The (America) House that Mrs. Webb Built

While America House was predominantly a retail operation, it occasionally hosted small non-selling exhibitions as part of the initia­tives set forth by the American Craftsmen's Educa­tional Council to teach consumers about American crafts.18 The first such show, The Modern Embroideries of Mariska Karasz, opened on September 7, 1949. The idea for the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now the Museum of Arts and Design), which Mrs. Webb founded in 1956, developed out of these special exhi­bitions. It opened on September 20, 1956, at 29 West Fifty-Third Street; its inaugural exhibition, Craftsman­ship in a Changing World, featured 314 objects by 180 craftsmen from nineteen states, most of whom had exhibited at or sold through America House.

America House also showcased the work of the win­ners of the Young Americans competitions conducted by the Educational Council. The competitions, held annually between 1950 and 1956 and then periodi­cally through 1988, were open to American craftsmen thirty years old or younger working in any medium. In 1952 a young Paul Evans won first prize in the metal category for a silver and rosewood coffeepot, quite different from the metal furniture he would ex­hibit and retail through the shop in the 1960s. The Young Americans competitions were judged by a dis­tinguished panel that, over the years, included Edgar Kaufmann Jr., Ruth Reeves, Grete Franke, and Art Smith (himself a past winner).

In the 1960s America House singled out individual artists by displaying their work in a gallery-like space within the shop called the "Collector's Room." 19 One 1968 advertisement for the Collector's Room (Fig. 7) featured a music stand by Castle for $350, a far cry from the price the piece would command today.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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