Across from the pungent pools of the La Brea Tar Pits sits a yellow and white building completely covered in painted designs. It has a book exchange in the doorway, art hanging in the front windows, and a side patio where on certain nights, visitors can be seen making unique crafts and drinking wine.
They’re at the Craft and Folk Art Museum of Los Angeles, a magical little space that often gets overshadowed by the other museums nearby. What makes CAFAM different from LACMA, The Getty, and The Broad? It is all about showcasing work that is underrepresented by bigger, flashier art institutions. It challenges preconceived ideas about what craftwork and folk art are. It shows visitors that there need not be a rigid dividing line between what is seen as ‘fine art’ and what is ‘folk art.’
Much of the art that is often considered ‘craftwork’ has been created for centuries by women and indigenous peoples, who historically have not had the power to compete with the ‘high art’ on the walls of mega-museums. CAFAM shows its visitors that much of the traditional handiwork done by those whose voices have been stifled is complex, beautiful, intricate, labor-intensive, and powerful. The museum represents that just because an item like a shoe or a doll is practical doesn’t make it a lesser art piece, if it is designed with creativity and skill.
The museum shows contemporary craftwork, much of which pushes traditional crafts into a more experimental, or conceptual, realm. Some items displayed in the museum are functional, others are decorative, and many are both. Bearing this in mind, CAFAM seeks to make these exhibitions accessible to all audiences.
Past exhibitions have focused on tattoo art, American enameling, papermaking, male quilters, veteran artists, and shoe design. Currently, the museum is host to Gronk’s Theatre Of Paint, an exhibition on artist Gronk’s interactive set designs, and Windfall by Box Collective, a showcase of contemporary furniture designs fabricated with from trees fallen during a 2011 storm in Northeast Los Angeles.
The museum encourages visitors to not only look at the art, but also to interact with it and respond to it. CAFAM hosts a variety of workshops and classes for adults, children, and families. It’s hard not to get inspired when visiting this museum, and CAFAM encourages visitors to get crafty in response to what they see in the constantly rotating exhibitions.
On the first Thursday of every month, CAFAM hosts a craft night for adults in which participants can learn to make fun items while enjoying a beverage and a chat with fellow crafters. On the second Sunday of every month, they host crafting workshops for families. CAFAM also runs an outreach program called Folk Art Everywhere, which brings together diverse communities over art and culture.
CAFAM is also home to one of the best museum gift shops around, featuring a variety of toys, jewelry, wall art, kitchen tools, and other useful oddities. Almost all of the items are handmade by skilled artisans. Some are even made by the currently exhibiting artists.
While small in size, this intimate museum is a unique LA experience. Well worth a visit, the Craft and Folk Art Museum just might inspire you to make something yourself.