Scale became a significant consideration for artists working in all media in the mid-twentieth century. During this time, Abstract Expressionist painters like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock began to use monumental canvases as vehicles of contemporary expression. In the 1980s and 1990s, installation art—sculptures made up of many three-dimensional parts that filled large gallery spaces—expanded on this interest in magnitude.
In the 1960s, artists of the Studio Craft movement responded to these developments in contemporary painting and sculpture by exploring innovative approaches to create large-sized works in craft media. In their studios, they developed new technologies to achieve scale in their work.
For example, artists working in blown glass, quickly realized that they could mass small blown forms together by either physically adhering one to another or allowing gravity to unite them to form more substantial compositions. Similarly, American Studio Jewelers of the 1970s and onward made a concerted effort to distinguish their work from that of their European counterparts by creating body adornment that approximated the size of small sculptures.
Today, scale continues to impact contemporary crafts. While some artists choose to be consistent by working in one particular size, others create works that respond to the marketplace and the demands of gallery and museum shows, as well as public and private commissions.
Employing different scales generally allows artists to more fully explore their creative impulses. In some cases, artists use small scale to attract the attention of the viewer by requiring more intimate viewing conditions to observe the work in close detail. Sometimes, when artists receive commissions, they create samples or maquettes that provide the client with a smaller version of the piece for review prior to the completion of the final, larger artwork.
Contemporary fiber is most indicative of the trend of creating large-sized objects. In the 1960s, artists like Claire Zeisler began to make monumental off-loom sculptures for museum shows to create strong sculptural statements as fine art, rather than designing for the clothing industry. Similarly, in the 1980s, artists increasingly used natural and industrial materials to redefine the traditional basket form. While continuing to use traditional fiber techniques such as looping, knotting and papermaking, artists reinvented the usual size of the container form. These large fiber objects make strong conceptual statements with their intriguing change in scale.