Eudorah M Moore on craft
Eudorah M. Moore (1918-2013) was a curator, who described herself as a “protagonist for the crafts.” Moore spent a great deal of her life advancing and promoting the work of the hand. Moore is responsible for the “California Design” exhibitions and catalogs of the 1960s and 1970 and went on to serve as Crafts Coordinator of the National Endowment for the Arts.
I think the way that I first became aware of the crafts, therefore interested, was as a child going with my mother up high into the Appalachian highlands where there was an old chair maker who still spoke the Elizabethan English. Still a deeply, deeply traditional craft. And he made many chairs. We used to go up and collect them because my mother loved them. And so we would order chairs all the time and go up into Appalachia to pick up these chairs. It made me very, very conscious of the quality that went into really deeply traditional crafts. Like, for instance, the fact the chairs never had a nail in them. The way they bonded them was not with glue, but was by putting wet wrung into a dry leg and they would then bond together as the wood dried. So that they ended up being what they called settin’ chairs. So that you can picture the old boys sitting back in their chairs and just settin’ against the house wall.
Then later, with this kind of innate consciousness from my childhood, I did happen along to a period of time that was basically the birth of what I call the “New Crafts Movement.” And that is a recognition of different kinds of crafts, of contemporary crafts that were coming along that were often created as artworks by college educated people, and not just as functional objects. And that was a whole other level of consciousness when relating to the crafts and it’s the one that certainly I’ve spent my life in.
The California Design Exhibition was an enormous exhibition, again, that was made interesting primarily, I think, because of the time that it occurred, which was just at the beginning of the flowering of this new movement. These were exhibitions that were held at the Pasadena Arts Museum. It was quite interesting the way they got started because of the fact that the Pasadena Art Museum and the Long Beach Museum both were complaining about the fact that Los Angeles county was totally supporting one museum and yet there were these other museums and they felt that the county should be giving support to more than one place for art and so therefore they finally worked and worked on getting money and they managed, they said, “Well all of our arts money is spoken for, so the money for this can’t come from the money from that, but maybe we could justify it by having it tourism money and they granted the Pasadena Art Museum and the Long Beach Museum each $10,000 a year to put on exhibitions that related to design and we spread it a little bit to include the crafts. That is the way those exhibitions started to be funded. And then I became involved with it because I felt that this was a very important movement that we were really watching, and it was unfolding and that more should be done with it and I felt that very strongly that the exhibitions should be juried.
And that they should be larger and they should be supported by catalogues so that they didn’t just disappear when the material disappeared. And so, at that time, we talked to the museum and told them about our idea and got permission to put on this major show which we really did on hope and a shoestring and I can still remember when I went to one of the members of the board of the museum and said that I felt so strongly about having a catalogue and I wondered if he would be willing to help us in getting enough money to do it. This man said, Wesley Dunn his name was, said, and he was a Western man who knew such terminology and he said, “Eudy, I think I’ll grubstake you.” And so that was the way we got the money to do the catalogue for the Design 8 show which was the first one I did. Prior to that there had been yearly shows that were quite modest in scale and simply chosen by the person who installed the show.
Because they had a tiny budget and we moved into this broader field of saying that we wanted to have them juried and a handsome catalogue to support the material. And then we charged an entry fee for the museum which at that time we didn’t do. And that was the way we funded, in addition to the grant from Wesley Dunn, that was the way we funded the next shows was from the gate of the past show. And also the sale of a catalogue.
During California Design, I felt very, very strongly that the only way you can really look at an object is by looking at a three dimensional object and not by looking at a picture of it. And so, I felt that we had to jury, to be really fair that we had to jury by the objects and not by the size. Nobody does this anymore and even at the time of the design shows, almost nobody did because it was harrowing, it was complicated, it was such work that you can’t imagine of hauling all these things around for the jury to look at them. But what we did do was, in order to have an exhibition that was really indicative of both northern and southern California, which have a somewhat different aesthetic also, that we should jury the objects in each place. So, what we did was to send out a notice that the objects would be coming in, but we made two receiving depots, one here in Los Angeles, in Pasadena in fact, down in a park in Pasadena, and that was the reason why, in our design shows, we started using the outside photographs because of the fact that we just took them out into the park, and then we went on from there. But, needless to say, we started that way. In Northern California, we were given a receiving, down here the city allowed us a receiving depot, which I had known about and I got permission from the city to use. Two big buildings with wonderful light in them where we could photograph inside and where we could easily carry the objects into the park.
