Allison Smith: Notion Nanny (May 13 – August 15, 2007)

A new exhibition in BAM/PFA's acclaimed MATRIX series uses a Victorian-era doll to take a contemporary look at traditional arts and crafts.

*Open House: Sunday, May 20, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Berkeley, CA, April 13, 2007 - The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is pleased to announce Allison Smith: Notion Nanny, an exhibition exploring traditional art and craft-making in the context of our contemporary world. To prepare for the exhibition, New York–based artist Allison Smith will work alongside a wide range of Bay Area artisans, learning skills ranging from bookbinding to iron work, and creating objects that will be featured in the exhibition at BAM/PFA. The exhibition, which is curated by Elizabeth Thomas, Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator, opens on May 13 and runs through August 15, 2007.

For the exhibition, Smith will revive the tradition of "notion nannies," popular dolls that were often displayed on the mantelpieces of Victorian-era British and American homes. The dolls - outfitted in the likeness of a peddler woman dressed in a red cloak and carrying a basket containing trinkets and miniaturized samples of needlework, tin ware, ceramics, and other traditional crafts - commemorated the disappearing tradition of traveling traders. These peddlers would crisscross the countryside, selling a range of handmade wares, as well as connecting isolated communities by sharing news and stories.

For her exhibition, Allison Smith revives this tradition of the notion nanny by assuming the role of maker, apprentice, trader, and storyteller. This project was first realized in Britain in 2005, when Smith traveled through Cumbria, London, and Shropshire, working with local craftspeople and learning traditional skills such as lace making, pottery, blacksmithing, woodturning, basket weaving, and horn carving. Smith also created a life-size notion nanny doll, modeled on herself, with a large basket in which she displays her growing collection of handicrafts.

Smith will bring the project - and the life-size doll - to Berkeley, where she will expand her repertoire of traditional skills to include local specialties such as ceramic tile making, Arts and Crafts–style textiles, bookbinding, stained glass, macramé, and iron work, among others. This accumulation of work is just part of the project's focus; Smith's interests also lie in social enterprise and the practices of working, exchanging, and sharing. With this in mind, on Sunday, May 20, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., the museum will host an open house at which Smith and her collaborators will be joined by a large coterie of artists, artisans, and others for a day of demonstration and discussion related to the practice and politics of the handmade.

The exhibition will also include a series of large-scale textiles that illustrate Smith's continuing journey and experiences as a notion nanny.

For Smith, the notion nanny extends beyond its historical references, exploring what it means to create handicrafts in a mass-manufacturing, mass-consuming society. From radical quilting bees and collaborative artists' zines to off-the-grid self-sustainability, in recent years the interest in craft has grown as a means to articulate anti-globalist and anti-capitalist dissent, support activism, and promote individualization. In the exhibition Notion Nanny, Smith poses the question of whether traditional craft is itself subversive in its rejection of homogenization, or whether it simply represents historical continuity.

Allison Smith first realized Notion Nanny with London-based curatorial team B+B, Sarah Carrington and Sophie Hope, as a series of residencies, public events, and exhibitions at Qube Gallery, Shropshire, and Studio Voltaire, London. Smith has exhibited her work widely, at venues including ArtPace San Antonio, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Palais de Tokyo, Socrates Sculpture Park/High Desert Test Sites, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and The Andy Warhol Museum.

Tours, Talks, and Events

Artist's Talk
Sunday, May 13, 3:30 p.m.
Gallery 1
Allison Smith will give an informal talk about her exhibition, followed by a Members' Opening Reception.

Open House
Sunday, May 20, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Gallery 1
Inspired by the itinerant life of the peddler and in the spirit of apprenticeship and community, Allison Smith will be on hand at the museum for a day of "all manner of exchanges" with craftspeople, storytellers, performers, and other skilled practitioners. Join us for art making, bartering, building, and fashioning, and possibly even tea. (Come and find out.)

The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) aims to inspire the imagination and ignite critical dialogue through contemporary and historical art and film, engaging audiences from the campus, Bay Area community, and beyond. BAM/PFA is one of the largest university art museums in the United States in both size and attendance, presenting fifteen art exhibitions and five hundred film programs each year. The museum's collection of more than 15,000 works includes exceptional examples of mid-twentieth-century painting, including important works by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, Eva Hesse, and Mark Rothko, as well as historical and contemporary Asian art, early American painting, Conceptual and contemporary international art, and California and Bay Area art. The PFA film and video collection now includes the largest group of Japanese films outside of Japan, as well as impressive holdings of Soviet silents, West Coast avant-garde cinema, seminal video art, rare animation, Central Asian productions, Eastern European cinema, and international classics.

Credit line
The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis.

Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Joachim and Nancy Bechtle, Maryellen and Frank Herringer, Noel and Penny Nellis, and Paul L. Wattis III.

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Additional support is provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Bernard Osher Foundation, Packard Humanities Institute, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Columbia Foundation, the Christensen Fund, the William H. Donner Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Gap Inc., other private foundations and corporations, and our individual donors and members. Major endowment support has been provided by the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and by George Gund III.

Gap Inc. is proud to support First Impressions: Free First Thursdays at BAM/PFA. For more information about Free First Thursday gallery tours and screenings visit our website at

University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
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Posted by admin on April 13, 2007