Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Craft in America - An Overly In-Depth Review

I've now watched all five episodes (the sixth episode premieres May 24) of Craft in America, and can weigh in with a more complete analysis. The easiest way to do this is to break it down by episode.

Episode I. Memory

This episode centers on the traditions of crafting, and the way those traditions are handed down and carried on. This focus is rather broad, and a bit stretched in some cases, but the general concept is evident. Because of the focus on tradition, it is also very much about family and heritage.

The featured artists include Gary Knox Bennett, a furniture maker; Pat Courtney Gold, a basket maker specializing in work inspired by traditional Wasco Indian designs; Mary Jackson, a basket maker specializing in sweetgrass baskets, Tom Joyce, a blacksmith; and Sam Maloof, the late, woodworking legend. Both basket makers were compelling as they discussed the relationship between their culture and their craft, but watching Mary Jackson work with her daughter and granddaughter, and hearing the insight into the tradition from her little granddaughter was a highlight. While I enjoyed seeing and hearing Sam Maloof, my favorite part of this episode was Tom Joyce. The man had me ready to scrounge up some iron and build a fire in the back yard.

The only disappointing part of this episode was the arrogance of Gary Knox Bennett, but even that wasn't all that bad, and provided a contrast to the understated nature of the other artists. He didn't even muster enough over-confidence to make me dislike him. His work is bold, and I appreciate that he has a personality to match it.

Episode II. Landscape

Episode two is all about the impact of place, time, and culture on art and artisans. The featured artists include Jan Yager, a Philadelphia based artist and mixed media jeweler; Kit Carson, an Arizona based artist and jeweler; David Gurney, a painter and potter; George Nakashima, another late, woodworking (furniture making) legend; Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, a furniture maker following her father's lead; Richard Notkin, a ceramic artist with a political bent; and the artisans who contributed to the Timberline Lodge, including those working on its restoration.

Jan Yager's mission to create only from inspiration in her immediate vicinity is fascinating. Using "city flotsam," she creates compelling and thought provoking pieces as well as those inspired by the weeds growing nearby. I was also intrigued by the soft spoken potter, David Gurney, and his bold work. All of these artists seemed not only highly influenced by their surroundings, but to be of the speak softly, create loudly persuasion. I like that; I like them. Plus, Kit Carson wears a neckerchief throughout his interview, so bonus points for adorableness.

Episode III. Community

Crafters know that crafting is a communal act. Inspiration and creativity are personal, but community fuels both while teaching and sharing support and the skills needed to harness creative impulses. All modern crafts are based on foundations passed down for generations. Without that shared knowledge, everyone would be too busy trying to create and master a basic technique to add artistic expression. We would all be inventing the wheel.

The featured artists include two husband and wife teams, Ken Loeber, a jeweler, and Donna Look a basket maker; and Denise and Samuel Wallace, jewelers; brothers Einar and Jamex de la Torre, both sculptors specializing in glass; Sarah Jaeger, a ceramist; Pilchuck Glass School; Penland School of Craft; Mississippi Cultural Crossroads, an arts center and home to the Crossroads Quilters; and Hystercine Rankin, a late quilter and accomplished member of the Crossroads Quilters.

I didn't make it through the segment on the Penland Schoool of Craft, before I googled it to see how long I would have to go without food, water, and electricity to afford to attend. Unfortunately, I would be dead long before I had the money, but less broke people will find it affordable, I think. That place looks amazing, as does the Pilchuck Glass School. I think this episode may have been my favorite, which is odd, because I am a hermit by nature. The story of the report Ken Loeber and his family received from the crafting community after he had a stroke, was just as moving as the racial tensions faced and soothed by the Crossroads Quilters. If you are at all interested in this series, and a sucker for a tales of family, love, community, and place, this is the episode to watch.

Episode IV Origins

The first episode of Season Two is the least structured around its topic. I had to look up the title, and  intended focus. After doing that, I can see how each artist fits in, but I'm watching the episode again, because it didn't have my full attention the first go round. Parts of this episode were very good, but it also contained some of my least favorite parts of the series.

The featured artists include Philip Simmons, a late, renowned blacksmith; Mark Hewitt, a potter; Vernon, Pam, and Travis Owens, a family of potters; Jugtown Pottery; Terri Greaves, a beadwork artist following in the Kiowa tradition; Jim Bassler, a weaver; and Paul J. Stankard, a glass artist.

Overall, this was my least favorite episode, but I learned from an enjoyed it. The segments on pottery and Phillip Simmons were enthralling. And, I came to adore Paul J. Stankard in the few minutes he was on camera.

Episode V Process

This episode is supposed to be about the things that compel people to become artisans. That is very evident, but it also about all of the reasons not to be an artisan, and about artists as students. Process is less in reference to the process of creating an object, and more in reference to the evolution of a person.

The artists featured include Dave and Roberta Williamson, jewelers and teachers; Kansas City Art Institute; Cary Esser, ceramic artist and professor; Nikki Lewis, ceramic artist; Tom Killion, a wood and linoleum block printmaker; Julie Chen, a book artist; the 92nd St Y; North Bennet Street School.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the 92nd St Y and the violins made at the North Bennet Street School. The violin class is a three year course of study! Seeing artisans speak about the realistic challenges of doing art or craft in the modern world, was important. I think we all get caught up in the visceral pleasure and need to create, that expectations are unrealistic. But, the really important part, is that these people are realistic about it, but still pursuing their craft, and teaching it to others.

I've thoroughly enjoyed the series thus-far, and will wait for more episodes, while re-watching these five.  I hope my over-analysis will help you decide if you are interested in this series, and which episodes you may enjoy the most.

No comments:

Post a Comment