In San Francisco, I had friends who were in the furniture business there and who allowed me the use of Henry Adams, who was the person who ran the furniture mart up there and who allowed us the use of some vacant buildings that they had there, so we received there. Craftspeople would come from all of Northern California carrying these objects, bring them in trucks, bringing them in any kind of a vehicle they could get to carry these objects because many of them were very large, to be juried. And so, the same thing happened down here, all the people from San Diego and the southern part of the state would bring their things up here and we’d receive them here. So then, we had a jury of three people for the crafts. The three people would come here first and look at everything that we received here in Pasadena, then they would fly up to San Francisco and see what was up there so that they could have a picture of the entity of the whole thing and make their judgements and make their selections so they were putting a show together while they were jurying. They would jury up there, decide the number of things that they wanted to take, but also with the knowledge of what was down here so that they could pull together a show out of them.
Then they’d fly down here, and go through, and this took about two days for all of this jurying because we received thousands of objects, I mean, really nobody could imagine the hugeness of this task. I think that in the last show, I don’t remember exactly, but I think we received like 2500 or 3000 objects. From which we chose an exhibition of, as I recall, around 500. After the jurying was completed in both places, we would man with those wonderful craftsman volunteers who had that wonderful craftsman spirit that we talked about. They would come in and volunteer and man the receiving depots for the three days that the people would come and pick up the [?]. Then we would ship the stuff from Northern California, it would all be packaged and shipped down here to Brookside Park in Pasadena where those receiving depots were that we had down here. Then the photography started.
And this went for months and we were determined to have the catalogue ready at the time of the show so that meant that we would receive in September and then jury at that time, do our photography, and then have the big hardback catalogue ready for the show in March. All of that photography took place either here or at Brookside Park and then we began taking them to other sites in California, but that’s the way the whole thing got started. But it was an arduous thing and I don’t know of any place that does that kind of jurying anymore.
It is very unusual, actually, to mix the design and crafts, and it was particularly pertinent at the time that we did it. I’m not positive that the two fields would be able to establish such dialogue as they did, but, at the time that they did it, I felt that the processes, and process is such an important part of craft, and I felt that the process, as I talked to industrial designers, I felt that so much of it was very much the same as that of the process of crafts. I can remember talking to Charles Eames about this, and his saying “they’re exactly the same. The only thing that’s different is the foreseen end. When I’m designing these chairs, I’m designing them with the idea of coming in multiples. Our idea is to get the cost down and so forth. The process is the same, although the final intent is different. And it was that dialogue of the processes that kept the shows quite lively, and why we included both things.
The thing that really put California out front in crafts, and I do feel that California has had a leading role in what I call the new crafts movement. I think this did come largely out of the California educational system. In the East, crafts have been very categorized, even in the art schools. There were kind of classes of art, and I think that on the whole, that clay didn’t come into, in certain schools it did, but not a lot of them. The thing that happened out here was that the people who were going to turn out to be the craftspeople had gone back to college on the GI Bill. And this, to me, was the fountainhead of the New Crafts Movement. So that people who came back from the war, and they were the guys who were there on the GI Bill, had the opportunity of moving from department to department and they were in college. And they moved into the art department. There was enough of a demand that metal smithing and clay and all the crafts materials were included for the first time in the university curriculum. This consciousness of these age-old media suddenly thrown into a university setting where pure research was often the mode, rather than just technical learning, brought a new dimension to the way people looked at the crafts because they were using crafts materials, but they were using them as an art medium and this was something that did happen most strongly out here and most widely out here, although it did happen in specific places in the East where they had these long going programs in craft materials. But it was much wider spread out here and the result was that there was an efflorescence that was unbelievable that went on during that fifties and sixties period, in which suddenly all of the craft materials were available in the art departments. Art attitudes were assumed rather than the craftsmen’s attitude which was to make an object of use, but rather to make an aesthetic object became the thing that was being worked on. The leading people, like Voulkous, were dealing with a college attitude towards these age-old materials, which had always been used for use and suddenly they were being used for art purposes and for expressive purposes alone. This made a huge difference in what was produced. And it was ubiquitous in California. It happened not only in the universities, but in the junior colleges, very very widely.
