The Smithsonian Visionary Award



Presented by the Smithsonian Institution and the Smithsonian Women's Committee

The Visionary Award, established in 2014, is presented annually at the Smithsonian Craft Show to artists who are deemed by curators and experts in the field to have risen to the pinnacle of sculptural arts and design, who have works in major museums, and who have demonstrated distinction, creativity, artistry, and of course, vision in his or her respective medium.

2021 Smithsonian Visionary Artists

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David Ellsworth, master woodturner, describes his primary influences as “the energy and beauty of Native American ceramics, the architecture of the American Southwest with its textures, tones and monumentality, and the natural beauty of the material of wood – what I refer to as the most perfectly imperfect material to work with.” He is considered one of the most prominent woodturners in the world, famous for developing his elegant thin-walled hollow forms, which may even be as thin as 1/16th of an inch. Additionally, he created and marketed the bent turning tools needed to produce this vessel-like form. Ellsworth is also known for advancing the discipline of woodturning as a legitimate craft art form.  The work of David Ellsworth is included in the permanent collection of over 43 museums internationally, including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

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Michael Hurwitz has been in the forefront of the studio furniture movement for over forty years.  His work shows the intrinsic qualities of elegance, seamless design, and exceptional craftsmanship.  It is foretelling that this Smithsonian Visionary experienced a life-changing event at the Smithsonian in 1972, viewing Woodenworks: Furniture Objects by Five Contemporary Craftsmen. The exhibit profoundly affected Hurwitz and solidified a future in studio furniture. Hurwitz pieces are in countless permanent collections, including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as homes of private collectors across the country.  

2020 Smithsonian Visionary Artist


Patti Warashina, 2020 Smithsonian Visionary Award winner is honored for more than 50 years of ground-breaking work in ceramic sculpture. This Seattle artist is described as “a defining figure in the West Coast Funk Art movement during the 1960s and 1970s,” and one “who has been known throughout her long career for her mischievous figurative sculptures and tableaux” by Nora Atkinson, the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge for the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Atkinson goes on to say that the artist uses humor and poignant social commentary “to address serious personal, political, and social subjects, from feminist critiques of the art world, to the internment of the Japanese during World War II, to the absurdity of contemporary social media“.

Warashina, whose art is ever evolving, has pushed the boundaries of ceramics well beyond function and, as one of the rare women in the field, she has paved the way for an entire new cadre of women artists. Professor Emerita at the University of Washington, Patti dedicated decades to teaching ceramics, considered by some to be the most difficult and challenging of all art media.

Her work is featured in the permanent collections of museums worldwide, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery.

Because of the pandemic, Warashina received her Award from Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie R. Bunch III in a virtual ceremony. The program featured a video celebrating the wit and wisdom found in Patti’s work throughout the decades.

For more information on Patti Warashina, please see links below:


2019  Smithsonian Visionary Artist


Joyce J. Scott

Joyce J. Scott is the 2019 recipient of the Smithsonian Visionary Award, honored for her work in jewelry.  Scott is an African-American artist best known for her depictions of racially and politically charged subjects, crafted from bead work. Scott’s works are influenced by a variety of cultures, including Native American and African.

 “I believe in messing with stereotypes. It’s important for me to use art in a manner that incites people to look and then carry something home—even if it’s subliminal.”

Scott’s works are held in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., among others.

2017 Smithsonian Visionary Artist

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Faith Ringgold:  world-renowned fiber artist

Faith Ringgold is best known for her narrative quilts (i.e., paintings that she quilts), which represent the development of craft into fine art.

She is a master of many media, including sculpture and books.  Her first book, Tar Beach, was based on a quilt with the same title.  Written for children of all ages, this book has won over 30 awards including the coveted Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King award.  She has been an art educator both in public schools and in higher education.  Her work weaves compelling, powerful stories of American life as seen through the lens of the African American female experience.

Ringgold’s work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  She is the recipient of more than 75 awards, notably the National Endowment of the Arts award for sculpture, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship for painting and the National Endowment of the Arts Award for painting.

2016 Smithsonian Visionary Artist


Dale Chihuly:  American Glass Artist

Born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, Dale Chihuly was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington.  After graduation in 1965, Chihuly enrolled in the first glass program in the country at the University of Wisconsin.  He continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he later established the glass program and taught for more than a decade.

In 1968, after receiving a Fulbright Fellowship, he went to work at the Venini glass factory in Venice.  There he observed the team approach to blowing glass, which is critical to the way he works today.  In 1971, Chihuly cofounded Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State.  With this international glass center, Chihuly has led the avant-garde in the development of glass as a fine art.

His work is included in more than 215 museum collections worldwide.  He has been the recipient of many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Chihuly has created more than a dozen well-known series of works, among them, Cylinders and Baskets in the 1970s; Seaforms, Macchia, Vemetoams and Persions in the 1980s; Niijima Floats and Chandeliers in the 1990s; and Fiori in the 2000s.  Baskets and Cylinders:  Recent Glass by Dale Chihuly was his first solo Smithsonian exhibition in 1978.  Slate Green and Amber Tipped Chandelier, 1994, can be seen in the newly renovated Renwick Gallery.  His recent exhibits in 2016 include the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Chihuly at the Royal Ontario Museum.

2015 Smithsonian Visionary Artist

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Toots Zynsky, Visionary in Glass

Toots Zynsky was born and raised in Massachusetts and is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.  Her quest for understanding and testing the limits of glass-making has continued for more than 40 years and has fanned several continents.  Her signature heat-formed file de verre (glass thread) vessels are widely cherished and considered to be unique in the world of glass art.  Her pieces inhabit a region all their own, interweaving the traditions of painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts.  She spent 16 years abroad living in Europe and West Africa.  Her extraordinary glass art is collected by major museums, including the deYoung Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Musee des Arts Decoratifs du Louvre, Paris, France; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Entland, among many in an extensive list throughout the world.  Her work was recently featured in an exhibition at the Palazzo Loredan of the Instituto Veneto di Sciencze, Lettere ed Arti, in Venice, Italy.

2014 Smithsonian Visionary Artists


Wendell Castle (1932- 2018)

Lauded as the father of the art furniture movement, celebrated American artist Wendell Castle was a sculptor, designer and educator for over five decades.  From the outset of his career, Castle pushed furniture into the realm of art more than any designer had before.  To view his work is to witness an erasure of the lines between art, craft and design.  He is renowned for his superb craftsmanship, whimsically organic forms and original techniques for stack-laminating wood.

Mr. Castles’s work can be found in the permanent collections of over 50 museums worldwide including the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  He has received numerous awards, grants and honors for his accomplishments.


Albert Paley

Albert Paley is the first metal sculptor to receive the coveted Institute Honors awarded by the American Institute of Architects.  The allure of Paley’s art comes through its intrinsic sense of integration of art and architecture.

Mr. Paley began his career as a jewelry artist when, in 1974, he won a commission to fabricate Portal Gates for the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery.  It changed his life.  He has since competed in more than 50 site-specific monumental works.  Recent works include three sculptures for National Harbor outside DC, a long archway for the St. Louis Zoo, and a gate for the Cleveland Botanical Gardens.  He was the featured artist for the summer 2013 exhibition on Park Avenue for which he produced 13 monumental steel sculptures.

Albert Paley’s work can be found in the permanent collections of many major museums.  He holds an endowed chair at the Rochester Institute of Technology.