Spotlight on BGC Alumni: Jennifer Scanlan

Jennifer Scanlan (‘04) is associate curator at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), where, with Jeannine Falino, she most recently co-curated Crafting Modernism: Mid-Century American Art and Design on view through January 15, 2012. She is also an instructor in the Historic Preservation Program at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, teaching courses on the history of American interiors.

Congratulations on your exhibition at MAD! Can you tell us a little bit about re-launching The Centenary Project at the museum?
Thanks! It was exciting to work on Crafting Modernism, the fourth exhibition in The Centenary Project series, for a number of reasons. The Centenary Project was originally launched in the 1990s in an effort to document a history of craft in the twentieth century through exhibitions and catalogs. The first exhibition presented the Arts and Crafts movement at the beginning of the century, then two exhibitions explored the period between the world wars: one examined the renewed interest in traditional crafts from different areas of American culture, and the other looked at aspects of craft in the industrial design of the period.

Crafting Modernism covers the period from 1945 to 1969, which was the birth of the studio craft movement, and the time at which MAD was founded. Historically it was the crucial period for crafts, with the emergence of many talented, passionate, innovative and iconoclastic artists. There was a wealth of materials to research, much of which had not received scholarly attention previously. As a scholar and a curator, finding an entire field open for fresh research is always exhilarating. It was also an amazing opportunity to meet with many of the protagonists of the period, who are just extraordinarily lovely people. 

This period also happens to be one that I personally find aesthetically appealing, so it was very inspiring to be surrounded by objects that I loved.

I should point out that this was a huge project and we had a lot of help, including many, many BGC students, faculty, and alumni, among others project manager Nurit Einik ('07), essay authors Ursula Ilse-Neuman and Caroline Hannah ('00; PhD candidate) and countless interns who I do not have the space to name, but who all have special places in my heart, for doing so much important work with so much enthusiasm.

Was twentieth-century decorative arts and craft a focus of yours while a student at the Bard Graduate Center? If not, how did this area pique your interest?
Twentieth-century decorative arts was always my focus at the BGC, but while I was a student, there were no courses in contemporary crafts, and I admit I knew nothing about it until I was lucky enough to get a job at the museum, working with Ursula Ilse-Neuman.

Now that Catherine Whalen is on the BGC faculty, I am seeing more and more students who are interested in the field. (Catherine, by the way, was a great help during the preparation for the exhibition).  Honestly, I get excited about almost any area of the decorative arts that I study, but the great advantage of the crafts is that they have been historically overlooked and understudied, so there are many great opportunities for new research. 

What’s next for Jennifer Scanlan?
Another exhibition of mine just opened on the permanent collection floor: Beauty in All Things: Japanese Art and Design, which is up through June. I am also taking some time to focus on enriching the online collection database (— ninety-seven percent of our collection is online, with zoomable images, curatorial comments on the objects, artists' bios, and video interviews. I am continuing to expand the content, and I hope this will allow many more people to learn and get excited about contemporary decorative arts and design.

Back to top
Enlarge image

Jan de Swart

Blanket Chest, c 1965
15 x 32 x 17 1/4 in. (38.1 x 81.3 x 43.8 cm)

Collection of Mark McDonald

Photo: John Bigelow Taylor

One of the pieces on view at Crafting Modernism: Mid-Century American Art and Design