At the last design show which was in 1976, I realized that this I had an amazing experience working over this 25 year period with the craftspeople and that it had been moving and that there was something that was very special, there were generic qualities in a sense, that I had run into in the field among craftspeople and as I saw the people coming in with the objects, it was a tremendous experience. They would come in; a lot of people hate to have their things juried, it’s wounding, so much of oneself goes into the creation of the object, but these people would come in carrying an extension of their ego in front of them to have these things juried and you would talk to them and find out about them. I didn’t care if we sold any or not, I felt that I had to publish, as a record, that told about the craftspeople themselves and their lifestyles, because it was different. It was not your average urban dweller. There was another sensibility, another sensitivity. We decided that we would do a book called “Craftsman Lifestyle: the Gentle Revolution”. We photographed maybe about 100 craftspeople all over the state of California and photographed them in their own places of being, in their own houses. We simply wrote about them as human beings as a record of this phenomenon of the craftsman’s movement, which did well as a real movement. It was not just your average group of people that worked with their hands because after the war there was this wave, it really was something that happened to the showers. It reached the showers in a special way and so we recorded it for that reason.
I was putting together an exhibition that was called “Islands in the Land.” This exhibition was about three ports of the country where tradition, counter to the mainstream had been maintained. And one of those areas was in Appalachia, where you had the Anglo and the Black traditions, and also traditional European traditions coming into the all of the crafts that were there. Then, in the Valley of the Rio Grande, you had three intersecting cultures. The Anglos and the Chicanos and the Indians, each having maintained its own specific look, function, message, bearer of culture. While on this jaunt that had taken us into craftsmen’s homes throughout the Southeast, I had remembered the chairs that my mother had made when we were in the mountains of Tennessee and I was determined to find a chair that was like that. And it really and truly didn’t use nails and didn’t use glue. That kind of a chair is almost a dying object because there are lots of little chair shops, but they all use glue and they are not settin’ chairs in the old way. Finally, I kept asking people where I could find those old chairs that were really out of the forrest that really lasted forever like those chairs did. The bottoms were made out of winter bark, which absolutely is indestructible. Gotten at just a moment in spring where the sap is really flowing, and a chair that you could lean back in and roll around and it would never be destroyed. While looking for these chairs, I kept not being able to find them. I was frustrated, it really made me mad and we went all over. Finally a woman down in North Carolina that said, “You know, there’s an old chair man who used to come in and, let me just see if I can find him. Let me see if I can trace him for you.” So, she went to work and she called all of the different people around there and they said …Yes, that Wally Bevins was still making chairs. And I thought, “Oh, how wonderful.” It turns out that he was about a hundred miles away and the directions were given to us by somebody who knew just exactly where he lived, but didn’t know exactly how to tell me. So she said, “now what you do is you come to the old candle shop and you turn left there…” We were a hundred miles out of the way and we just thought we better find him and suddenly, as we came to a certain point, we looked up and we’d made the right turns and we saw a front porch and out on the front of the front porch were all of the rungs of the chairs, lying out there drying, and we knew we had the right place and so we went in. It turns out that Wally Bevins was a deaf-mute who supported himself by making chairs. He still used a foot driven lathe, he had no electricity in his house so he would turn his rungs with a foot driven lathe and of course here we were communicating with him, trying to tell him that we wondered if we could see his work, if we could take some pictures of it. And if we might get one of his chairs, purchase one of his chairs to show in a museum in California. He was very pleased, he was indeed pleased.
