TV review: PBS’s Craft in America focuses on veterans

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

TV review: PBS’s Craft in America focuses on veterans
By Mary Thomas
October 29, 2014

I always expect quality from the PBS series “Craft in America” and it delivers with beautifully filmed profiles of a select number of craft artists that are succinct yet thoughtful. “Service,” which airs at 10:30 p.m. Sunday, surpasses expectation by focusing on veterans and giving them the opportunity to share opinion and experiences beyond the predictable, if respectful, subjects of sacrifice and politics.

The program opens with Ehren Tool, a Marine veteran of the 1991 Gulf War and the third generation in his family to serve. He makes functional clay cups decorated with war imagery and gives them away (14,000 to date) to spark “conversations about unspeakable things.” While positive about his Marine experience, he acknowledges upon reflection that under certain circumstances he could have done “bad things” he may have later regretted.

Mr. Tool’s video, “1.5 Second War Memorial,” shows a different cup shot every 1.5 seconds, each representing a soldier killed in battle. A clay cup could last 500,000 years without a chip, but a little piece of lead found these and they’re destroyed, he said, comparing them to the possibilities lost in soldiers who may have become fathers, grandfathers, made medical discoveries and the like. Viewers would have to watch the repeating video for more than two years to pay homage to each of the soldiers killed in World War II.

I haven’t room to do each of the segments justice, but they all expand the conversation the nation is having with the approximately 1 percent of the American population who are in active military service.

Judas Recendez lost both legs in an Iraq IED explosion but that doesn’t stop him from working in his clay studio, doing dishes and taking walks with his wife with the help of two prosthetic legs. Eugene Burks Jr., saddler and leathersmith of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the Army’s ceremonial unit, makes and maintains the horse tack for the caissons that deliver fallen soldiers to their final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. Maintaining standards is a way of showing respect as is the care offered each burial.

“Each funeral should be done the same way regardless if it’s Private Johnson or President Kennedy,” he says.

San Francisco papermaker Pam DeLuco invited women veterans to turn their uniforms into paper for limited-edition handmade books, “Paper Dolls,” that combine stories of their sometimes isolating experiences with a form familiar to everyone. One woman speaks about leaving work when she heard about the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and changing from a 19-year-old to a soldier when she donned her uniform. Another tells of trust betrayed when a fellow soldier and friend sexually assaulted her. A woman whose trumpet is part of her doll page speaks of a grief-filled mother who threw herself upon her son’s casket, and then thanked the soldier for playing taps for him. “It’s an honor I’ll never forget.”

Interspersed is war footage and background on military programs that support the arts including the G.I. Bill, a beneficiary of which was the late Peter Voulkos, one of the most important figures in contemporary ceramics. Knowing that he served as an airplane gunner in the Pacific during World War II gives new perspective to the slashed and restructured sculpture that he broke ground with.

The program can be seen beginning Nov. 3 at www.craftinamerica.org/​episodes/​service.