Lifestyle & Culture

The Joy of Color

By Janet Kelly

TO BORROW an introduction from Ed Sullivan—yeah, I’m dating myself— “It’s going to be a really big show.”

He wasn’t but we are—talking about—the 2024 Smithsonian Craft Show. Produced by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, which supports the Smithsonian’s 19 branches, it awards grants—almost half a million dollars’ worth each year—to the various museums and libraries and research facilities and traveling exhibits, plus the National Zoo. The craft show, probably the most important juried craft show in the country, is one of its primary fundraisers.

The annual show starts with the preview night party on Wednesday, May 1, and is open to the public from Thursday, May 2, closing out on Sunday, May 5, with 120 juror-selected craft artists displaying and selling their work, including ceramics, decorative fiber, furniture, glass, wearable art and jewelry. As always, it’s being held in Washington DC’s awesome National Building Museum.

As Kamer Davis, co-chair of the 2022 annual Smithsonian Craft Show, said recently,”It’s always a great show—surprising and inspiring even when you’re not in the market for anything.”

This year’s theme, “Creating Joy,” celebrates the end of the pandemic and the return of artists and visitors to the springtime event.

Each craftsperson has his or her own interpretation of the theme. Below, we picked three—Sharon Tesser, Starr Hagenbring and Dwo Wen Chen in decorative fiber, wearable art and ceramics, respectively— who bring joy with color and pattern.

“After Market,” a portrait by decorative fiber artist Sharon Tesser.

Fabric—recycled cloth and vintage textiles—is Sharon Tesser’s canvas for telling stories that celebrate life. She creates mosaics with hundreds of tiny hand-cut pieces of cotton and silk in  vivid colors and different patterns to create depth and texture in her portraits and still-lifes. Says Tesser, “The art I create is what inspires me—people, places, color . . . .  [and also] brings joy, evokes memories and lifts your spirits.”

Once an image is complete, the art is sealed to protect the surface from fading, yellowing or peeling. It’s then shipped  in a black, hardwood float frame, ready to hang and bring joy to a buyer’s walls.


The Climate Change Carnival is Hagenbring’s latest story piece, which she finished a year ago after the United Nations Climate Conference. In silk, the kimono-like jacket is  entirely hand-painted and can be dry-cleaned. (The $7,000 price includes a $1,000 donation to the Union of Concerned Scientists.)

The rockstar of wearable art, Starr Hagenbring combines years of study (in archaeology and history), sewing and tailoring skills with an impeccable sense of design to create her hand-painted coats of many colors.

A native of Chicago, she majored in design at the University of Kansas, then moved to New York at a time when rents were still reasonable and opened a shop in Soho, making and selling elaborately hand-painted and-beaded jackets and gowns to stores such as the boutique-oriented Henri Bendel (before it was snapped up by the parent company of The Limited).

From dung beetles and skulls to ancient religions and Old Masters, Hagenbring employs a wide range of iconography on fabrics —often vintage—that she paints, cuts, pieces and stitches into different patterns. Her most recent work is laser-focused on the world’s most pressing problems, especially climate change and women’s rights.

A love of color permeates her work: “Color has a medicinal quality. There’s a reason a yellow room will make you happy and that if you paint your ceiling a peach tone, you will look better. It’s a sneaky little mood enhancer.”

When she’s not traveling for shows, she’s designing and helping to run the New Orleans eyewear and fashion boutique, Art & Eyes, she operates with her partner, Paul. The shop’s clientele comes from all over the world.

As do the “people in every color, from every walk of life, who come to support the work of craft artists and raise money for a major institution. It’s a pleasure to be at [the show] and kudos to the people who put it on,” says Hagenbring.


Dwo Wen Jen’s stoneware vessel with exuberant lines and color is fired in an electric kiln.

Born in Taiwan, Dwo Wen Jen grew up in a small farming village. In the absence of toys, he pinched pots for fun. Although his first love was painting, when he found he could sell none of his paintings but all of his pottery, he quickly switched fields. The lack of formal training and knowledge of the rules gave Jen the freedom to explore and make mistakes; the rare successes kept him engaged. Continually on his mind is how to balance aesthetics with function and blend his Asian sensibilities with Western ideas. At the heart of his love for pottery making is creating something people can use in their everyday life. “For me that’s art enough,” says Jen.


The Details:

The Smithsonian Craft Show opens to the public on Thursday, May 2, 2024. Tickets for the Preview Night Party—from 6 to 9pm on Wednesday, May 1—are $250. Preview Party and Visionary Artist Reception—from 5 to 6pm—are $500.

Show hours: 10:30am to 5:30pm, Thursday, May 2 to Saturday, May 4; and 11am to 5pm Sunday, May 5. You may use your ticket on the day of your choice.

Admission: $20 at the door or in advance online. $15 per person for groups of 10 or more and students. See all the details and information on special events here.


The Smithsonian Craft Show is produced by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, an all-volunteer organization that supports the education, outreach and research programs of the Smithsonian Institution. The National Building Museum is located at 401 F Street NW (202-272-2448). The closest Metro stop is Judiciary Square.



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