Articles

Craft in America: PROCESS episode


Coming up on Craft In America… It was one of those epiphanies, you can make
things that are wonderful. You start with a chunk of wood, you end up
with a violin. I mean, it’s almost like magic. This kind of activity, pressing the tiles,
helps me think about what it is that I want to do. You really don’t know what it’s going
to turn out like. That is the great joy of printmaking. There’s something about the inspiration you
get in your early teens through your early twenties that is probably going to be the
most important inspiration in your artistic life. I was just really young, and I had to kinda
figure out how to be an artist, which means that you’re an artist all the time. You’re not an artist from 9 to 5. (Thinking of texture…) We ask students to be very aware of what it
is in the world that gives them the impulse to make. The reason why I want to make violins is because
I was tired of making things that people didn’t appreciate. Most of these kids are receptive. They’re like sponges, and that’s when I like
to get them, when they’re spongy. Always creative, always wanting to work, work,
work, work. There may be an opportunity here for a real
resurgence in craft. There is a great difference between leaving
work at the end of the day having made something, and leaving work having returned any number
of phone calls. It’s a very special process to teach someone
to make jewelry and then have them walk out the door and wear it. It’s a thrill. My brain kept handing me these ideas. So well now, let’s do this. And so well now, we don’t have that machine
anymore. I’m always talking to my brain in the third
person. My brain would say, okay, well how ’bout this? So it turned out that I had to get the laser
cutter because I couldn’t go back. Culture doesn’t really beg people to pursue
a career in the arts. People don’t just come barreling into your
studio to find out what you’re doing, you have to let people know what you’re doing. The found object is really important to our
work. It’s telling a part of our story. You know that will at least get us started
in thinking about how this moth is going to relate to the way that it will be worn, and
how we would see it to … When we begin thinking about a piece, Dave
and I see things almost identically. We’re layering and layering and layering. It’s like a dance, really, of our hands as
we manipulate the vocabulary that we use. The part that I love so much is when we take
our found object, like this beautiful antique moth, and then we set it into the position,
and it’s like, oh, that’s it. The found objects that we collect not only are
bottle caps and little mementos that humans have created, but nature offers the most bountiful
collection. The stones we find, even the littlest tiny
seedpod may be part of a piece, and eventually they’ll find their way into one of our pieces. We don’t bring anything into our archive here
unless there’s a relationship we’ve formed with it, so that we know it will connect to
someone else. When someone looks at a piece, they may say,
oh, that’s the little charm my mother had on her charm bracelet. There is a connection there. It takes someone back to a memory. It opens up a wonderful dialog and a wonderful
connection we feel with that person that we facilitated that. Here’s some more cyclamen. It’s such a perfect heart. Yeah. Isn’t that amazing? My epiphany happened when I was very young. I was born in the Pilsen area of Chicago. Where we grew up there wasn’t even grass. There was nothing, I mean, I would go outside
and we would just sit on the steps and that was our play area. And as a little girl, there weren’t any insects. There wasn’t the smell. One day it changed because my dad surprised
us. And he had built a house out in the suburbs,
and I heard birds for the first time. I had never experienced that. So that’s why I get so emotional talking about
it, ’cause I, it brings back that day for me that was so beautiful. And in that moment it opened up my spirit. I just began to draw with the twigs and the
insects and little miniature dolls. And that was the moment I think I became an
artist. It was so fortunate for me that Roberta and
I met when we were freshmen and we were eighteen. (18 years old.) Yeah, eighteen. I was so naive that I would go past the pottery
studio at the university, and I thought it was an archaeology lab. I said, looks like you can go out and dig
these pieces of pottery up. And she said, no, this is a ceramics class
where the students are making these things. And I thought, no way. We signed up for the class the next semester
together. She kind of led me along and it was one of
those epiphanies that you can make things that are wonderful. It just opened my eyes to a world I didn’t
