Judy Kensley McKie at Museum of Craft and Design

Judy Kensley McKie: Cast of Characters
June 2 – Oct 28 at Museum of Craft and Design

Judy Kensley McKie is one of America’s most beloved furniture designers and makers. Working in her studio in Massachusetts, she has developed animated and personable forms that captivate people of all ages, while also impressing peers for their formal finesse and technical expertise. Particularly iconic, within her oeuvre, are her zoomorphic works: benches that assume the form of monkeys or alligators, tables held up by obedient-looking dogs or alert hares. These pieces are influenced by the style of Art Deco, but have an offbeat charm all their own; they somehow manage to achieve a sleek sophistication while also recalling a hand-drawn children’s book.

Even the best artists sometimes need help, and this was the case for McKie when – encouraged by her colleague, the Bay Area furniture artist Garry Knox Bennett – she began to work in cast bronze. This required specialist fabrication skills. Enter a key player in the story: the Italian immigrant and master artisan Piero Mussi, whose Artworks Foundry is one of the top workshops in its field nationwide. Beginning in the early 1990s, McKie collaborated with Mussi and his skilled moldmakers, casters and finishers to realize her furniture. The foundry preserved a full record of this creative partnership, keeping not only examples of finished work in bronze, but other objects from the making process, including sketches, handcarved models and casting molds.

Drawn from the Artworks Foundry archive, Judy Kensley McKie: Cast of Characters will be the first museum exhibition ever to focus exclusively on the creative collaboration between a single artist and a specialist art foundry. By placing emphasis on this partnership, it shows that art today is often the work of many hands, and reveals the technical repertoire that lies behind these consummately crafted objects.

To make the story come alive for visitors, the exhibition will include a full range of preparatory materials and finished works, as well as photographs of the process and the foundry itself, personal reflections from Piero Mussi and other technicians at Artworks Foundry. The installation will be arranged in two sections: an array of finished bronze works; and an area that looks at process, which will include a video made at Artworks Foundry as well as sketches, models, and molds.

A book accompanying the exhibition will feature a lead essay by guest curator Glenn Adamson, an interview with Piero Mussi and his team, and a technical explanation of contemporary bronze casting process by MCD’s Ariel Zaccheo, who is also serving as project curator for the exhibition.

Guest Curator: Glenn Adamson