Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Craft in America: Memory (part 1) - LIVE BLOG

Opening with a nouveau-spiritual version of the Shaker song "Simple Gifts," Part 1 of Craft in America addresses memory in terms of how craftspeople feel connected to their predecessors, be they blacksmiths or slaves from West Africa. It offers the stories of five different artisans, presented as sort of creation stories, stories of how individuals came to become influential and well-respected craftspeople. It might be better titled "Traditions" rather than "Memory."

Part 1 starts with an amazingly swift history of the craft movement in American, starting in the late 18th century with the Industrial Revolution, mentioning figures like William Morris whose idea that machine made items aren't necessarily better, and advocating a return to fine handmade objects.

Sam Maloof is the first profile. A well known and widely admired woodworker, Maloof is 90 and loves what he does, loves that he can still work. He tells of the influence and support of his late wife, Frida, and the first Craft Council conference in 1957 at Asilomar. He likes working with wood, its sensuality and colors. There are lots of shots of the men who work in his workshop looking at him reverently.

Mary Jackson, South Carolina, sewing sweet grass with palmetto to make baskets in a tradition that goes back over 300 years, arriving to South Carolina by way of slaves from Senegal and the Ivory Coast. Making very nice baskets has always been a way of life for her family, and she started selling her own designs in urban markets, eventually gaining the attention of the Smithsonian Institution and collectors. She is teaching her children and grandchildren the tradition. She says that a basket should be a beautiful object for living. It should be beautiful, and so it is made as a work of art. There is some awesome historical footage of basket making in this section. For her, it's deeply about carrying on the tradition.

Pat Courtney Gold is also a basket weaver coming from a very different tradition, the Wasco people of the Pacific Northwest. She speaks of the idea that everything is connected, that we have no real end or beginning, and she imbues these concepts of the cycle of life in her baskets. Her relationship to basket making is metaphysical, anthropological, and mathematical. Baskets for her are living things that also help keep her culture alive.

Garry Knox Bennett is a furniture maker who creates colorful off-the-wall pieces that are often conceptual and sometimes useful. He mixes different forms and traditions with the playfulness of an art school dillitante who it sounds like had a pretty fantastic time being alive in the 60s in San Francisco. (His first production items were fanciful one-of-a-kind roach clips for hippies.) His craftsmanship seems to be really amazingly good, but he doesn't care too much for preciousness, so he once wired a bent up nail to the outside of a very fine cabinet he'd built. His iconoclasm is quite inspiring, (though he says he's sick of talking about the nail cabinet!)

Tom Joyce is a blacksmith who seems to feel very connected to his predecessors as well as his materials. The idea of an inherited history is tied up in each piece. He likes to keep and reuse all the fragments he can from his pieces. He also likes to work with communities, inviting people to bring him pieces of iron that he then basically quilts into larger pieces that contain for him the entire history of all the materials and users of those pieces that comprise it. He makes sculpture as well as functional pieces. Earnest, calm, and articulate, he seems like a great teacher.

With very nice filming of the artisans at work, and pleasing background music, watching Part 1 came off to me as soothing and reassuring that craft traditions are being both upheld and challenged by worthy practitioners.

What did YOU think??

(Please forgive any bad writing or spelling mistakes -- I want to post this immediately!)

1 comment:

hr_g said...

I love your live blog! Great work!! I hope you do more live blogging.