes me feel like my life is somewhat normal again. [I] get back and sit on the table and start creating something, then I start to feel like my life is somewhat normal again. It was kind of a struggle a little with a completely new routine.

All the shows are canceled this year so this is like a completely different challenge for craft artists. Hopefully we can start doing the shows again early next year. I’ve done Smithsonian shows a few times. I feel like it has a lot to do with luck. All the people that apply for the show are amazing artists, so I feel like sometimes it’s luck.

WCP: What inspires your artwork?
WK: I grew up in Thailand. When I was growing up I studied science and engineering. I wasn’t really focused on arts and crafts at all. I started doing some of that professionally in the U.S. but I think growing up in Thailand, culture and traditional artwork as well, I think those influenced me, definitely.

I like to visualize how [to] connect pieces and do some drawing. I think that might be the engineering part of it that comes to my work. Mainly I like dimension, I like unique structure [and] interesting lines. My work is like a small sculpture. 

There is one piece that I like, it looks like a lotus. That is the flower that I like; that’s kind of a symbol of so many things. The one that looks like many lotus floating [the “Grande Lotus Necklace”], it’s like lotus floating on water. That’s the way I see it.

Susan Sanders

WCP: What have you been working on lately?
SS: I do 3D-printed jewelry. Over the years I’ve done all sorts of jewelry but for the last probably seven years this has been my medium. 

I don’t own a 3D printer myself. I send them out to a commercial printer. The difference of having a home printer, even a really good one, [is] it doesn’t begin to do what I need it to do. A commercial printer I’m sure is hundreds of thousands dollars, if not more, and it can print large. It can print pieces that have moving parts, which is really important. Because I make a lot of pieces that have moving parts.

I design them completely on the computer. I work in a software called Rhino. I make a virtual model. So I’m working on a one millimeter grid, on my computer screen. I can rotate it, move it around, and look at it from any direction, top and bottom, and push it here and pull it here and cut this part off and stick this part on and twist this part and stretch that part. My background is industrial design and this is the same kind of thought process. I’m just doing on the computer what I used to do with T-squares and triangles.

I send the file to the printing company and about two weeks later it comes back to me. It’s white and I look at a bazillion bottles of paint I have all over the counter. I hand paint them.

WCP: How has being at home during the pandemic changed your relationship with craft art?
SS: I’ve been a bit of a dinosaur for putting up a website and decided through all this that I had to. Because this [Smithsonian Craft] Show needed to refer people to my website. So I’ve been spending a good chunk of the last few months learning how to make a website. This is my first foray into doing something like this and [I] hope to do more of it if it’s successful.

I’ve been here [at the Torpedo Factory Art Center] since it opened in 1974, so 47 years and counting. Right now we’re running [at] half mass. Normally we’re open seven days a week. Artists [are] working a certain number of hours. We closed for a few months entirely; now we’re open five days a week and I’m working three days a week. I’m glad to get back to doing some things and having customers for them. I still don’t have any desire to come back five days a week if I don’t have to.

WCP: What inspires your artwork?
SS: It’s hard to say. Sometimes I’ll be standing in the shower and some sort of shape will come to me. Sometimes forms will come from [if] I just figured out how to use the twist tool, [then] I wonder what else I can do. I’ll start with one design and it launches a number of others. But mostly I just sit there and play.