The latest exhibition at the Craft Center presents an opportunity for League of New Hampshire Craftsmen jurors to put their money where their mouth is.
“Setting the Standard” is on view Jan. 13 through March 24 and features about 45 jurors’ best and latest, with all 23 media categories represented, said Catherine Green, standards and gallery manager at the League. It’s the same show theme that hit the Craft Center just after it opened in 2011.
The rigorous standards are what have given the organization its esteemed name in the regional and national crafting community since 1932. Today, the League boasts more than 750 craftspeople, 29 of whom were juried in this year.
Its high numbers are due to the effect of being a juried member — what the League thinks of your work can have enormous impact on what buyers think of it too. Green mentioned a new member, Kathleen Collins, whose needle felt figures in the fall exhibition “Over the Rainbow” sold before the show opened.
“She said, ‘Wow, that’s the first time my work has sold.’ That’s very gratifying to see them be successful,” Green said via phone last week.
The jurying process is relatively straightforward. Artists show a few pieces to jurors certified in their respective craft — jewelry, ceramics, knitting, beading, wood turning, etc. — and the jurors decide whether to accept the artist based on the standards the League has set. Green said about 65 to 75 percent are accepted the first time around.
It’s extremely nerve-wracking, and all craftsmen interviewed remember that epic day very well. Green, a printmaker, had her go in 1982. She brought her husband, who sat in the car as she presented her work so she’d have company on the way home, no matter what happened.
Sanbornton basket weaver Sharon Dugan became a member in 1997, a juror about four years later. She brought her work to Sandwich Home Industries (now the Center Sandwich retail gallery) after reading up on the organization’s history.
“Being such a traditionalist, I wanted to go where the League first began,” Dugan said, laughing.
Her mother taught her to make baskets from natural materials and she had spent years mastering the art of the Shaker basket. Even so, she was terrified that day. She didn’t know if her work was good enough — if she was good enough.
“I remember distinctly how terrified I was, and I can see it in the people who come forward,” Dugan said.
Getting accepted into the League allowed her to quit her full-time day job to make baskets professionally, which she’s been doing ever since. She has two black ash splint baskets with migration patterns in the show.
Mason weaver Sarah Fortin’s big day was in 1985. A graduate of the Washington State University clothing and textile program, she learned the basics during a required course but mastered her technique after buying a loom in 1977. At the time, she had two small children at home and was working side jobs — catering, sewing — to supplement her income.
One of her pieces is a coat, “Flying over Glaciers,” which was inspired by the color and formations of the glaciers she saw during an Alaska vacation. Another is a pink, yellow, green and blue home decor piece. She likes that the League helps her make a living creating whatever she wants.
“I’ve been doing it for so long now it’s become part of my life. My husband is retired now, and we do a little traveling, but if I don’t weave quite often, I miss it,” Fortin said via phone.
One of the youngest League jury members is Wilmot artist Zack Jonas, 33, who has two pieces in the show: “Gazelle,” a Persian-inspired fighting knife with a 10-inch blade made from his own “firestorm” Damascus steel, and “Smoke,” a mid-sized American bowie knife, also with a Damascus steel blade. Jonas entered the organization in 2013 as the only bladesmith at the time. For him, it just made sense to get the League stamp of approval.
“I was … and still am working to discover and establish a market,” he said via phone. “And that’s basically what the League was founded for in the ’30s, so artists could have an association and be supported commercially.”
The goal in the jurying process, Green said, is to encourage craftsmen and guide them to becoming better at what they do. If they’re not ready for the full jury, the League has a critique program which is less expensive and less formal. She sees artists of all ages and backgrounds coming in to try out their stuff.
“We get young people, and we get retirees who finally have time to do what they’ve been doing for years,” Green said. “I remember a few years ago, within one week we juried in a 26-year-old and an 82-year-old.”