But this negotiation, because of his being both deaf and mute took a while and I had my young son with me and he was probably maybe 9 or 10 at that point. For Christmas, he had been given a Swiss army knife and he loved his Swiss Army Knife and all the while we were making these long communications about how the chair would be gotten to us and could it be shipped and this kind of thing, my son was whittling. I noticed Wiley’s eyes glancing over and really loving coveticely at that Swiss army knife and finally I got my nerve up and asked my son if he would be willing to give Wiley that knife cause I thought Wiley would love it and that this had been a wonderful day for us. We had seen him make the chair and it had been a moving experience. I was so proud of [Renny] because he didn’t hesitate a minute. He turned around and he gave Wiley his most precious possession and I almost wept, I was so happy. And Wiley almost wept he was so happy. Anyway, so then we went home and time passed and we had the exhibition called “Islands in the Land” and it was a very, kind of a wonderful exhibition because it showed the past and how tradition had prevailed and so that we had the chair that was from 1850 or whenever and then we had Wiley’s chair. Anyway, so the chair did arrive, and then later came a letter from Wiley’s niece and it said, “I just wanted to thank you for putting that chair in your show because Wiley died last week, but before he died, he said, “I knowed I made a good chair.” That is chair that is right out in my room out there. And with the [witter barek] bottom on it, and made of the wood of that countryside. The other thing that intrigued me so, you see, was the fact that the pattern of that chair, the regular chair with the three slats on the back, the perfectly simple chair, that pattern went across the country and you see it bespeaking the place in each countryside that you cast through. Because, for instance, in that same show, we had a chair from New Mexico and that chair was cotton wood and the bottom was made of [horse eyed thongs], but it was the same design and the same chair.
There are islands where crafts from a given culture, they’re disappearing all the time. TV has really done harm to the integrity of crafts in a certain way. Everything now is homogenized and we can see everything and hear everything, so with all of these communication methods we are coming to a situation where everybody has seen everything and everybody has heard everything, but actually in this country the thing that did happen was that as people came into the country, they moved to different parts of the country like the people in Sea Island, people of the Gullah’s as they are called, who maintained their deep African tradition because of the fact that they were somewhat isolated. The same thing with the Indians. All through West Virginia there are islands of Czechs, there are lace makers in certain places that are not in other places, and it’s the maintenance of these traditions which is the thing I was talking about. Islands where traditions of a culture have been maintained counter to the mainstream. The hispanic tradition in the southwest is strong and loudly spoken at this point and very much recognized. The same thing with the separate kinds of basket makers. The sweetgrass baskets are another example of this kind of thing. Where, because of the existence of the materials in a given place and the existence of the people who settled there in the beginning and used the materials at hand and spoke in the culture from which they came that tradition was established in that place. There are these islands still and I thought it was important to pinpoint them because they are disappearing.
I don’t think that there is any question but that there is an ongoing art/craft controversy. My point of view about this whole thing is the fact that all of the creative act is one. My feeling about it is that art actually is an accolade. It doesn’t have anything to do with intent, really, it’s an accolade. This person is an artist. And, to me, that person can be a craftsperson, or it might be a potter, whatever. But some of those people who practice in those different categories are artists. And then, many people who paint and make paintings are not really artists at all. So, my feeling is that the word artist is an accolade that is given by others. And the word craftsman is a noble word from my point of view because it bears back into tradition and into the formation of all objects of use with which we surrounded ourselves.
I think there are two different kinds of people, well, obviously a lot more kinds than that. There are very visual people and there are oral people. There are people who have a kind of a crafts aesthetic and a crafts personality. One of the things that intrigued me in putting up the California Design Shows was the fact that all the craftsmen came up out of the woodwork and came and volunteered at the museum and wanted to help, doing whatever they could, not just for their own piece, but for everybody else’s piece. I can remember installing those shows at the museum and having literally fifty different volunteers who were helping us install it. And there was that real sense of brotherhood that you were talking about.
