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Exhibits displays 2000 years of art for the table

We eat with our eyes. We enjoy food, and the way it is put before us, both visually and with our taste buds. Today, people perceive that the way food is cooked and the manner in which it is served, and the table settings that help present and enhance it, are all delightful art forms that invite imagination and creative approaches.

It is therefore not surprising that the American Craft Museum, at 44 West 53 rd Street in New York, should be featuring "For the Tabletop," an exhibition of tableware, silver, glass, and craft objects. It is sponsored by the museum, the German porcelain manufacturer Rosenthal AG, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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This major show celebrates 2000 years of art for the table but places its chief emphasis on both the manufactured and the original handcrafted work of the 20th century. It recalls such masters of table art as Louis Comfort Tiffany, Frank Lloyd Wright, Roy Lichtenstein and Tapio Wirkkala, Massimo Vignelli, and Eliel Saarinen, among many others. It also informs us of the way eating environments have changed through the centuries.

"Since the dawn of civilization," says museum director Paul Smith, "the tabletop has reflected the culture of which it is a part. What this exhibit indicates is that our culture at present incorporates formal, informal, and important casual aspects. The old rigid rules of entertaining, etiquette, and proper tablesetting have been vastly relaxed. People feel freer now to move away from matched sets, and to mix and mingle different patters of dishes, silver, and glassware. Their table settings are a lot more fun and far more imaginative and individual. There is moe interest now in the creativity asocited with tabletops than ever before in this century."

That may seem a contradiction, he says, in an era of fast foods, TV dinners, microwave ovens, working women, and hard-to-find help. But there is no question of the growing fascination with gourmet cooking, fine cookware, superb sets of knives, and the idea of presenting meals with colorful flair. Today people may dine all over the house, and at odd times, but they want to do so with some real style.

The desire for style and quality and true craftsmanship has opened a growing market for handcrafted dinnerware. It is ofetn especially commissioned by individuals to suit their own requirements. More often, potters work by hand, in a limited production process, so their work can be sold in shops, galleries and craft fairs.

No one has done more tahn Joan Mondale, wife of the vice-president, to promote the work of American craftsmen. The thrown stoneware tableware that Mrs. Mondale commissioned John F. Glick of Farmington, Mich., to make for the official vice- presidential residence in Washington has been an encouragement to Mr. Glick and to potters everywhere.

Mr. Glick's work is represented in this exhibition, along with the work of such other leading ceramists as Philip Maberry, Dorothy Hafner, and Paul Nelson. Mr. Nelson's glossy black plates, each with a subtle surface texture of its own, are some of the most unusual in the show.

This exhibition reveals the wide spectrum of choices available in tableware today, both machine-made and handmade. It illustrates how both coexist today to give the interest and variety that most customers want.

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"For the Tabletop" runs through Jan. 18. It will then travel for two years to 10 cities.

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