Fifteen years ago, when Michael Monroe retired as Director at the Bellevue Arts Museum, the Board of Trustees announced his appointment as Director Emeritus “in honor of his outstanding achievements at the Museum.” Indeed “outstanding achievements” neatly sums up Michael’s fifty-year career as a dynamic and influential figure in contemporary American craft. He received his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1971 and is best known locally for his 21 years at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, serving as Curator from 1974 until 1986 when he became Curator-in-Charge, a position he held until 1995. Following his departure from the Renwick, Michael became President of the Peter Joseph Gallery in New York City and later the Executive Director of the American Craft Council.
In 1993 Michael walked across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Renwick to the White House, where First Lady Hillary Clinton invited him to organize a collection of American craft to be displayed in the Executive Mansion in celebration of the 1993 Year of American Craft. In a whirlwind six weeks, he assembled seventy-two outstanding works from artists across the country. Many of them are familiar names. Smithsonian Visionary Artists Albert Paley, Dale Chihuly, Wendell Castle and Toots Zynsky donated pieces, along with Craft Show favorite Cliff Lee. Following the exhibit in the White House, the collection was shown at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and subsequently traveled to ten more museums nationwide. In 2018 “The White House Collection of American Crafts: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Exhibit” opened at the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas and consequently became part of the Library’s permanent collection.
Michael Monroe’s contributions to American craft have been recognized with many honors, including the Smithsonian Institution Outstanding Employee Award (which he received four times), the NICHE Award (a Lifetime Achievement Award for Craft given by NICHE magazine), and the Award of Distinction for Contributions to the Field of Craft by the American Craft Council.
If Lloyd Herman is revered by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee (SWC) for his role in launching and supporting the Smithsonian Craft Show to raise funds for grants over forty years, Michael Monroe is equally worthy of thanks and praise for his ongoing commitment and support. In the early days, it was Michael who helped the Committee work out many knotty problems and challenging issues. He identified and encouraged artists to apply to the show and served multiple times as a juror, an Award Judge, a program presenter and all-round good friend to the SWC. Michael was instrumental in the formation of the Smithsonian Visionary Award, the SWC Delphi Award and the Smithsonian Visionary Benefit Auction. He has nominated candidates for the Smithsonian Visionary Award, moderated a panel discussion with first-year awardees Albert Paley and Wendell Castle, and always has been ready to make a phone call to an artist, a gallery owner, or anyone else needing a little gentle persuasion or cultivation. When all else fails, someone on the Visionary Committee inevitably suggests … “Let’s call Michael.” And Michael always says “Yes.” Thank you, Michael. You are indeed an SWC Champion!