Some hands create to record a place and time; others are more intimate gestures about personal histories. In any case our Nation’s collective memory can become tangible when we examine objects created by the hand. This educational guide helps develop craft in a larger context, providing educators with material that will relate to and reflect the core ideas and art forms presented in the MEMORY episode.
Some craft artists look to their culture, heritage, and traditions for ideas and inspiration to incorporate into their art making. These artists understand who they are in terms of what came before them and consciously incorporate these ideas, stories, and struggles into their art. In this section of Education Guide: MEMORY, students will discover the importance of “roots” to selected craft artists and investigate their own roots through inquiry-based activities.
Pat Courtney Gold (basket maker/MEMORY)
Einar and Jamex de la Torre (glassblowing/COMMUNITY)
Mary Jackson (basket maker/MEMORY)
Denise and Samuel Wallace (jewelers/COMMUNITY)
A search for identity is a great part of our work. It has to do with our Catholic background and our Mexican heritage.
– Jamex de la Torre
Who are you? Where are you from? What do you know about your family or heritage? Some people know a lot, others know little. What we know for certain is that we all have ancestors that root us to our past. Everyone comes from someone, somewhere. Our roots not only connect us to our families and to our heritage, but they define who we are today. Roots provide stability and nourish us, allowing us to grow, often in ways we do not fully grasp.
Many people’s roots are embedded in community, stories, and objects. Our relatives and their stories connect us to our culture, history, and traditions. But what role do objects play? How do they connect us to our past? Family heirlooms are precious objects, souvenirs of a person, place, occasion and/or moment in time. They are passed from generation to generation, embedded with meaning. Often displayed with honor and handled with care, these objects teach us about the past so we can appreciate the present and look toward the future.
While some people struggle to reconnect or stay rooted to their heritage, others seek to break away, to chart their own course. However, even when people choose a different or new path, their identity—who they are today and who they will be tomorrow—remains rooted in their heritage.
Some artists think about the notion of roots, looking to their culture, heritage, and traditions for inspiration. Some artists’ roots are strong, and they make art in order to carry on the traditions of their ancestors. Other artists question their heritage and whether they should embrace it. No matter what their perspective, these artists understand their roots and consciously incorporate ideas, stories, and struggles from the past into their art.
Woven in Tradition: Pat Courtney Gold
A phone call from Native American Pat Courtney Gold’s sister changed her life: their elders where looking for someone to revive and carry on their Wasco Nation basket making tradition. No one in Gold’s family had ever done this work. While her community was working to preserve its language, no one had tried to save basket making. A mathematician for seventeen years, Gold immediately embraced the challenge to revive the tradition.
She started her journey focusing on technique—visiting museums, learning from elders, studying traditional plants, and practicing. Slowly she began to combine images of the past with contemporary motifs, thus expressing her own vision and identity through her work. While she draws on today’s world for ideas, all her baskets are firmly rooted in the stories and traditions of the Wasco people. Gold views her art form as her own unique way of deepening her connection to her people, their stories, and their once traditional way of life. She continues to feel a strong connection with the past and makes Wasco baskets because she feels it is important and she finds pleasure in it, her identity and roots woven into each one. Once the student, now she is the teacher. The future of Wasco basket making is in the strong, confident, knowing hands of Pat Courtney Gold, whose cultural roots run deep and will live on long after she is gone.
Pat Courtney Gold
Born 1939 Warm Springs, Oregon
• A Wasco-Tlingit Native American reviving the art of Wasco Basket weaving
• Baskets combine traditional Wasco techniques, styles, stories and materials with contemporary motifs
• Earned a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington
• Taught math at community colleges, and worked as a math and computer specialist
• In 1999, after years of learning the tradition of Wasco baskets from tribal Elders, traveled over 3000 miles from Oregon to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University to hold a 200-year-old basket given to the Lewis and Clark expedition by the Wasco people
• Peabody Museum moment was a spiritual experience, as she was probably the first Wasco Indian to touch the basket in seven generations
• Lectures on plateau tribal art and teaches classes throughout the Pacific Northwest
• Work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and can be found in museum collections
New Directions: Einar and Jamex de la Torre
Creation. Destruction. Sacrifice. Renewal. These concepts do not immediately come to mind when one thinks about the blown glass tradition. But they are the themes that fuel the work of Einar and Jamex de la Torre, brothers whose bicultural ancestry (Mexican and American), religious upbringing, and cultural traditions provide a constant flow of ideas and inspiration for their glass work. With a sense of humor and a critical eye, the de la Torre brothers use “insider knowledge” of their ancestry to stretch the boundaries of glass blowing, fusing found objects with traditional glass blowing techniques.
Living in both California and Mexico facilitates the brothers’ ability to juxtapose their ancestry with American popular culture. Additionally, their work references Aztec gods, Mexican folk art, and political and economic issues. They struggle to make sense of the world around them and the culture into which they were born. Both past and present are subjects in their artwork. For the de la Torre brothers, the coming together of opposites results in blown glass that is at once sculpture, installation, and social commentary. The subject, scale, and craftsmanship revealed by each piece emphasize that the brothers have not only mastered glass blowing, but they are charting a new direction for the medium that is firmly rooted in their current identity with a deep respect for their ancestry.