know existed. With our students, we’re always talking about
having integrity in the ideas that you want to manifest in the work. Each of us have a story that is really important
to tell. Our stories are all different, but it’s all
the same message really, because we’re all so connected. These students are at a place that we’re beginning
to open the door. My grandmother lived in Ukraine in the ’30s
and through the war, and she walked through a number of countries to get out, and one
of the places that they ended up staying when they were traveling was an old bombed-out
barn. And the only thing that was there was this
old icon. And so she carried this with her all her life,
and it was always in her room. Is this the icon? This is the icon. Oh my gosh, what a treasure. They’re going to go home. They’re going to begin thinking about the
things we talked about and feeling a real bond with the other students. That’s where a lot of growth will happen. It’s when you can’t fall asleep at night,
you’re thinking of that story maybe fifty times at night and in your head you begin
forming what you’re going to do. You know, that’s not bad. I think that’s doable. Our workbench is a big table, and there’s
some things that Roberta likes to do more than me. We’ve found our own niche. Dave’s the master solderer. He loves that process. It’s really difficult to get a career going
as a craftsman or as an artist, especially in times that we’re living right now. We market our work by attending three or four
retail craft shows around the country. The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show,
Smithsonian craft shows in Washington, D.C., the American Craft Exposition in Evanston,
Illinois. And there’s just a couple fine craft galleries
that we’ve had a long relationship with. And then there’s some commission work. We do wedding rings for people, brooches,
necklaces. We like to say that it’s the two personalities,
but there’s the third person that’s the blend that is the one that really creates the work. When you take a look at how many people come
through the doors here every day, it’s really quite extraordinary. The 92nd Street Y reaches about 300,000 people
a year. In the School of the Arts, we offer more than
1,500 classes a year. I have determined that the prong is 1.5 millimeters
long, so I take 1.5 millimeter into the caliper, and from there into the divider. This particular ring that this workshop is
on is called a Tiffany ring. It’s a four-prong setting. This is a sample that shows you how the prong,
after it’s soldered together, how it’s inserted into the ring shank. It’s a very technical assignment, but that’s
what the students here are very interested in. Klaus Bürgel, was trained at the Academy
in Munich, which is a tremendous school and produces amazing artists. He teaches six classes for us. His ability to create objects of specific
quality, specific control, stone setting, his technique is flawless. (You make your first mark…) With this group, it’s a very serious group
of students. They heard about the 92nd Street Y, they heard
about the great program, and so that made them come. They are interlocking. It’s like a key mechanism. The essence of silversmithing is to take an
unformed piece of metal and transforming it into useful object using proper tools and
techniques. Han Beak originally trained in Korea. Han is a dramatically able silversmith. He is one of the primary silversmiths for
Tiffany. When you go and you see a big silver fabricated
Tiffany something or other, it’s very likely that Han had his hand in making this old school
silversmith raised object. The arts really began at the Y in earnest
right at the very beginning of the Great Depression in 1930 with the establishment of this building
that we’re in now. One of the first things we did was to offer
art classes and in particular, we offered craft classes. (Here you go, excellent.) This class is for jewelry metalsmithing. They come in, they start learning all the
processes. Today’s project, it’s a thumb piano, so they’re
doing a little instrument. And the more advanced kids end up doing more
individualized projects. New York is one of the most important cultural
centers in America, and obviously artists are attracted to come here. It is a personal choice. Some prefer to live in a rural area because
of the nature. Others like to be in the center of all of
the energy and benefit from all the stimulation that’s here. But over the years there’ve been a number
of important artists who have resided here. Some have come to have association with schools,
including the 92nd Street Y, the Greenwich House Pottery, Hunter, New York University,
so the studio craft movement is integrated with New York itself and its vast array of
activity. I’m a lawyer here on Wall Street. After work I go to the 92nd Street Y, and
