We have lost a champion of contemporary craft. Martha Connell, an internationally recognized force in the American Craft Movement, died October 26 at 78.
The native Atlantan and her husband, Pat, began presenting contemporary crafts and fine arts objects in 1985. Their Great American Gallery on Peachtree Street introduced many of us to innovative work in clay, glass, fiber, metal and wood.
After five years of assembling a stable of more than 50 of America’s most outstanding craftspeople and developing an appreciative audience for their work, the Connells moved their gallery to Buckhead. Pat, an architect and professor emeritus at Georgia Tech, ingeniously transformed what had been a Williamsburg-style office building into a handsome contemporary gallery with exterior walls sheathed in stamped and galvanized metal ceiling tiles.
Throughout her career, Connell demonstrated her eye in recognizing talent across the crafts fields. She gave furniture maker Sam Maloof his first solo exhibition in 1996, for instance, and mounted a historic retrospective for wood turner Rude Osolnik shortly after his death in 2001. She regularly exhibited studio jewelry maker Earl Pardon, whose work the High will exhibit in Earl Pardon’s“Portable Art” February 7 to June 7, 2015.
Connell’s influence extended well beyond Atlanta. She curated some 20 shows in museums and galleries throughout the Southeast. Her insightful survey of American basket making, Tradition and Innovation, organized for the Handweavers Guild of America, essentially defined contemporary American basketry for our time.
The United States Information Agency recognized her expertise by sponsoring her selection of American wood turners in a show that was presented at 23 venues during a tour of 17 countries.
Connell Gallery closed its doors in 2003, but Connell’s advocacy and legendary support for artists continued. Among her more recent curatorial initiatives were a wood-turning exhibit of three internationally recognized artists at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2012, an exhibit of jewelers Earl and Tod Pardon for the Mobile Museum of Art in 2009, and a show of figurative ceramics for the Mobile museum and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art in 2006.
Her achievements have their legacy in the private collections she helped build and in the work she placed in such institutions as the High Museum, the American Craft Museum in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for the public to enjoy.
The High is currently exhibiting a sampling of the 50-plus acquisitions the Connells made possible in Committed to Craft: Martha and Pat Connell in Gallery 415.
Compiled from the family’s press release.