The other thing I would say about the craft’s personality is that inevitably, they are wonderful cooks. And eating is certainly a part of the whole process. I think that some artists may be good cooks, but not inevitably, and not certainly in terms of group effort. My experience is really almost not at all. Its that they don’t have the same feeling about coming up and helping. You don’t have that sense of community that the people who are working in the crafts field do. But I don’t think that the final thing that you come up with is craft or art.
Collectors are vital to the craftsperson. And they are to some extent, indicative of the New Crafts Movement because when the objects were really functional objects of use, people would buy the chair or they would buy the cups, but not as a collector, and of course that made a tremendous difference in the price curve. The thing that then happened was as a result of this kind of college element in the developing of the crafts. As people began to move toward ideas, people got onto the idea of collecting these things. It was interesting because they certainly began first, I would say, with pots. The glass phenomenon blew up the collecting thing enormously. Dale Chihuly is really one of the people who has been extremely smart in really getting the idea of the collector. This is all part of this whole thing that these people now consider themselves artists. They do not consider themselves craftspeople, and are selling their work as artwork and pricing it accordingly. So that Chihuly can now make a million dollars a year because of his collectors, so obviously, the collectors are vitally important. It has also brought a general increase in the price of crafts across the board, invariably. If there is one load star while there are others that are following, and it has lifted the price of craft across the board. The major recognition of these people, like Voulkous, like Chihuly, who’ve known how to market their crafts and who have gotten large groups of avid collectors. Also it has made possible the museum shows, we know the relationship of museums and collectors and the fact that this increases the basis of collecting because of the apparent value by museum showings.
The museums have an important role in all of this. One is awareness. The fact is that people see really good and interesting things, there always is the one person who will be captivated, and is going to then understand something he didn’t know about before, or want to see more of something they haven’t seen. There is the other side of museums, which is, in my point of view a questionable one: the power of the museum in establishing value, and establishing how people look at something as to its value. Clearly it is a means of getting work before people, and I’m all for that because I think it broadens the base.
I don’t think that museums see tooting the horn of the handmade as their role. I think that the museum sees its role as establishing a qualitative judgmental level. I think this thing, repeatedly, it could be in any field, whether it’s painting, sculpture, crafts, whatever, they picture themselves as being a qualitative judgement, and I think that that is the way they function the most, although, unfortunately, they also do have a major role in the marketplace. Which is taken advantage of by collectors, and which, the museums themselves take some advantage of. That would be the area where I feel a bit critical, but I think that as a qualitative benchmark, that’s a good function because while I do feel this broad sense of everybody being creative, I think that qualitative judgement is something that is absolutely necessary to understanding art, ultimately. I think that this is the important role of the museum.
I was in Washington for three years from 1978-1981. I was there as the crafts co-coordinator, the head of the crafts department, which was in the visual arts department. We did undertake a number of proactive activities on behalf of the crafts. We did have separated panels for the crafts fellowships and we also had a quite major national program that was called the National Crafts Planning Program, which were hearings across the country to assess the needs of craftspeople. This was unfortunately discontinued after I left so that our hearings couldn’t end up in the kind of action that we had planned to have them end up with, but they did reveal the needs of craftspeople across the country very clearly and I think from that point of view it was a beneficial program. Anyway, i was there for three years, I had the marvelous opportunity to go around the country talking to craftspeople, seeing what was done, not just in California as I had before, but seeing all the way across the country and in depth. I was getting the sense both of place and from which the craftspeople are merged and trying to decide if there was such a thing as a real sense of place. Increasingly, the crafts field has become homogenized, what with the publications and so forth that there have been. On the other hand, it was true that up in Seattle, there were an awful lot of fish to be seen in all of the crafts objects and you did feel the weight of tradition both in New Mexico and in Appalachia. So, there’s some sense of place, but generally it’s not pervasive in the crafts at this point. In any case, from my point of view, the Endowment was a great privilege.