make things that relieve the stress of my world. And I like to make a lot of pots that are
not perfect, because being a lawyer everything’s about perfection. Ceramics allows me to be creative in a way
that I can’t do in my, my regular nine to five world. This is a piece, crunched up all together
and then glazed it. When we fire it, this is going to have to
be bare of any glaze. Yes. Right? Yes. I came to the Y after having taught at the
university level for about twenty years, and about five or six years ago I noticed that
there was a schism that was taking place between what the ceramic community was doing and how
culture was developing. Unfortunately the university ironically seemed
to be a kind of inert place, so an opportunity came to work at the 92nd Street Y. Coming up on Craft In America… It was one of those epiphanies, you can make
things that are wonderful. You start with a chunk of wood, you end up
with a violin. I mean, it’s almost like magic. This kind of activity, pressing the tiles,
helps me think about what it is that I want to do. You really don’t know what it’s going
to turn out like. That is the great joy of printmaking. There’s something about the inspiration you
get in your early teens through your early twenties that is probably going to be the
most important inspiration in your artistic life. I was just really young, and I had to kinda
figure out how to be an artist, which means that you’re an artist all the time. You’re
not an artist from 9 to 5. (Thinking of texture…) We ask students to
be very aware of what it is in the world that gives them the impulse to make. The reason why I want to make violins is because
I was tired of making things that people didn’t appreciate. Most of these kids are receptive. They’re
like sponges, and that’s when I like to get them, when they’re spongy. Always creative,
always wanting to work, work, work, work. There may be an opportunity here for a real
resurgence in craft. There is a great difference between leaving work at the end of the day
having made something, and leaving work having returned any number of phone calls. It’s a very special process to teach someone
to make jewelry and then have them walk out the door and wear it. It’s a thrill. My brain kept handing me these ideas. So well
now, let’s do this. And so well now, we don’t have that machine anymore. I’m always talking
to my brain in the third person. My brain would say, okay, well how ’bout this? So it
turned out that I had to get the laser cutter because I couldn’t go back. Culture doesn’t really beg people to pursue
a career in the arts. People don’t just come barreling into your studio to find out what
you’re doing, you have to let people know what you’re doing. The found object is really important to our
work. It’s telling a part of our story. You know that will at least get us started
in thinking about how this moth is going to relate to the way that it will be worn, and
how we would see it to … When we begin thinking about a piece, Dave
and I see things almost identically. We’re layering and layering and layering. It’s like
a dance, really, of our hands as we manipulate the vocabulary that we use. The part that
I love so much is when we take our found object, like this beautiful antique moth, and then
we set it into the position, and it’s like, oh, that’s it. The found objects that we collect not only
are bottle caps and little mementos that humans have created, but nature offers the most bountiful
collection. The stones we find, even the littlest tiny seedpod may be part of a piece, and eventually
they’ll find their way into one of our pieces. We don’t bring anything into our archive here
unless there’s a relationship we’ve formed with it, so that we know it will connect to
someone else. When someone looks at a piece, they may say, oh, that’s the little charm
my mother had on her charm bracelet. There is a connection there. It takes someone back
to a memory. It opens up a wonderful dialog and a wonderful connection we feel with that
person that we facilitated that. Here’s some more cyclamen. It’s such a perfect heart. Yeah. Isn’t that amazing? My epiphany happened when I was very young.
I was born in the Pilsen area of Chicago. Where we grew up there wasn’t even grass.
There was nothing, I mean, I would go outside and we would just sit on the steps and that
was our play area. And as a little girl, there weren’t any insects. There wasn’t the smell.
One day it changed because my dad surprised us. And he had built a house out in the suburbs,
and I heard birds for the first time. I had never experienced that. So that’s why I get
so emotional talking about it, ’cause I, it brings back that day for me that was so beautiful. And in that moment it opened up my spirit.
