Margaret Carney's dream museum
by Lois Kane
Margaret Carney says she's "building a dream museum in the twenty-first century, one place setting at a time."
Carney recently moved to Ann Arbor with plans to open the world's first Dinnerware Museum. While raising funds to rent a permanent location, she's mounting a temporary exhibit, Unforgettable Dinnerware, at the Ladies' Literary Club of Ypsilanti from April 27 to May 17 (see Galleries, p. 68.)
Architecture and furniture get lots of press, but much less attention has been paid to the plates, utensils, and other tabletop pieces that form the centerpiece of home life. Though loved by brides, ogled in antique stores, cosseted in galleries, and esteemed by aristocrats, they've never been brought together in a place that treasures the whole spectrum of what's out there.
Carney, a slim and charming dynamo, aims to correct that. An Iowa City native, the founder and director of the Dinnerware Museum nonetheless calls Ann Arbor her "ancestral home." Her grandfather, a U-M professor, lived on Lawrence Street, and she has sweet memories of his ice cream rewards for a little girl when she was good. She was also drawn here, she says, by Ann Arbor's "family" of generous, gregarious galleries, shops, and street events, into which her museum should be a natural fit.
Carney's made a career working with all things tabletop. A PhD in Asian art history fed her intense passion for ceramics, and she's had an impressive career as a writer (sixty-eight books, catalogs, and journal articles), curator (forty shows), and lecturer (forty public talks).
Carney's goal is to protect, nurture, and share tableware created throughout human history, from the humble to the gaudy. When the Ceramics Museum at Alfred University rediscovered the molds used to form eminent ceramicist Eva Zeisel's white porcelain, she wrote the catalog for the resulting exhibit--and Crate and Barrel subsequently used the molds to reproduce Zeisel's designs.
Carney says she and her husband, Bill Walker, are "like bookends around the art and technology of ceramics." A ceramics engineer,
Walker has designed industrial ceramic objects ranging from spark plugs to hip joints. They worked together to design the museum's beautiful and iconic logo.
"The nucleus [of the museum's collection] is made up of things I collected over the years," Carney says. Its thousands of items include elegant porcelain, Pyrex teapots, designer stoneware, handmade pieces by famous potters, art works related to dinnerware, and even aluminum TV dinner trays. It's growing quickly now. "Since we got our nonprofit status, people have started making donations," she says.
Elaine Selo, co-owner of Selo/Shevel Gallery, could be a potential donor. She smiled with relief when asked, at her shop, about the museum in the making. "I have lots of beautiful dinnerware that my parents brought from Germany. We can't use it all. It would be wonderful to share it," she says. "Dinnerware is art--decorative art. It needs to be preserved and shared."
This article has been edited since it appeared in the April 2013 Ann Arbor Observer. The spelling of Margaret Carney's last name has been corrected.
[Originally published in April, 2013.]