Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, and the American Craft Council acquire the papers of Paul J. Smith

December 1, 2022
Black and white photograph of Paul J. Smith holding up a knee-high, lace-up, platform boot with stars on it

Paul J. Smith holds Kiss frontman Paul Stanley's boot, included in the exhibition The Great American Foot, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, April 14 – June 30, 1978. Paul J. Smith papers, Archives of American Art.

Blue and white logo graphic reading "Archives of American Art, Smithsonian"      American Craft Council logo with name written in black text encircled by a large yellow C


The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, and the American Craft Council (ACC) are pleased to announce the acquisition of Paul J. Smith’s papers.

Smith (September 8, 1931 - April 26, 2020) was a museum director, curator, writer, administrator, and independent consultant, who made significant contributions to the craft field for more than 50 years. He attended the Art Institute of Buffalo and the School of American Craftsmen in Rochester, now the School of American Crafts at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In 1957, he started working for the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (later named the American Craft Museum and now the Museum of Arts and Design), which was at the time part of the newly formed American Craftsmen’s Council (now the American Craft Council). Smith was appointed the director of the museum in 1963, a position he held for almost 25 years, until his retirement in 1987.

Smith was known for broadening the definition of craft, for his innovative, avant-garde ways of exhibiting craft in museums, and for opening these spaces to the masses. His programs and exhibitions at the American Craft Museum included baking as craft, craft as a form of play, and exhibitions that investigated craft processes and engaged younger audiences. His exhibitions and educational programs broke barriers and shaped the way that craft is exhibited and taught today.

Smith also served on boards and advisory committees for Penland School of Craft, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, the National Council of the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Boston University’s School of Artistry, Parsons School of Design, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, the Lenore Tawney Foundation, and more. His many honors and awards include an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design (1987), appointment to the ACC College of Fellows (1988), Aileen Osborn Webb Award for Philanthropy (2009), the Legends Award from the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts (2011), and most recently, the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award given at the American Craft Council annual conference (2019).

The Archives of American Art has acquired approximately 70 linear feet of Smith’s personal papers dating from about 1940 to 2020, and including biographical material, résumés, correspondence, audio recordings and interview transcripts, photographs of artists taken by Smith, as well as photographs of events, and Smith’s voluminous research files concerning his curatorial projects, publications, and work as a consultant.

Beginning in 1995, Smith served as a consultant for the Archives of American Art. As Interim Director Liza Kirwin noted, “Paul was our great friend and advocate. He helped us in innumerable ways to expand and strengthen our collections documenting the history of American craft. Paul was a legend in the craft world. He approached exhibitions with an artist’s sensibility, creating something new by communing with makers. His early efforts at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, such as Woven Forms (1963), Amusements Is… (1964), Cookies and Breads: The Baker's Art (1965), The Art of Personal Adornment (1965), Contemplation Environments (1970), and Portable World (1973), where nothing short of mind-blowing for their time. Paul was always willing to share his knowledge, his lived history, and we are thrilled that his papers are now at the Archives of American Art where his legacy will be preserved and made available to future generations.”

The American Craft Council has acquired approximately four linear feet of material, including papers on his ACC tenure, artist correspondence, his high school diploma, baby book, early drawings, family photos, press materials on exhibitions, conference publications, exhibition catalogs, photographs from Smith’s book Masters of Craft, and American Craft Magazines.

“Paul Smith was such an important figure in the history of our organization, and the field of American craft,” said ACC librarian Beth Goodrich. “He was so knowledgeable, and very generous with that knowledge. Paul was always willing to share his perspective and his memory of events with researchers. He was a staunch supporter of the ACC Library & Archives, and we are so grateful that he wanted to share his archives with us. These new materials will be a wonderful complement to the materials we already hold from his time as a staff member of the ACC. I especially enjoy having additional images of his early work as a craftsperson. This is where we see him emerging as an artist.”

Images and other documentation from Paul Smith’s career at the ACC can be found in ACC Library Digital Collections.

About the Archives of American Art

Founded in 1954, the Archives of American Art fosters advanced research through the accumulation and dissemination of primary sources, unequaled in historical depth and breadth, that document more than 200 years of the nation’s artists and art communities. The Archives provides access to these materials through its two research centers, exhibitions, and publications, including the Archives of American Art Journal, the longest-running scholarly journal in the field of American art. An international leader in the digitization of archival collections, the Archives provides online access to more than 3 million documents. The oral-history collection includes more than 2,500 audio interviews, the largest accumulation of in-depth, first-person accounts of the American art world. Visit the Archives’ website.

About the American Craft Council

The American Craft Council (ACC) is a national nonprofit organization that connects and galvanizes diverse craft communities and traditions to advance craft’s impact in contemporary American life and to keep craft artists and the community connected, inspired, and thriving. The ACC amplifies artists’ stories through American Craft magazine, invests in creative economies through the American Craft Made marketplace, engages the craft community through public events and forums, and honors and preserves craft’s legacy through its unique research library. The ACC Library & Archives holds more than 20,000 volumes, four major archive collections, nearly 4,000 artist files, and a robust digital collection devoted to contemporary American craft. Visit the library webpages at

Archives of American Art Media Contact: Jenny L. Williams | Archives of American Art | (202) 633-7265 | 

American Craft Council Media Contact: Doug Stone | Doug Stone Communications, LLC | (651) 336-9907 |