I just began to draw with the twigs and the insects and little miniature dolls. And that
was the moment I think I became an artist. It was so fortunate for me that Roberta and
I met when we were freshmen and we were eighteen. (18 years old.) Yeah, eighteen. I was so naive
that I would go past the pottery studio at the university, and I thought it was an archaeology
lab. I said, looks like you can go out and dig these pieces of pottery up. And she said,
no, this is a ceramics class where the students are making these things. And I thought, no
way. We signed up for the class the next semester together. She kind of led me along and it
was one of those epiphanies that you can make things that are wonderful. It just opened
my eyes to a world I didn’t know existed. With our students, we’re always talking about
having integrity in the ideas that you want to manifest in the work. Each of us have a story that is really important
to tell. Our stories are all different, but it’s all the same message really, because
we’re all so connected. These students are at a place that we’re beginning
to open the door. My grandmother lived in Ukraine in the ’30s
and through the war, and she walked through a number of countries to get out, and one
of the places that they ended up staying when they were traveling was an old bombed-out
barn. And the only thing that was there was this old icon. And so she carried this with
her all her life, and it was always in her room. Is this the icon? This is the icon. Oh my gosh, what a treasure. They’re going to go home. They’re going to
begin thinking about the things we talked about and feeling a real bond with the other
students. That’s where a lot of growth will happen. It’s when you can’t fall asleep at
night, you’re thinking of that story maybe fifty times at night and in your head you
begin forming what you’re going to do. You know, that’s not bad. I think that’s doable. Our workbench is a big table, and there’s
some things that Roberta likes to do more than me. We’ve found our own niche. Dave’s the master solderer. He loves that
process. It’s really difficult to get a career going
as a craftsman or as an artist, especially in times that we’re living right now. We market our work by attending three or four
retail craft shows around the country. The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, Smithsonian
craft shows in Washington, D.C., the American Craft Exposition in Evanston, Illinois. And
there’s just a couple fine craft galleries that we’ve had a long relationship with. And then there’s some commission work. We
do wedding rings for people, brooches, necklaces. We like to say that it’s the two personalities,
but there’s the third person that’s the blend that is the one that really creates the work. When you take a look at how many people come
through the doors here every day, it’s really quite extraordinary. The 92nd Street Y reaches about 300,000 people
a year. In the School of the Arts, we offer more than
1,500 classes a year. I have determined that the prong is 1.5 millimeters
long, so I take 1.5 millimeter into the caliper, and from there into the divider. This particular ring that this workshop is
on is called a Tiffany ring. It’s a four-prong setting. This is a sample that shows you how
the prong, after it’s soldered together, how it’s inserted into the ring shank. It’s a
very technical assignment, but that’s what the students here are very interested in. Klaus Bürgel, was trained at the Academy
in Munich, which is a tremendous school and produces amazing artists. He teaches six classes
for us. His ability to create objects of specific quality, specific control, stone setting,
his technique is flawless. (You make your first mark…) With this group,
it’s a very serious group of students. They heard about the 92nd Street Y, they heard
about the great program, and so that made them come. They are interlocking. It’s like a key mechanism. The essence of silversmithing is to take an
unformed piece of metal and transforming it into useful object using proper tools and
techniques. Han Beak originally trained in Korea. Han
is a dramatically able silversmith. He is one of the primary silversmiths for Tiffany. When you go and you see a big silver fabricated
Tiffany something or other, it’s very likely that Han had his hand in making this old school
silversmith raised object. The arts really began at the Y in earnest
right at the very beginning of the Great Depression in 1930 with the establishment of this building
that we’re in now. One of the first things we did was to offer art classes and in particular,
we offered craft classes. (Here you go, excellent.) This class is for jewelry metalsmithing. They
come in, they start learning all the processes. Today’s project, it’s a thumb piano, so they’re
doing a little instrument. And the more advanced kids end up doing more individualized projects. New York is one of the most important cultural
centers in America, and obviously artists are attracted to come here. It is a personal
choice. Some prefer to live in a rural area because of the nature. Others like to be in
the center of all of the energy and benefit from all the stimulation that’s here. But
over the years there’ve been a number of important artists who have resided here. Some have come
to have association with schools, including the 92nd Street Y, the Greenwich House Pottery,
Hunter, New York University, so the studio craft movement is integrated with New York
itself and its vast array of activity. I’m a lawyer here on Wall Street. After work
I go to the 92nd Street Y, and make things that relieve the stress of my world. And I
like to make a lot of pots that are not perfect, because being a lawyer everything’s about
perfection. Ceramics allows me to be creative in a way that I can’t do in my, my regular
nine to five world. This is a piece, crunched up all together
and then glazed it. When we fire it, this is going to have to
be bare of any glaze. Yes. Right? Yes. I came to the Y after having taught at the