• Brothers born in Mexico, but moved to California in 1972
• Both attended California State University, Long Beach where they learned how to work in glass and where Einar earned a BFA in sculpture
• Entered the glass arts through ceramics
• Artistic nomads, they prefer to travel around the world, taking up residence in glass shops, art centers and schools to create their art and teach glassblowing rather than maintaining their own elaborate glass studios
• Served as guest artists at Pilchuck School of Glass; Penland School of Crafts; The Glass Furnace, Istanbul; and many art schools and universities
• Reside and work in both Ensenada, Mexico and San Diego, California and consider themselves Mexican-American bicultural artists
The Craft Connection
Pat Courtney Gold and the de la Torre brothers look to their roots to create art, albeit in very different ways. Their crafts represent personal connections with their cultures. While Gold has revived a dying weaving tradition and the de la Torre brothers are pushing the boundaries of glass blowing, all three search their ancestry for ideas and inspiration. They pay attention to detail and process, and work collaboratively–Gold with elders and ancestors, the de la Torre brothers with each other, other glass blowers, and their forebears. Their objects, like the works of many other craft artists, teach us about the past so we can appreciate the present and look toward the future.
As a class, begin a conversation with your students about their roots. Suggested questions include: Who are you? Where are you from? What do you know about your family or heritage? Discuss how some people know a lot, while others know little. Emphasize that they all have roots, embedded ties to their family, heritage, and culture. Roots are a foundation, they stabilize us, they are grounding, nourishing, and not always obvious.
Use Roots Revealed – Student worksheet (Memory: Roots Worksheet #1 and #2) and the questions provided to have students begin the process of identifying their roots–geographical, racial/ethnic, artistic/aesthetic, recreational, health and body, and family.
After students complete the worksheets, ask them: What’s the most important or interesting thing this exercise taught you about yourself? Have students use the small squares in the reflection boxes to prioritize the importance of each identity. What does the ranking reveal? Discuss.
Have students watch the DVD segments featuring Einar and Jamex de la Torre (glass/Community) and Pat Courtney Gold (basket making/Memory) or online at www.craftinamerica.org/shorts/pilchuck-glass-school-segment and www.craftinamerica.org/shorts/pat-courtney-gold-segment. Ask them to think about the importance of each artist’s cultural roots and how they are reflected in his or her work.
After viewing the DVD segments, divide the class in half and have one half focus on the de la Torre brothers and the other half focus on Pat Courtney Gold. Once divided, have students work together to complete Roots Revealed – Artist worksheet (Memory: Roots Worksheet #3 and #4) and the questions provided to guide them. Students should develop an understanding of how these artists reveal their roots through their art.
Discuss the discoveries of the Roots Revealed – Artist worksheets. Which roots seem to be most important for each artist? Have students share what they have learned and make a list of what they still want to know: If the artist were in the room, what questions would you ask? These questions should be used to guide students during a second viewing of the DVD segments on these artists.
After the second viewing, further the conversation about these artists. To what extent do the roots of these artists enter into the work they make? Explain how. Have the students add to the worksheets as they learn more about each artist. Then ask: Do you have anything in common with either of the artists? Which artist or artists resonate most with you? Why?
View additional DVD and web segments on featured artists Einar and Jamex de la Torre and Pat Courtney Gold. What can they add to their Roots Revealed – Artist worksheet (Memory: Roots Worksheet #3) that they did not know before?
Examine DVD or web segments for other artists and art forms that explore the theme Roots. How do these artists or art forms incorporate the notion of roots into their work? Compare and contrast Mary Jackson (basket maker/MEMORY) and Denise Wallace (jewelry/COMMUNITY) with the de la Torre brothers and Pat Courtney Gold.
Working in small groups or pairs, have students create a storyboard that shows the process of glassblowing using the template provided (Memory: Roots Worksheet #5). What can they fill in immediately from having viewed the DVDs and clips on the Web site? What more do they need to know to complete the storyboard? Post and discuss the storyboards. To complete the storyboards students should view DVD and/or Web site segments again and investigate other sources such as books and Web sites, as available. Follow up student investigations with a discussion: How is glass blowing like a dance? Could it be done alone? How does it compare to certain sports? Take it further: Is there a tradition of glassblowing in your family, culture, or community?
Who are some other artists working in glass? Have students explore the work of Dale Chihuly. View additional DVD and web site segments as well as other resources. There are a variety of resources available on Chihuly including a DVD entitled Chihuly Over Venice. Discuss with students: How does Chihuly compare to the work of the de la Torre brothers? Are his roots reflected in his artworks?
Reveal your students’ roots in craft. What is the influence of craft in their lives? Engage students in a discussion of craft traditions in their lives, communities, and families. Who in your family or community makes things? What do they make? Why? Who teaches the craft processes? Has this person made the craft process her or his own? How? Are this person’s roots evident in the artwork? What role, if any, does gender play in this person’s art making?
Students can engage themselves in a variety of different projects, the challenge being to tie the project to an aspect of their roots, heritage, or community. Bring ideas generated in discussions about the artists and the Roots Revealed – Students worksheet, and have them incorporate these ideas into the making of a handcrafted object. Some project ideas include:
Create a lidded vessel as a container to store symbolic objects and/or writings that reveal an aspect of your roots. The vessels can be clay, metal, fiber, or paper. Embellish the container with imagery and materials that also represent who you are and what you care about.
Make a handmade book. The book could tell the story of your family through drawings and text. To deepen the experience, interview a family or community member. If making handmade paper, embed fragments into the paper and embellish the covers.
Ask students to think about the artists they have studied, the questions asked, and the activities they pursued while learning about the importance of roots as a theme in craft. Prompt a conversation: What is the most important thing you learned about craft, about these artists, and about yourself?
Craft in Your World
Baskets are a part of our daily life. They are used every day to hold objects of all shapes and sizes. They are made in different ways. Basket materials and forms typically are rooted in the original use of the basket. Have students look for different types of baskets and compare and contrast the ways in which they are made and the materials used.
Glass has many different uses in our world. Have students look for as many uses of glass as possible and keep a running list. How many of these objects are handcrafted? How can you tell?