Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Jury Process: Part III

“Let us now focus on how jurors arrive at decisions. . . .Just a decade or so ago, jurors were considered to be the enforcers of set standards, the guardians of a prescribed faith. More recently they have come to be seen as champions of new artistic visions using criteria they themselves devise.” Susan Eckenwalder, The Trials of Jurying: A Guide for Exhibition Organizers and Jurors, Ontario Crafts Council, 1989

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, each actual item in our gallery (rather than slides or digital images) is individually juried. How many items are looked at for each show? Theoretically, up to about 3,250 separate items on any given jury day. Our gallery usually has about 65 members, though we can go as high as 70 members. Each member is allowed to submit up to 50 items for jurying for each show (40 items for the always popular and always crowded holiday show in November and December). In practice, however, usually about 40 to 45 members submit items for each show. Most submit between 20 and 40 items, and very few submit the limit of 50 items. A good guess, therefore, would be that for most of our shows, the jurors look at and evaluate well over 1,000 individual items.

judging-for-Part-III Two jurors (at left) evaluate the items submitted for the January 2011 show. One gallery member (center) acts as scribe, writing down the jurors’ comments for the artists to read. Another member (standing, right) takes the items that are accepted for the show into the gallery to be hung or placed on shelves.

There is something of a choreography to our jury process. In the last blog post, we saw that the gallery is completely emptied of work from the previous show by about 10:00 a.m. on jury day. The walls are blank, the shelves are empty, and the two jewelry cases stand devoid of any contents. The question then becomes: what next.

That’s where our choreography comes in. Our gallery has two display managers, members who serve a 2-year term carrying out the job of setting up the new display for each show. In addition, one member who is working in the gallery on a given jury day is assigned to help with display setup.

Years of experience have taught us that the we must first hang the wall art: quilts, framed works, and other pieces that must be displayed on the walls. Therefore, all wall art is juried first.

wall-art Art quilts and framed works form the backbone of our display as a new show is mounted in the gallery

Generally, after wall art, we jury stand-alone pieces that will sit on shelves (fiber sculpture, for example), then garments (hats, jackets, scarves, accessories), and finally jewelry. Jewelry is usually last because, being small, it can easily be worked in around the pieces that already have established places in the display.

In addition, there is the show theme to consider. Each show has a theme; for January 2011, for example, the theme was Hot Tropics. Artists may interpret the theme any way they wish, and it’s the job of the display managers to mount an exhibit that reflects the theme. Not all items submitted for jurying must be theme pieces, but members are encouraged to create items that reflect the theme.

To an outsider, the gallery can look pretty disorganized as the new show is being mounted.

hat-rack-&-display-equipStep stool, bins of display equipment, half-filled hat rack, not-yet-filled back display area

Between shows, we store unused display equipment in bins in our back closets. On jury day, the bins get dragged out onto the floor so we know what equipment is available for displaying different items. Handmade hats (felted, fulled, knitted, woven) are popular items for our shows in the winter, so the hat rack (shown above) is nearly always part of the display when the weather gets cold. In the summer, this rack gets taken apart and stored away till the winter winds blow once again.

half-filled-shelfOther display equipment is beginning to be filled up

As the day continues, items are put out for display on shelves or racks as they come into the gallery from the jurors. Sometimes an item is placed and then later moved to another location as other items come into the gallery from the jurors; the show tends to be a work in progress throughout the day as the display team comes up with the most pleasing way to display the items accepted for the show.

For some interesting tips on hanging an art show, check out this article on And here’s an article on how to arrange a booth at a craft fair. Scroll down past the ads to where it begins with such hints as “Lots of Great Lighting” and “Open Feeling.” We follow many of the precepts from both articles as we set up the display in our gallery.

At last, some six to eight hours after we started (by removing the previous show), a new show is ready for the public to inspect and enjoy.

final-display-for-web Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery, as it looked for the January 2011 show

If you’ve followed this and the previous two blog posts, you’ve now seen our gallery’s entire process for jurying in a new show, from stripping the gallery back to the bare walls, through jurying of each item, to setting up the final display. And guess what? We’ll do it all over again next month!

“One of my early mentors reminded me when I was submitting my work for jurying early in my career, that if [the work is] not accepted, my response would probably follow the usual path. First, she said, you will think the judge is an idiot; then, after thinking it over, you will come to the conclusion that you were an idiot to even submit. ‘This work is so bad,’ you will think, ‘how could I have possibly submitted it?’ Eventually, she concluded, you will realize that somewhere between these two extremes lies the truth; you can then learn from the experience and figure out how to improve. That, she advised, is one of the real reasons for submitting work for jurying.” Marcy Petrini, “Feedback From Jurors,” published in slightly revised form as part of the article “Right from the Start: A Juror Can Provide Useful Feedback,” in Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot, Spring 2010.

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