“Crafting the Cocktail:” Handmade Objects for Modern Libations/Brandyn Tepper Talks

David Rasmussen Design, Wood Martini Glass, black walnut and acrylic (Photo- Christopher Olin)
David Rasmussen Design, Wood Martini Glass, black walnut and acrylic (Photo- Christopher Olin)

Ever think of drinking a Martini out of wood instead of glass? Or champagne out of a ceramic cylinder? Those are some of the variants by artist-craftspeople on the accouterments of cocktail culture you’ll find at “Crafting the Cocktail: Handmade Objects and Implements for Classic and Modern Libations,” an exhibition currently on display at the Craft in America Center. Christopher Olin went for a visit, and returned both shaken and stirred by what he saw.

If you’re traveling through Mid-Wilshire with an hour to spare, there’s a museum that will surely capture your attention. No, it’s not La Brea Tar Pits or LACMA, though it does have something in common with nearby CAFAM. It’s called the Craft In America Center and it is a small museum and library dedicated to keeping alive American craft.

The Craft in America Center is located at 8415 Third Street between Croft and Orlando (Photos- Nino Andonis.)
The Craft in America Center is located at 8415 Third Street between Croft and Orlando (Photos- Nino Andonis.)

It is located on 3rd Street and Orlando and is sandwiched between boutique storefronts and designer coffee shop-bakeries, and it occupies a space roughly equal to your standard  500-square-foot studio apartment. But it boasts a comprehensive library, containing over one thousand books and videos, including the Craft in America TV documentary series. It is open to the public for research or casual study and currently has on show an exhibition that will tantalize your tastebuds.

Crafting the Cocktail: Handmade Objects and Implements for Classic and Modern Libations,” takes you through the bartender’s domain one glass at a time. Of course that’s not all you see, because the bartender employs more than just the glass to make your chosen libation.

Heather Mae Erickson champagne flutes, ceramic (photo: Christopher Olin)
Heather Mae Erickson champagne flutes, ceramic (photo: Christopher Olin)

Flasks, shakers, muddlers, jiggers, decanters, and absinthe goblets are just a handful of the items on display — all by artists commissioned for this exhibit who challenged the function of utility in the design and execution of cocktail making accouterments. Ever think of drinking a martini out of wood instead of glass? Probably not, but here you can imagine what the experience would be like looking at how David Rasmussen stretches the definition of the drink.

Do you enjoy a glass of bubbly at your office holiday party but hate having to hold that thin stem of the champagne glass? Heather Mae Erickson’s whimsical spin on the champagne flute is ceramic, making it insulated enough to keep your liquid elixir chilled well past that lengthy toast your boss is giving.

Pamina Traylor, Honeycomb Decanter and Glass Set, blown glass (Photo- Christopher Olin)
Pamina Traylor, Honeycomb Decanter and Glass Set, blown glass (Photo- Christopher Olin)

Tired of standing? A bar stool and liquor cabinet are both hand carved out of African mahogany by Victor DiNovi and each has an ergonomic feel encouraging your body to sink into the furniture. To clear up any confusion, the bar stool is meant to be sat in by you, the visitor. I highly recommend this because after you leave, you’ll never sit at a bar again without thinking of just how comfortable things can get.

Then you will see blown glass decanters in honeycomb yellows and smokey blues, designed by Pamina Traylor, splash the back wall that separates the exhibition from Craft in America’s library and the desk of Emily Zaiden, the center’s curator.

Jenny Rosen and Vlada Dronova, The Abandonment Series- Russian Porcelain Factories, slipcast porcelain and cobalt decals (Photo- Christopher Olin)
Jenny Rosen and Vlada Dronova, The Abandonment Series- Russian Porcelain Factories, slipcast porcelain and cobalt decals (Photo- Christopher Olin)

Zaiden and her curatorial assistant, Olivia Fales, can expertly describe each of the items and the artists who created them to you, which is attention you may not easily get at a larger museum.

After all, Craft in America calls itself a “ learning space dedicated to the preservation of craft,” and this exhibit does just that.

The cocktail pieces also tell rich stories. Take, for example, the sterling silver Martini shaker that sits shimmering in the museum’s window display.

Cocktail Shaker, sterling silver, Randy Stromsoe; Photo- Madison Metro
Cocktail Shaker, sterling silver, Randy Stromsoe; Photo- Madison Metro

It is hammered by the hands of Randy Stromsoe, one of America’s few remaining silversmiths making flatware and holloware by hand.

Then, there is Jenny Rosen and Vlada Dronova’s striking set of white porcelain bottles silk screened in cobalt. They line the west wall of the exhibit and pay homage to the now abandoned porcelain factories across Russia with their coordinates printed on the backside of each bottle.

To increase the sensual delight, if you visit the exhibit from 1pm on, you’ll find the golden rays of the afternoon sun add an extra sheen to the exhibits. Craft in America’s cocktail inspired exhibit closes February 21st. That means you could miss this one-of-a-kind event just as easily as I initially missed the museum storefront.

Victor DiNovi, Barstool, African mahogany (Photo- Christopher Olin)
Victor DiNovi, Barstool, African mahogany (Photo- Christopher Olin)

Brandyn Tepper Shares Some Trade Secrets

And in case you want to learn some of the tricks of the bartending trade (aka “mixology”) on Thursday night, February 13, Brandyn Tepper of the downtown Cocktail Academy will share his knowledge on how to mix a great drink. Cocktails will be included in the price, which is free.

So, if you’re a cocktail enthusiast like me and love tasting the character of what you’re drinking, a stop at “Crafting the Cocktail” will be worth it, especially if you chase it down with a Martini at the Churchill across the street.

Behind the Bar: Mixology and Spirits with Brandyn Tepper takes place Thursday, February 12, 7:00pm; RSVP at rsvp@craftinamerica.org. The Craft in America Center is located at 8415 W. Third Street, two blocks East of La Cienega.