Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Craft in America: Landscape (part 2) - LIVE BLOG

Part 2 of Craft in America begins with questions about how landscape and one's environment influences the act of creation.

Jan Yager is an artist in Philadelphia who likes to find materials for her work on sidewalks, in vacant lots, and along abandoned railway lines around the city. Making adornment is her thing, and she delights melding natural material with metals to create her work. She's also very interested in making work that's entirely of its place and time, so she focuses on gathering materials from the one block around her studio, be they weeds or crack vials. She has even made gold castings of crack vial caps and beaded them into long necklaces. She's willing and passionate about bringing up the uncomfortable issues that present themselves around her, as well as finding beauty in her immediate surroundings.

David Gurney is a ceramicist who makes vessels, tiles, and surrealistic sculptural figures, some of which are influenced by his interest in Mexican pottery, especially symbolic Tree of Life forms and the hundreds of glaze colors. He enjoys the solitude of the huge sand dunes of coastal California and finds inspiration in the plants and flowers that grow around there. But he's also into creating his own landscapes, his own trees, his own worlds.

A voice over emerges next to talk about Timberline Lodge that opened in the 1930s as a place to ski near Mount Hood. When the Great Depression hit, WPA workers (carpenters, stonemasons, blacksmiths, and other craftspeople) were brought in to build a nice lodge by hand. Marjorie Hoffman Smith was brought on as the decorator, and at one time had as many as 200 people working on her projects. What resulted is a National Historic Landmark filled with all kinds of murals, textiles, blacksmithing, furniture, etc., all of which seem to be under restoration based on Hoffman Smith's watercolor records. This is a place filled with great WPA worker craft, if you will. Not the most innovative stuff, but quite a historical record of what hands in the 30s and today can do.

Back to the personal profiles, Kit Carson is a jeweler and artist who grew up on a ranch in the Arizona desert. A funny, gentle cowboy type. Engraving is his main technique, and his forms are inspired by art nouveau curves and their offspring, 1960s psychedelic posters. The work seems to be quite fine and full of integrity, though are kind of literal for my taste. He takes us outside to his Library of Visual Solutions, basically a huge junkyard of collected found metal objects outside his studio. He builds fun large sculptures from these.

Speaking of the difference between art and craft, he says "you have to know your medium well enough to express your heart to make art."

George Nakashima, who died in 1990, comes next speaking of the spirit of the trees. His daughter, Mira, has taken over production of his designs. He studied forestry and later architecture, but settled on furniture so he could control the process from beginning to end. The furniture starts with the trees themselves, and they decide on site how to cut the trees to get the best grain and shapes. One of his studio workers of 17 years speaks of Nakashima's insistence that a worker must listen to the trees and not impose his own thoughts onto the form. His "wood shed" is HUGE and has its own shop foreman.

Absolutely no mention is made of his grandson, Ru Amagasu, who is also making furniture and directly drawing from his grandfather's style. This seems quite deliberate, as Nakashima's dealer says Mira is "the only true heir" and "the only one designing in the Nakashima style." From what I understand from sources outside of the documentary, daughter and grandson do not interact at all.

Richard Notkin is a ceramicist in Helena, Montana, whose sculptural work is coming out of both a love of making things by hand and an anger about war and injustices in the world. He makes incredibly intricate and narrative forms that speak to his time and his concerns. And amazingly, some of these forms are actually teapots. Quoting Gandhi's saying that if you drop enough grains of sand into a machine it'll stop the machine, he says he feels his work as his contribution to man's creativity.

One thing it seems all these artists have in common is a belief in following your bliss no matter the odds. That's always good to remember and be inspired by.

But what I'm not understanding right now, more than halfway through the series, is why this is so individual-focused. I feel like I'm writing useless little book reports here, which is not what I expected this live blogging experience to be. The angle the filmmakers seems to be taking is very modernist, very author-centric, almost cultish. In other words, very predictable and old-school. Maybe the next one will open things up a bit...?

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