Philadelphia’s Craft History: The Birth of the Nation’s Top Craft Show

The Women’s Committee’s commitment to craft reflects Philadelphia’s heritage as a national trailblazer in arts and culture. The city has been home to prominent crafters from its earliest days. From Colonial Philadelphian Richard Humphrey, to Daniel Pabst’s extraordinary furniture, the tradition of high quality craftsmanship in Philadelphia is essential to the city’s identity.

By the start of the 20th century, Philadelphia had already established itself as one of the prominent regions for high craft in the nation. This was in part due to well-respected members of the craft community establishing programs and organizations in the Greater Philadelphia area, such as Henry Mercer’s Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, and metalsmith Samuel Yellin’s renowned classes at the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Design (now University of the Arts). These individuals, and others, helped to bring Philadelphia to the forefront of the craft movement.

Gothic ironwork reborn in Samuel Yellin’s lock set. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Colleges took note of the influx of craftsmen making a way for themselves in the area and revised their curriculums accordingly. The early 1950’s marked the first time that craft courses were elevated from electives to majors, causing the movement be taken more seriously by both professors and students. Academic craft programs began to attract major talent to the city, many of whom would make a name for themselves by creating innovative galleries, demonstrations, and programs. Due to this and the rise of advocacy and awareness organizations like the Philadelphia Council of Professional Craftsmen (PCPC), by the mid-1960’s the City had become a “vital center for the craft movement.

Craft was introduced to the mainstream in Philadelphia in the early 1970’s when PCPC collaborated with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Franklin Institute to form major exhibitions. These exhibitions also reiterated Philadelphia’s importance as an international craft leader by highlighting the breadth and depth of local artists.

The Women’s Committee was a driving force in ensuring the Philadelphia Museum of Art was a part of the craft trend and advocated for the Philadelphia Museum of Art to include contemporary craft in its acquisition program. In addition, members of The Women’s Committee noticed the revival of small, exoteric shops and galleries in the South Street and Headhouse area of Philadelphia. Seeing a positive and enthusiastic response to this type of craft from the public, The Women’s Committee became inspired to create an event that would both celebrate craft tradition and innovation in Philadelphia, thus launching the first craft show in 1977.

And the rest is history. Stay tuned for a future blog examining how the Craft Show has evolved over the past forty years!

For tickets to 2016’s PMA Craft Show please visit


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The Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
P.O. Box 7646
Philadelphia, PA 19101-7646
Phone: (215) 684-7930

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