Craft Show Juror Q & A: Carolyn L.E. Benesh of Ornament Magazine

Carolyn L. E. Benesh has been Co-editor and Co-publisher of Ornament Magazine, the leading magazine featuring wearable art, since its launch in 1974. The magazine's name was changed from The Bead Journal to Ornament in 1978 as the publication embraced all forms of personal adornment: contemporary, ancient and ethnographic.

Carolyn's expertise is in contemporary jewelry and clothing: she has edited and published hundreds of articles on these subjects, as well as speaking about them at museums and to related organizations. She has served as a juror for many of the nation's top craft shows, including the 2014 Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, and is former president and current board member of the PBS series Craft in America. Ornament Magazine is the sponsor of the Craft Show’s annual Award for Excellence in Art to Wear.

What's the most rewarding or challenging thing about serving as a juror?

I always approach jurying as a serious and solemn responsibility to choose the very best in craft, in what is necessarily a limited, compressed time frame due to the logistics of the process. While my opinion counts, as one of five jurors it is also melded into what the other four jurors, as individuals and professionals, bring to the selection of artwork for the show. I consider my participation both rewarding and challenging. It is also a great deal of fun interacting with the jurors and Show Committee, and stimulating to see and evaluate around a thousand entrants. By the end of the day, I think it is fair to say we are all exhausted, numb and very hopeful that we have done our due diligence for one of the most important craft shows in the United States.

What makes the PMA Craft Show different?

That is a tough call. The PMA Craft Show is among the very, very best craft shows in the country. These shows hold the highest standards for selecting artists. I think one of the truly distinctive things about the PMA Craft Show is the incredible location of Philadelphia and how many of us love coming here. When I walk into the entrance and onto the floor, the energy and immediate tempo is there, yet it is also a warm inviting environment, very soothing. It is an interesting combination and hard to explain. You have to attend the show to get it. It is beautifully produced and you feel you have walked into a giant artwork. It’s a place where you are affirmed by the creative spirit and its continuing gift to life through the power of the handmade.

What do you look for when selecting artists for the PMA Craft Show?

There are universal basics in design, quality and overall execution; some that come to mind are: Is the entry well-presented? Is it unique? How well does the entry apply design principles like, harmony, unity, opposition, emphasis? How strong is the entry from an aesthetic standpoint? From a technical standpoint? There is much to assess in the practical sense, but then there is also unexplainable, when the work grabs you by the heart, and the power of it, the presence of it, doesn't let go. That is when all five of the jurors are on the same page and that artist receives the highest score.

What craft trends did you see emerging in 2014?

Actually, I didn't see any. I don't believe this is a time for emerging trends, but rather a very important period that displays the meditative, careful evolution of work. American craft is at its most refined and thoughtful after decades of change. One has to be observant about the nuances and the subtle changes that have brought us to this pinnacle of achievement. It is a great time to be a creator, and great that there are places like the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show that support the artists, and encourage the public to participate and value works of art and to bring them into their homes.

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