The American Craft Council was established during the Depression by Mrs. Webb, who was a vanderbilt, and who was a remarkable woman who really felt that the crafts were tremendously important, but she thought of it more in the way that Mrs. Roosevelt would have thought of the crafts as being terribly important and that is the actual practice of the traditional crafts, that is making the baskets, making all of those things, those objects use, that had always been made. The moment came when Mrs. Webb underwrote the establishment of the American Crafts Council in an expansive vision that I think was remarkable. And she underwrote it over the years. But, they are established in New York. I sound very parochial and very chauvinistic, but I think that has made a difference. They have tried to be a national organization, and they have actually served the field well. And I don’t mean this in a negative way, but I think that it’s too bad that they could not have been weaned from several bottles so that they could have the New York kind of an attitude and the East Coast kind of an attitude which deals with tradition much more than the West Coast does. And they have tried. If it could be more national, it would be more representative of what the real movement really is, but it has been a wonderful influence. Other than the publications that deal with specific media, it is one of the few general craft magazines that lets people know nationally what’s going on in the crafts. It’s played a tremendously important role. So, in saying critical things, I’m not doing a general put-down. I’m doing more of a critique.
There was the World Crafts Council, but that went out of business. The United States really is the place where this aspect of crafts is practiced and known. It is the influence point, without any question, internationally, because the tradition in European is so much stronger. People are generally a bit more conservative and tend to follow tradition more. My daughter lives in Italy and I’ve gone and looked at a lot of places there and a lot of craftspeople and everything that they’re doing is reflected out of these publications and out of the forward motion here. Maybe not so much now, but certainly for the past 20 or 30 years that’s been true. On the other hand, we could certainly benefit by getting some input by the European traditions.
Crafts still are tied to place and materials, particularly the ethnic crafts, for instance, the indian baskets specifically use the materials that are available in the different parts of the country where they’re made and there are very different kinds of baskets that are made based on the material from the Blacks in South Carolina. The Mohawk baskets are made with the hardwood, which you wouldn’t find in New Mexico so that you know the baskets there won’t be that. Those are still quite tied to place, also the kind of clay bodies that are used will definitely tell you where the pot was made. You know that if you see a micaceous pot that is has to have been in peccaries and that area around peccaries. If you see a white base clay you know where that was from. The patterns also tie it to place and culture. It is in the so-called “New Crafts” that you don’t see that much relationship to place. It is much more homogenized and it is a national idea of what is good. I think if you ship those crafts from one place in the country to another it would be very hard to place them.
In terms of the way people think about things, whether they’re art or craft to me, the prime example of that is George Ohr, the potter from Biloxi, Mississippi, who made the most amazing pots that you’ve ever seen in your life. They called him the mad potter from Biloxi. And now his work is so regarded and so valued that Frank Gehry is designing the new museum in Biloxi for the George Ohr collection. It’s going to be absolutely extraordinary, and here was a man who had a hard time selling what he knew was art, at a that time at the turn of the century. I feel that the consciousness that comes onto some people of the value of things, as a protagonist of the craftspeople, I still have to be glad for it. I think it is something that comes in an ascending pyramid, really, and that the broader the interest the better. And the commercialization, as people are looking at these things as “Oh boy, this has got value because it’s a hand-made thing. That’s just fine. And the quality of it is something that people will become conscious of themselves, so that the general level will rise. But in the meantime, the whole creative process is supported. And that to me is the main thing that we want to have happen. We want to have people whoever they are or however creative they are or however talented or tasteful in the long run is having that broad base of people who value hand work that is going to make the difference in people being able to support themselves.
When I was at the Pasadena Museum speaking of the therapeutic value of crafts, there was one of the first studies of the therapeutic values of crafts by a psychiatrist called Diamond, as I recall, and it was very interesting because itTo me the most important thing is having people involved in the creative process. It’s the involvement of doing it that is the really important thing. The act of doing rather than the act of perceiving is a tremendously important facet of the human being. To me, the thing that is the most important about the whole thing, now clearly you’re going to choose one aspect of a field to layer attention to and have as the kind of specialty of your observations, it was a qualitative concern. But, nevertheless, I think that the thing I feel so strongly about is the breath of the movement and having people do it. Having people involved in the creative process, in one way or the other. It can be regarded as therapeutic or it can be regarded as the manifestation of the highest art, but its the involvement of doing it that I think is the really important thing. It so happens that I focused on the art qualitative aspect of the thing, but I feel that I couldn’t agree more that the act doing, rather than simply the act of perceiving is just a tremendously important facet of the human being. I think if I were going to worry about anything with all of us now, it would be the fact that we are so placid and that we tend to be primarily involved in perceiving and looking and criticizing and verbalizing and all of those things, rather than getting in there and doing it. This makes the therapeutic aspect clearly interesting and it obviously is very valid.
