Genius Grants 2008: Weaving straws and grass

I suppose I should mention this year’s genius grants, awarded this week, since this blog contains a category called Artist-as-genius. Regular readers know that I hold a certain disdain for the term. I haven’t entirely fleshed that disdain out properly, but a very good example of where it came from can be seen in the somewhat raunchy film Art School Confidential.

Looking at the list of winners yesterday afternoon I was a bit surprised. They’re all over the place. The stage-lighting designer, music critic and architectural preservationist were pleasant surprises.

Two artists will be taking home the $500,000 purse, a sculptor and a fiber artist.

The fiber artist is another surprise. Mary Jackson is a basket weaver. How wonderful that such a traditional and humble craft is included in this list, a list that might commonly include the rocket scientists we so like to mock.

In contrast to that is Tara Donovan. I mentioned Donovan with some skepticism in this January post. Donovan’s work is sometimes mass-produced and makes use of common household objects.

I like the above work by Donovan, titled Haze. It’s made from drinking straws. I wonder what Mary Jackson could do with drinking straws. Weave them, I imagine, as she does with grass. An interesting connection between two very different artisans.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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