Fine crafts add beauty to everyday living 4105:Cookware to furniture: a vast array of offerings

Handblown water goblets with swirling patterns, contoured wooden kitchen utensils, brightly glazed ceramic dinnerware, and sleek sculptural furniture are among the many handcrafted objects that can be used and enjoyed everyday.

Handmade items, spanning the traditional to the avant-garde, are at home in a variety of settings, from country kitchens to post-modern urban apartments.

''Work in craft media is the perfect antidote for American homes, especially new ones, that are so monotonous and characterless in terms of materials,'' says Jack Larsen, president of the American Crafts Council.

Mr. Larsen, who has an extensive collection of contemporary American ceramics and works in other media, likes to use handmade objects in table settings.

''I strew them down the center of the table or place one object at each setting,'' he says. ''They can provide color as well as humor.''

Mr. Larsen stores his collection on illuminated glass shelves behind 50 sliding panels that help keep the pieces dust-free. He usually opens one or two panels to enjoy a small part of his collection at a time.

''Crafts feed the senses if not the soul,'' Mr. Larsen says. ''I learn from them like I do listening to music.''

Traditionally sold at street fairs, handcrafted items are now available from a variety of sources. Crafts at many price levels are sold in specialty galleries, fine department stores, and large wholesale craft shows.

''More craftspeople are producing on a professional level and making a living at it. The number of galleries and collectors is growing apace,'' says Mr. Larsen. ''There are craftsmen in every community these days, and most will accept commissions.''

Although fine crafts are readily available, ''many times people are intimidated by a beautiful piece and can't visualize it in their home,'' says Kathy Hanson of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. To illustrate how crafts can be integrated into home and office settings, she is designing 12 showrooms decorated entirely with handcrafted items, including furniture, baskets, rugs, wall hangings, quilts, glassware, and lamps. The exhibit, called ''Living with Crafts,'' is part of the league's Annual Craftsmen's Fair to be held Aug. 4-12 at Mt. Sunapee Park in Newbury, N.H.

Craftspeople are becoming more savvy about selling their work, and they are also employing new processes to explore the creative potential of their particular media.

''Craftsmen have not overly romanticized the work of the hand,'' writes Katherine Pearson in her lavishly illustrated new book, ''American Crafts: A Source Book for the Home'' (Stewart, Tabori & Chane Publishers, New York, $35). ''They have, in fact, often embraced new technologies in their work. What is more important to the craftsman is the freedom to make personal statements in functional objects.''

This freedom has resulted in a trend toward more sculptural forms and a growing category of nonfunctional pieces, particularly in glass, which some experts consider to be fine art rather than craft. At the same time, functional crafts are growing in popularity.

In ''American Crafts,'' Katherine Pearson describes the vast array of ceramic kitchen equipment such as mixing bowls, colanders, baking and roasting pans, skillets, and covered casseroles. She notes a trend toward oversize forms that are suited to serving large groups.

When choosing ceramic cookware, Ms. Pearson suggests picking up the piece to judge it for weight, comfort, and balance. These pieces should have uniform thickness: The bottom should be no thicker than the sides.

As discussed in ''American Crafts,'' the recent revival of metalsmithing has resulted in a larger selection of silver, copper, pewter, and stainless steel utensils, pans, and other culinary items. Woodcarvers are producing bowls and cutting boards inlaid with colorful woods. Prices for handcrafted kitchen items are usually comparable to prices at kitchen specialty stores.

Wall hangings, quilts, glass art, baskets, and handcrafted furniture can provide unique additions to other rooms in the home.

Some highly individual pieces are best displayed alone, Ms. Pearson advises. Grouping works by a particular craftsman, however, will be more effective than scattering them throughout the house.

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