Crafts have been viewed in many ways and therapeutic insights, the possibilities of therapy through craft has been something that’s been recognized for a long time and it’s actually something that many studies have been done on. It is known that if you work with your hands it can help your state of mind. I think that the main flow of the crafts that we have been talking about is something that doesn’t think much in those terms. They’re not thinking of the crafts in any way as therapy, but I think it is recognized, and I think it is accepted. The aspect of the crafts that the new approach towards craft has disavowed the importance of the therapeutic aspect of it. I think that their entire emphasis, because of their university base, is conceptual and, as they put it, qualitative and that’s the only thing that really care about. The whole therapeutic thing is separate. I look at the thing as one whole important movement, really.
One of the things I love about the craft field is that, because of its great interest in materials and process, it bridges into many other areas of our, it bridges into industry. One of the very interesting experiments that occurred during the time that I was at the endowment was the thing of craftspeople who related to industry. Recently, PBS has been having a series on Blanco. We were very interested and intrigued at that very thing that was going on at that time. There were a number of other manufacturers that would have artists in residence. It was a person who could either blow the glass themselves, there were enamelists who were working in enamel factories. Because of the fact that there is an emphasis in the crafts on materials and on processes, it relates into industry. It also relates into design. While I’m talking about the business of crafts and industry I do want to mention the marvelous program at the Koehler Plumbing Company of artists and residents. This, I think, is one of the thrilling programs that has gone on over the years in which Ruth Koehler, who is the head of the museum, established this program with the company. To think of the opportunity of a craftsperson who is possibly working in bronze, being able to go work alongside these industrial processes, you can imagine what a thrilling experience that is. If you could think of the most perfect enameling in the process, think of a bathtub or think of a complicated piece of ceramics with back curves and reverse curves and so forth, the toilet is a perfect example of clay used in an extremely sophisticated way. That program is an ongoing program with several artists working in that factory at all times. It is a wonderful program.
I think all art is energy transfer to some extent, and the crafts, because of the hands-on nature, very much so. I think that it bears the energy. In some way, you can sense when you look at a piece that has that energy, you can feel it, it is transferred. But that’s through time. You look at crafts through time and you can sense the energy of the makers. And I think this is one of the moving qualities of it, the palpable qualities of craft. And also the fact that the crafts essentially transcend time and they transcend styles , because they are really evocations of the human spirit. I think you feel that when you touch a pot that bears the imprint of that hand, it has that strength of the maker, the transfer of the maker.
I think all the arts are democratic. Actually, I think people use the word democratic, like saying crafts are thought of as democratic and painting is not or sculpture is not, that’s used in a pejorative way and I don’t think the crafts are democratic. I think that all of the art media are accessible, and available, and therefore democratic. What may be democratic is the palpable quality of the crafts .In so many cases you can pick up a pot and feel it and look at it. It does a transfer for you that is not true of something which is purely a mental exercise: the understanding of meaning in a certain painting or something of this kind. To me Democratic is a wonderful word and crafts is a wonderful word. I just have to take exception to using it as a pejorative thing because I think that the more consciousness of beauty and of creativity on the part of more people is democratic, and is good.
