2024 SNAG Lifetime Achievement Award, Mary Lee Hu

February 6, 2024

Mary Lee Hu LAA

The SNAG Lifetime Achievement Award Committee has selected Mary Lee Hu to receive the organization’s highest honor. A celebrated artist and educator, her jewelry is in permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum of Fine Art, Houston, Renwick Gallery, and many other US collections, and in London at Goldsmith’s Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Hu is Professor Emeritus at University of Washington where she taught Metal Arts from 1980 until 2006. An innovator in applying textile techniques to metal, Hu has received numerous honors and awards, including three National Endowment of the Arts Craftsman Fellowships and  the Irving and Yvonne Twining Humber Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. In 1996 she was inducted into the American Craft Council’s College of Fellows and three years later was named “Master of the Medium” by the James C. Renwick Alliance. A longtime member of SNAG, Mary Lee Hu served as the organization’s President of the Board from 1977 to 1980.  A national treasure, her oral history is part of the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in the Archives of American Art.

“Choker #87” (detail), 2002, 18 & 22K gold; photo credit: Doug Yaple

During Mary Lee Hu’s decades-long career as a goldsmith and educator she influenced  generations of artists. She was nominated for the award by her former student, Philip Renato who wrote in his recommendation letter,  “It is difficult for me to think of many people who have been more singularly dedicated to refining their own craft while simultaneously advancing the field as Mary Lee Hu…I cannot imagine our field without the example of her technical mastery, without the contribution of her mentorship to a diverse range of students and colleagues, without her leadership as one of the very earliest members of our organization.”

“Form #3,” 1977, Fine and sterling silver, lacquered copper; photo credit: Doug Yaple

Hu’s interest in metals began in high school. After receiving her BFA in Metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art, in the 1960s, she continued her graduate studies under one of the founding members of SNAG, and fellow LAA recipient, L. Brent Kington. A fibers course during her years at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois led her to apply coiling, wrapping, weaving, knitting, and twining  to metal wire. Over five decades, her elegant and masterful gold jewelry has been part of dozens of exhibitions, including the retrospective Mary Lee Hu: Knitted, Knotted, Twisted & Twined (2012) at the Bellevue Art Museum in her home state of Washington.

“Choker #70,” 1985; photo credit: Mary Lee Hu

Mobilia Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts has long showcased her work. Libby and Jo Ann Cooper write “Weaving gold into regal jewels, master goldsmith Mary Lee Hu uses her hands rather than a loom. Hu twines high carat gold wires into necklaces, brooches, earrings and rings, giving them the illusion of fluidity and softness as only she can.” Influenced by her global travels, and driven by curiosity, Hu brings elements of textile arts, basketry, and metalsmithing together, she is driven by curiosity. A lover of books and an avid reader, Hu advocates for education into the history of jewelry and spends time in her personal library each day. Her own work graces the pages of numerous titles–Choker #88 wraps around the cover of Jewelry by Artists: In the Studio, 1940 – 2000 (MFA Publications, 2010).

Please join us in congratulating Mary Lee Hu on this honor. She will be formally presented with the Award at the SNAG Conference to be held in San Diego, CA in June 2024.

Photo of Mary Lee Hu at work in her studio by Doug Yaple.

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