KANSAS CITY, MO—Republican lawmakers and conservative religious groups blasted the National Endowment For The Arts & Crafts Tuesday, claiming that the organization has allocated federal funds for "obscene crafts."
The $15,000 grant in question was awarded last October to Detroit arts & craftsman Albert Kahle, 39, for a nine-foot macramé penis titled "Father (By Mother)," which is currently part of the Macramazement! exhibit at the prestigious National Gallery Of Arts & Crafts in Kansas City, MO.
"'Father (By Mother)' is neither art nor craft," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) said. "It's trash. The fact that American taxpayers are paying for this kind of lewd handiwork is outrageous."
The macramé-work phallus comprises three discrete elements: testicles, shaft, and head. The testicles are knotted in Double Alternating Lark's Head style and decorated with black maple beads. The shaft of the penis, knotted of Tammy's Hemp Cord in flesh tone, is embellished with subtle strands of Half-Knot sinnet cord in light blue and Amy's Cord in pale lavender. The head, the most detailed portion of the work, is embellished with a spray of silver glitter.
"[2003 NEAC grant recipient] Terrence Colwell's macaroni 'Crown Of Thorns' was bad enough," DeLay said. "But an enormous phallus made out of colorful, child-safe materials that anyone could buy at the craft store? It's way over the line."
This is not the first time an NEAC grant has sparked controversy. Last year, a vocal group of citizens appeared before Congress to protest government funding of C.F. Littman's "Piss-Soaked God's Eye," and in 2002, the NEAC received more than 10,000 letters of complaint over the grant it awarded Rachel Delancey for her shellacked driftwood clitoris "Found It… In The Sea."
NEAC spokesperson Jessica Sirota said the association does not plan to offer a public apology for funding Kahle's art & craftwork.
"When expressing the human condition through craft, the craftsman is responsible only to himself," Sirota said. "It takes great courage to pick up those popsicle sticks and empty dishwashing-soap bottles and bring something forth out of the ether. The creative space is outside Congress' jurisdiction."
The macramé penis is Kahle's first phallic work of art & craft to receive media attention. His other major works include a shoebox diorama titled "Abe Lincoln In The Bathtub," a 13-foot-tall newspaper and poster-paint papier-mâché penis titled "What's Black And White And Red All Over?," and "Pin(whee)ls," a collection of 200 pinwheels made of construction paper, pencils, and clippings from pornographic magazines.
"If people took the time to explore 'Father (By Mother),' there would be no controversy," Kahle said. "The piece is not prurient. The true meaning of the piece is located on its head, where glitter was applied with Elmer's Glue. Every speck of glitter is a tiny mirror reflecting the observer. At end, this piece is about love, sex, birth: what we came from."
Art&CraftForum editor Tim Griffin devoted his bi-monthly column to an expression of support for the NEAC.
"Sexuality has always been part of the art-and-craft world," Griffin wrote. "To strip a work of string art or a pine-cone mobile of its inherent libidinous content is to destroy it. As for 'Father (By Mother),' I thought it was nifty. Kahle should be proud of himself. He did a very good job."
Protesting outside of the National Gallery, members of a local church group were less impressed with Kahle's skill.
"That piece is indecent, not to mention a shameful waste of beads," St. Louis resident Trent Billings said. "These so-called craftspeople are more interested in offending people than they are in making a nice gift that someone could hang up in their museum. I swear, half those knots are coming undone, and if the kitten appliques on "22 Pussy Potholders" were hand-embroidered, I'll eat my collection of Ukranian egg art."
"It looks like something my 7-year-old niece could've made at camp," Billings added.
A smaller group of Kahle supporters stood across the street from the protesters, handing out pamphlets.
"It doesn't matter whether you're using felt, string, colored sand, bottle caps, or even a wood-burning set, as long as you're careful not to burn yourself or others," said Fred Schwartz, who recently received a doctorate in arts & crafts history from the University of Missouri. "It's all protected by the First Amendment."
"If the conservatives find this museum's exquisite collection of naked paper-bag puppets offensive, they don't have to go see it," Schwartz added.
Kahle, undeterred by the controversy, recently began crafting a rainbow-colored leather belt large enough to encircle the city of San Francisco.