I understand that some people think that the word craft is a pejorative word that has negative implications and from my point of view I disagree with that point of view entirely. Because of the fact that I think it binds this activity to the human race. It allows possibility to well up from below. It allows humanity to come in rather than elitism. In my view, the word craft in a wonderful, wonderful word and we should be proud of it and not feel that it is negative. It is only those who value their work in terms of money who really are worried. And I might say that I don’t blame them, money is very important. I do know that I’ve talked with [Peter] Voulkos many times about the California design shows and he said that he loved what we were doing and he absolutely would enter it but that he felt so strongly that, for him to be regarded as an artist, he could not be showing in an exhibition that is known as a crafts exhibition, so he would never enter into the show. It was a great pity because I think that he was a leader of this movement, and actually always felt of himself as a craftsman. For purposes of establishing his art, he felt he couldn’t be identified with it, which I think is too bad. I also think that you, the craftsperson, feels that your work is art doesn’t necessarily make it that.
I think that an object still has certain qualitative values, but I think that paintings, objects, all are avenues of energy transfer. When you talk about good and bad, it is all a relative judgement and I think that I like people doing these things. I put great importance on the doing, on the happening. On the fact that they are being done by whoever the person is. That energy transfer of himself or herself and their ego into that work is almost palpable. In pieces that are the most potent, it’s the most palpable. When we make straight art judgment, we have to realize that they are very much of a period, very much of a time or style of art criticism. There are times where certain attitudes are acceptable, when people expect a certain attitude, and the funk movement was a great example of that. When funk was beginning in Northern California, these really funky things were going along. This was a whole movement. It was stylistic, and it was relatively short of duration. It was just the way a group of people felt about things at a given time. It was terrific because I can remember jurying the first piece of Gilhuly’s and I can remember just standing in front of this piece and roaring with laughter. Clearly this man had moved into a kind of social statement that had its own voice, it had its own thing to say. It was different from anything that had been done up to that time. It had an impact. Nevertheless, I think that in terms of power that beautiful simple lines have impact too. Beautiful, simple lines can be conceptual as well as something that looks as if it’s telling a story. Think of some of our potters who make very simple vessels, but done with such perfection, with such integrity, and with such a feeling of quality that it definitely translates. It speaks. As you feel that piece, as you touch it, it tells you who it is. There’s no question that you feel that looking at that piece. It’s a kind of, as I say, energy transfer. You can’t look at a Voulkous pot without feeling the brimming, enormous masculine energy of this man. The same thing with the perfect thin shell Natser pot where you are reading so many things into it: of quality, of knowledge, of the material, and of pleasure in the execution. They all speak, all of those qualities speak in these powerful pieces. Less powerful pieces sometimes don’t speak as loudly. Sometimes they groan. Basically, I think there is that quality of energy transfer. That is one of the things that makes this kind of craftwork particularly appealing.
I don’t think that the crafts movement is a swell anymore as it was in the fifties and sixties. The existence of that swell and the presence of crafts programs in universities and colleges have have a much more ubiquitous presence then there has previously been. That has increased the number of people with a craft aesthetic, so the numbers are greater or remaining constant, although it is decreasing unfortunately, in certain areas. Many of the colleges and universities have dropped a lot of their crafts programs. The glass programs are being cut down, ceramics, in many cases are being cut down out of the universities. I think this is a great pity because I think that it’s an inherent part of the human being to be able to work with their hands in those settings of higher education, not just out of financial need, but out of the desire to work with and to create. I do bemoan the passage of this out of the higher education system. I think it’ll come back to a certain extent, but we did experience a marvelous time. When this motion was really in the shape of a wave.
The future is like the future of mankind. I think that there is a future, and the machine will never take over completely in the way that the people at the turn of the century thought it would. The value in the work of the hand is going to absolutely be a constant, and find its place, and be valued much more than it perhaps originally was. The makers are going to be valued more because a lot of the problem was that the work of the hand was valued, say, at the turn of the century, but the makers’ work was not adequately paid for. The thing that we have seen, for instance, in the American Indian craft movement, and all of the various craft movements is that the price of these crafts, as we appreciate that hand value, has gone up. There are a lot of people now who support themselves as craftspeople at this point because that value has been recognized and is ongoing. I think that the work of the hand is going to continue to be valued, and the work of individuals and it’ll probably always go in waves.