Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Craft in America: Community (part 3) - LIVE BLOG

One more hour to go in this blogging marathon! -- Part 3 of Craft in America: Community.

I may write up some final notes tomorrow after I've had a chance to digest it all. But first, Part 3...

The intro for this final part includes someone saying that it's "important to pass down traditions so people can know who they are and where they're from." I've never connected with this idea; it has always struck me as contrived and nostalgic. But perhaps this is because I'm from the dominant culture in this country, and not living in a diaspora. Or maybe I do relate to it -- I mean, how precious to me are my mugs and bowls made by potters years ago in my hometown? Perhaps I covet them because they remind me of who I am and where I'm from...?

Ah! Finally someone acknowledging that nothing is made by one artist alone, that it's also about influences around you. Another person cites Ellen Disanyake's theory of homo faber, that we are beings hard wired to making art. And the idea that making art, creating things, is the glue that holds us all together. "Crafts connect us to other times, other places, other people. How do objects hold us together?" That's the question setting off this section. Sounds more promising now...

Mississippi Cultural Crossroads brings together quiltmakers from different backgrounds who can come be together, talk, and escape into their work, finding reprise from life's difficulties. Women working as a group on a single quilt is a long tradition, but in a place with a long history of segregation, this place is breaking the mold. The string quilts are most amazing, made from tiny scraps and bits of material left over from making other things. The idea "how far can a needle carry you." The phenomenon of the AIDS quilt. There's too much to relay about this rich segment. Quiltmaking very well be one of the most sublime craft forms there are -- so endlessly flexible, expressive, and powerful. There is nothing simple about them!

Digging further into the idea of community, the film talks about schools and centers devoted to craft that emerged during the Arts and Crafts movement. The Penland School of Crafts is first, and the film runs through its creation story. The school has spawned dozens, if not hundreds, of studios where craftspeople, many former residents of Penland who like being part of a community, make all manner of work. One artist describes living around Penland as "cooperative competition," where everyone is pushed to do their best by the friendly force of the thriving community.

Sarah Jaeger is "the village potter" of Helena, Montana, and people seem to flock to her studio and showroom to buy work for their home. Her story is one I'm personally familiar with, not because I know her, but because the first craftspeople I knew growing up were "the village potters." She speaks of loving sitting around a table eating and talking, and how pots are integral to that. For some time, Jaeger worked at the Archie Bray Foundation where her day to day conversations with other residents provided a huge amount of influence and understanding. She aspires to "that elegant, folky thing," making work that is useful and beautiful.

Pilchuck Glass School is next, with Dale Chihuly telling the creation story. The narrator explains that unlike other craft forms, glass was something usually done in factories until fairly recently when the Studio Glass Movement emerged around 1970 in Washington state. Glass work is often necessarily communal, as for most glassmaking techniques it takes more than one person to make work. This segment offers great film of numbers of people making glass art in a big hotshop all at once.

Denise Wallace, jeweler, is next, reiterating that there's always a human desire to adorn and beautify, as we've heard a number of others say. As a descendant from an Alaskan native tribe whose parents focused on assimilating into American culture, she felt compelled to revisit her ancestral roots in her work, and to keep things going, keep traditions alive.

Donna Look uses birch bark from live trees to make stunning woven and sewn forms. Though not made to be used in a utilitarian way, they might be considered baskets. Ken Loeber, Donna's husband, is a jewelry maker. They collaborate to do a production line of jewelry. Even though he recently suffered a stroke, he still works in the studio and they have not had to stop their businesses. The couple's son also helps in the studio. It's like the family is its own craft community. They also received support from CERF while Ken was in the hospital. This segment is really about the larger craft community supporting each other without even really knowing each other.

Next we go to the Smithsonian Craft Show, where artists enjoy seeing each other's work and meeting each other. There's a great amount of support and care going on here. I think this activation of the community happens at all kinds of craft shows around the country.

The need for community, the need for support and understanding, and the need to be expressive -- these are the themes of this Community section. There are not big proclamations at the end. It just settles out on a nice even tone. I feel like I've seen some beautiful work, and it's a great record to have of these craftspeople. I haven't necessarily seen anything eye-opening or new. But it has been pleasant to watch, and I'm sure viewers will have enjoyed this program.

1 comment:

Amy Herbst said...

I caught the series and thought it was great! Very inspiring, for me anyway. Thanks for sharing your notes!