Hear the word landscape, and most of us think of widescreen, 70mm panorama. Something out of a John Ford western, perhaps, or an Ansel Adams photograph. And for many, that is their landscape. But in reality, a landscape is a worldview – how we see our personal environment, depending on where that world is. Sometimes our sights extend beyond the hill to the horizon. And sometimes that landscape is what is merely underfoot – or at the most, within a few feet from where we stand.
Craft artists – like their fine art brethren – reference and find inspiration in their personal environment. In some cases it’s a natural world, encompassing great beauty and singular fragility. Other times it’s a political or social environment that, at its worst, rains down destruction and demands a powerful reaction. Whichever direction their work takes, craft artists have their personal, singular vision that defines and informs it.
Timberline Lodge, shown here in the late fall of 1937, is a national monument to the handcrafted, G. Henderson photograph
In a way, craft is in a singular position to draw on the landscape. After all, craft draws from the landscape. The resources of wood, clay, fiber, glass, metal and minerals are the genesis of the objects these artists make.
And the medium itself can contribute to the piece made from it. In woodworking, for example, the growth rings of trees give definition and difference to the grain. The burls and bark are nature’s own contributions to turners and basketmakers. Even man-made and synthetic materials designed for commercial applications are a figurative part of our landscape (they are, after all, part of what is around us); applying them, artists today have an ever more boundless panoply of textures and tones that open up to a palette of possibilities.
Or consider the recycling of found objects. This aspect of a broadened landscape to include places visited – not just inhabited – has provided us with objects that boast the yin that comes with the comfort of the known, and the yang that comes from the intrigue of the unexpected. The Hungarian author and social scientist Arthur Koestler in his work, The Act of Creation, suggested that the difference between creativity and traditional thinking was a matter of resourcefulness rather than rigidity.
Ramona Solberg, Necklace with Dominos, 1989, Robert K. Liu photograph
For the craft artist, it means breaking through preconceived notions of what things are to what they can be. So, when an artist finds items in a neighborhood antique store or junk shop – or travels the world and finds something along the side of the road to bring home and use – that gives the object a new relevance in a wholly unexpected medium. Artist jewelers such as the late Ramona Solberg and the wife-husband team of Roberta and David Williamson are masters of the found object, incorporating them into work that give the pin, brooch or necklace a meaning that reflects a landscape that transcends time and space.