Gallery Hours

Monday- Friday

By Appointment Only

Closed Saturday & Sunday




Free and Open to the Public



Donate Now

Back to Exhibitions

February 1, 2013 to April 28, 2013

The Tool at Hand

In March of 2011, Dr. Ethan Lasser, then Curator at the Chipstone Foundation in Wisconsin, invited sixteen established artists from Britain and America to participate in an experiment: each artist was asked to craft a work of art using only one tool. Far from being a constraint, this unusual assignment unleashed a wave of creativity and wit.

The resulting exhibition, which features the works of art alongside images of the artists’ tools, and videos from the artists’s studios, debuted at the Milwaukee Art Museum in December 2011. The Philadelphia Art Alliance is delighted to host “The Tool at Hand” as it travels to museums across the United States, with destinations including the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon, and the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft in Texas. “The Tool at Hand” foregrounds fabrication and craft, and touches on the central concerns of the PAA, lending an artistic voice to ongoing conversations about the roles of design, craft, and skilled trades in both American education and the global race for economic supremacy. Ethan Lasser, the exhibition’s curator, notes that tools also have tremendous cultural value: “For centuries, artists and artisans have felt a particularly intimate connection to their tools. Tools have been described as extensions of the body, and in certain cultures, they have been revered as sacred objects with lives of their own,” Lasser says. The artists’ choice of tools is as diverse as their modes of expression, and range from the ancient to the high tech. Silversmith Ndidi Ekubia used a hammer and woodworker David Gates employed a saw, while ceramist Caroline Slotte used a dental drill, and Hongtao Zhou used his hands to melt wax which he then used to sculpt Burniture, a chair designed to melt from overuse. Ethan Lasser recently joined Harvard Art Museums as the Margaret S. Winthrop Associate Curator of American Art. The Chipstone Foundation is a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts. The Milwaukee Art Museum’s holdings include more than 25,000 works spanning antiquity to the present day. With a history dating back to 1888, the Museum houses a collection with strengths in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, American decorative arts, and folk and self-taught art.

"The Tool at Hand" is accompanied by a digital publication featuring essays by Ethan Lasser, Ezra Shales, Kate Smith, and David Gates.

Each artist in "The Tool at Hand" was asked to make a video. The videos show a range of studio practices and each artist narrates the footage in their own way, discussing their tool or how the challenge inspired them to think about how they work. All works in this exhibition and the videos were made in 2011.

Helen Carnac
Lives and works in London, UK
Found, Recorded, Relayed
Prints on paper and found objects
Tool: Rolling Mill


David Clarke
Lives and works in London, UK
Dead on Arrival
Sterling silver and lead in a velvet case
Tool: Oven


Liz Collins
Lives and works in Brooklyn, NY
Silk organza with knit mohair, silk, lurex, and wool
Tool: Knitting Machine


Chad Curtis
Lives and works in Philadelphia, PA
Manifest Data
Tool: Data-derived Template


Michael Eden
Lives and works in Cumbria, UK
Maelstrom VII
Nylon with mineral coating
Tool: MacBook Pro


David Gates
Lives and works in London
Saw, Slice, Split, Scrape, Shave
Oak, twine, and plaster
Tool: Customized saw


Joy Garnett
Lives and works in New York, NY
Pink Bomb
Oil on canvas
Tool: Paintbrush


Lisa Gralnick
Lives and works in Madison, WI
Illuminations on the Sacred and the Mundane
Gouache and 24k gold on paper
Tool: Sable paintbrush


Tavs Jorgensen
Lives and works in Devon, UK
Glass Bowl
Tool: reconfigurable pin mold


Beth Lipman
Lives and works in Sheboygan, WI
Gift Bowl
Found objects and polyurethane
Tool: Caulk gun


Mark Lindquist
Lives and works in Quincy, FL
Dowel Bowl
Wood dowels, glue
Tool: Glue dispenser


Gord Peteran
Lives and works in Toronto, CA
Secret Weapons
Found objects


Jon Prown
Lives and works in Fox Point, WI
Tree Spoons
Red Oak
Tool: Right-handed hook knife


Caroline Slotte
Lives and works in Helsinki, FI
Waiting for a Miracle
Ceramic cup, plastic cup, coffee grounds, and string
Tool: Utility knife


Hongtao Zhou
Lives and works in Madison, WI
Wax, tree branches, string, and candle wicks
Tool: Hands

Tags: ceramics, design, fiber, glass, installation, metals, mixed media, painting, sculpture, textiles, works on paper