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Connecting Circles: The Art, Craft, and Design of Emil Milan Symposium

January 15, 2015

|Recurring Event (See all)

The Center held an educational symposium  at WHYY in The Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons in January 2015. This was the first symposium to address the work of Emil Milan and his circle of influence. The fruits of the research project were conducted by Barry Gordon, Phil Jurus and Norm Sartorius as well as the input of leading scholars in the field of Craft History. All were brought together to highlight the importance of Emil Milan in the worlds of craft, design and art during the second half of the 20th Century.

The symposium was geared toward both those newly interested in the field as well as artists, scholars and educators.


Elisabeth Agro, The Nancy M. McNeil Associate Curator of American Modern and Contemporary Crafts and Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Elisabeth has executed many exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including Craft Spoken Here and most recently At the Center: Masters of American Craft, the first in an ongoing series in the American art galleries. She is a co-founder of the Critical Craft Forum, a platform for dialogue, discussion, and debate about critical issues of interest to the field of contemporary craft.  Her curatorial career began at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA, where she served as a curatorial assistant in the Decorative Arts Department and later as the associate curator and acting department head of Decorative Arts. She received her B.A. in Italian Studies from Mary Washington College, and an M.A. in the History of Decorative Arts from Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution/Parsons School of Design, NY.

Kristin Muller, Director of Peters Valley Craft Center, Layton, NJ

Born in Panama to German and Chilean parents, Kristin grew up in Argentina, Chile and the United States.  She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Studio Arts from Southern Connecticut State University a Masters of Fine Arts in Ceramics from Hood College and is a member of the Honor Society Phi Kappa Phi. Kristin is an accomplished ceramic artist who prior to her tenure at Peters Valley, taught ceramics at two colleges, was Education Director of Brookfield Craft Center, Curator of the Lynn Tendler Bignell Exhibition Gallery and Ceramics Studio Instructor and Manager there.  Kristin specializes in wood fired ceramics and maintains a studio with an Anagama hybrid kiln in Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania.  She is the author of “The Potter’s Studio Handbook: A Guide to Hand Built and Wheel-Thrown Ceramics” published November 2007 and is co-author of “The Potter’s Complete Studio Handbook: The Essential, Start –to Finish Guide for Ceramic Artists published October 2011 by Quarry Books. Kristin exhibits her work nationally.

Jennifer Scanlan, Independent Curator, New York, NY

Jennifer Scanlan is a New York-based independent curator focusing on contemporary art and design. Her upcoming show Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Mid-Century and Today will be at the Museum of Arts and Design, from April 28 to September 27, 2015. She is a faculty member at Parsons The New School for Design teaching in the Masters Program for Decorative Arts and Design. For twelve years, she was Associate Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, where she organized a number of exhibitions, including Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design. She has a BA in art history and Italian from Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, and an MA in the history of decorative arts, design, and culture from the Bard Graduate Center, New York, New York.

Jennifer Zwilling, Curator of Artistic Programs at The Clay Studio, Philadelphia, PA

Jennifer is the curator of Rediscovering Emil Milan and his Circle of Influence at The Center for Art in Wood. She was recently named the Curator of Artistic Programs at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia. Previously she worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art where she held numerous positions, including Project Assistant Curator for American Decorative Arts and Contemporary Craft. Other curatorial projects have included Nurture: Life and Art Connected at Tyler School of Art in 2011 and The Members Show, for PPAC, Second State Press, and InLiquid at Crane Arts, 2013. Zwilling teaches History of Modern Craft and Design at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, as well as topics in American Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Ursinus and a master’s degree from Temple University.


The Emil Milan Research Team

In early 2009, Norm Sartorius invited Phil Jurus and Barry Gordon to join him in what has become a major craft biographical study of Emil Milan (1922-85), a woodworker who had an influence on all their careers.

Barry Gordon

Barry began carving wooden spoons and other utensils in 1977. He had found the calling that he would follow for a lifetime: working with wood to make spoons and objects of elegant simplicity. For much of his career he carved strictly functional utensils and enjoyed creating pieces that were both useful and beautiful. In recent years his work has evolved into shaping decorative sculptural objects grounded in spoon or bowl forms. In 1994 Barry began to teach spoon making workshops, initially at craft centers and then privately. In 2000 he wrote his first article for WOODWORK magazine and has since completed a half dozen more. Since the mid-1990’s he has regularly audited courses at the SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The study of Milan’s methods, plus the coursework, teaching and writing, have led Barry to reflect carefully on his own procedures, techniques and craft philosophy.

Phil Jurus

Phil is a wood sculptor and furniture maker. Artistic endeavors have permeated his life through pursuits as a craft gallery owner, silversmith and goldsmith, as well as a singer and actor in community organizations.  He spent a great deal of time with Emil Milan, as a student and good friend.

A former Lutheran pastor he has been long active as a volunteer in community affairs in different localities. It was while serving in a rural area of Northeastern Pennsylvania where he helped promote tourism and job training that he met Emil. There he worked with the Penn State Extension Service through which workshops were set up where Emil taught. Unknown to anyone at the time, it was through his friendship with Emil that the seeds of this project were first sown. After closing his craft gallery in Baltimore in 2009 he moved to Hershey where he set up his wood working studio.

Norm Sartorius

In the mid-1970s, Norm left employment as a social worker to apprentice with Phil & Sandye Jurus.  The Jurus’, who worked in both wood and metal, had learned woodworking from Emil Milan. Although his style is quite different from Milan’s, Sartorius employs the band saw and pneumatic sander technique developed by Milan for primary shaping of rare woods. Each year he creates approximately fifty sculptural spoons, moving towards an increasing abstraction of the spoon form. His spoon sculptures are in the collections of twenty museums.

To satisfy requests for information about his craft history, Sartorius began the Emil Milan Research Project in 2008, recruiting Phil Jurus and Barry Gordon to assist. Utilizing a grant from the Center for Craft Creativity & Design, the team greatly expanded Milan’s biography and reintroduced craft scholars to the contribution made by this nearly forgotten artist. Sartorius’ connection to Milan has grown, as the research has become an increasingly important part of his own career.

Andrew Willner

Andy learned woodworking in his grandfather’s basement wood shop, studied woodworking and sculpture in the graduate program at Virginia Commonwealth University under Alan Lazarus and was the first woodworking resident at Peters Valley Craft Center. He operated Andrew Willner Designs for more than a decade in Thompson, Pennsylvania where Emil Milan was his friend, neighbor, and teacher. He continues to do woodworking as an avocation.

Willner has been a leader, organizer, and advocate for the New York/New Jersey Bioregion for 25 years. As the founder of NY/NJ Baykeeper he was an early proponent of the Waterkeeper model of water and habitat protection.  He has been a city planner, boat builder, environmentalist, permaculturist, transition advocate, storyteller, blogger, and photographer.

Rebecca Dunn Penwell

Dunn graduated from Alfred University School of Art & Design in 1974. Majoring in sculpture, she studied under William Parry and John Wood and began exploring line and form. Fellow artists Isabel Parks and Warren Hullow subsequently introduced her to Emil Milan, and she took a wood carving class from him in 1975.

Milan guided Dunn in her continued study of line and form, and he became a friend and mentor. They shared many cups of tea while he explained the design elements common to humans, animals, and nature, and Dunn’s work reflects Milan’s teaching.  As an artist, she explores the contrast of a line or a curve in order to achieve balance. She explains that she draws on Milan’s spirit to simplify form to its essence, creating sculptures with clear voices that reflect the soul. Her evocation of Milan’s spirit is masterful.


January 15, 2015
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The Center for Art in Wood
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