More often than not, the act of creation is ultimately a solitary affair. Artists have to face down their "blank page", that tabula rasa for ideas, concepts, and executions, and do something with their piece of raw material - clay, glass, wood, metal or fiber. As the artist Chuck Close puts it, "Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work."
Yet, while facing down their demons, craft artists know they are not alone. They have the ongoing experience of community as support group. Traditions prevail. When dozens of countries gave us their tired, their poor and their huddled masses, they also gave us a rich tradition of craft that lives today – in big cities and small towns – wherever cultures have come, stayed and called home.
Einar and Jamex de la Torre, Quita Pone Bean Pot, 2005
It is the imprint of diversity on our artistic identity. The mark that is common to those who believe in perpetuating a culture through the physical world, not just the spoken or written word.
Community is spirituality. Scores of Native Indian tribes have passed on their own creationist cultures through the oral tradition of storytelling, and reflected in their physical crafts, from pottery to painting to beadwork. In the 21st-century, the legends, mysteries, and messages remain constant, interpreted anew by the latest generation of the same communities.
Denise Wallace creates extraordinary jewelry that, through a visual representation of her emotional connection to her Native Alaskan roots, conveys a depth of story-telling that mere words could not. People, places, animals and symbols of her native culture are all integral to her craft world.
Denise and Sam Wallace, featured in the Community episode have passed on their passion of jewelry onto their children, Dawn and David.
Community is religious. The Shakers1 instill a way of doing things with ethics and a higher spirit. They are evidence of the inseparability of craft and community – where occasionally the former is so strong, it outlives the latter. Few Shakers survive today; soon, because of their rules of marriage, the group will simply die out. What will survive of the Shaker community will not be its practitioners, but its design aesthetic, witnessed in their handwork.
Community is vitality. Today’s craftspeople are creative and committed to their studios and their ways of life. They come together at craft shows that are national, regional, or local. Not to mention hundreds of local Y’s where thousands of men and women push themselves beyond their daydreams and daytime jobs to develop skills from instincts.
Community is continuity. Its wellspring is bottomless, further found in every direction among teachers, students, and schools, from the traditions of North Carolina’s Penland School of Crafts to Howard University’s historic craft school in Washington, D.C. Schools like Berea College in Kentucky have a rich tradition of students working their way through college in their craft shops.
Iron Symposium at Penland School of Crafts
The singular approach at Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy runs deep throughout their entire curriculum, and has for going on a century. The vibrant list of graduates and their mentor-instructors reads like a who’s who of the craft world. This is craft as communal family tree: Skills taking root in the rich campus soil, and reaching out through each and every student who leaves its gates.
1 The Shakers, a Protestant religious denomination officially called the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, originated in Manchester, England in 1772 under the leadership of Mother Ann Lee, who moved the nine-person group to New York in 1774.
The Shakers' furniture was an attempt to apply the Shaker philosophies of equality, modesty, confession and faith and the shaker search for order and harmony, to the mundane objects of everyday life. Their dedication to hard work and perfection resulted in a unique style of architecture, furniture and other handicrafts. Shakers designed their furniture with care, believing that making something well was in itself, "an act of prayer". They never fashioned items with elaborate details or extra decorations, but only made things for their intended uses.
Patty Crosby, Director of Mississippi Cultural Crossroads, talks about Mrs. Rankin’s National Heritage Award.