Twenty-five years ago, American Studies scholar Amy Kaplan reminded us that “The study of American culture has traditionally been cut off from the study of foreign relations” (1993: 11). Since then, the fields of American Studies and the history of American art respectively have raised questions about the United States in the world. However, in studying American art, we have not fully explored how American encounters with what the nation considers foreign have mobilized craft through frameworks of diplomacy. In this paper, a black, lacquered wooden case with nacre, or mother or pearl, painted flowers and birds made by Thanh-Le alerts us to some of ways American diplomacy galvanized interest in Vietnamese craft among American designers, leaders in commerce and business, and the middle class during the late 1950s, the years immediately prior to what Americans call the Vietnam War.
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