university level for about twenty years, and about five or six years ago I noticed that
there was a schism that was taking place between what the ceramic community was doing and how
culture was developing. Unfortunately the university ironically seemed to be a kind
of inert place, so an opportunity came to work at the 92nd Street Y. The Y I felt was
able to be more responsive to these ideas that I had. We’re fee based. We have to make
sure that the programming is relevant. The moment I discovered that I really liked
silversmithing was when I finished my first spiculum shape, which is sort of a conal shape
that tapers at one end. Denard had a career as a dancer, and through
his life collected objects of silver. He started here as a ranked beginner and found this spiculum
the object of his obsession, and has now progressed to put his line together based on these forms. I’m from a farm, and the shape of the spiculum
reminds me of some of the tools that my grandfather used, particularly an oil can or a funnel
that he would use to pour the gas in the tractor. I think there is a continuum. Making things
by hand is as old as civilization. It’s certainly alive and well today. And it’s my belief it
will continue. It may even be more important as our world becomes more dehumanized to do
something that is a choice of making something with pride and passion, and then sharing it
with others and I think that kind of underlying instinct is something that’s central to what
craft is all about. Here we are on Bolinas Ridge. It drops off
almost 2,000 feet to the Pacific Ocean. I was born and raised right near here, just
on the other side of this mountain. It’s always these interfaces, these transition points
that are so beautiful in the natural world. The way I start working on a print is, I have
thousands of sketches. I go out and sketch all the time. I go hiking, a lot of the sketches
I do are from the places I go backpacking. To build the layers of a landscape print,
you need to figure out how to break the distance up into these different planes, and then build
the layers up. And that’s what the lines of my sketches do. They show the different layers
as I see them, so that I can build that up. I put in notes about color, about background,
because you can’t put in all the levels of detail that eventually will be in the print. Now this is a topo map of the Marble Mountains
up in the wilds of northern California. I was up right around here, gathering firewood
one day, and I came across this view of Mount Shasta through a little ravine, and it was
just awesome the way the mountains stuck up there. So I did this sketch on the back of
a topo map. All my life I’d spent a lot of time with the
prints of Hokusai and particularly his 36 views of Mount Fuji. That was one of my great
inspirations since I was a child for doing woodcut prints of landscape. And this view
had the elements of several of my favorite of Hokusai’s prints in it. One was this print
of his of pilgrims measuring sort of the Japanese equivalent of the giant Sequoia. This is a
faded, old print of it I had up on my wall at the time. And then the other is that wonderful
Red Fuji, which is one of Hokusai’s two or three most famous prints. And this is the
print I finally made from it. I’ve started to get to the point where I’m almost painting
with the wood, but it’s not immediate. It’s a very delayed gratification sort of painting.
There’s always this surprise that comes, because everything is carved. There’s so much work
before you actually get the color onto the page that you really don’t know what it’s
going to turn out like. That is the great joy of printmaking. It kind of takes part
of the construction of the image out of your hands and puts it out into this magical space. This California landscape, it’s really a landscape
that appeals to someone who has what my good friend diagnosed as topophilia. He figured
out my disease and he gave it a name, and I think I have it, which is a sort of a love
of the landscape. Well the way I got started making Japanese-style
woodcut prints that look something like Hokusai was – when I was a child, I grew up on the
slopes of Mount Tamalpais. One side is the San Francisco Bay, the other side is the Pacific
Ocean, and it’s quite a place, this mountain. And I wanted to make pictures of it that were
something like those wonderful pictures that Hokusai had done in his series, 36 views of
Mount Fuji. I didn’t realize that Hokusai hadn’t done
the block carving himself. It was a whole group of craftsmen that produced those incredible
prints from the 1820s and 1830s, the ukiyo-e style woodblock prints. But I did know that
it was about a series, about a place, and the first place I wanted to do a series, of
course, was this mountain. And I started in on it when I was still in high school. And
by the time I had finished college, I had enough of them to make a book, which I called
28 Views of Mount Tamalpais. I, I hadn’t quite gotten to 36. I wanted to get to thirty-six.
I didn’t get there. I never studied art. I just learned how to print on a printing press
at UC Santa Cruz, so I could make this book. Some of the prints in this book went way back
to my teenage years. This is one of the early prints that I did that I thought really worked.
Mount Tamalpais in the background. And I did want to put in color, but I didn’t know how
to use color yet, so I would hand roll it. So the only color ones in this book were ones
where I could divide the scene into two pretty obvious colors. So here we’ve got the fields
are all yellow and the mountain and the sky are blue. And just a few years later, around the time
I was finishing this book in 1975, I’ve become much more refined in my ability to carve.
All of this carving was done with a single Japanese V-gouge, which I was laboriously
learning how to sharpen at the time. Sharpening is one of the most important parts of this.
So this book I finished in 1975, and I don’t think I would ever have made this book, and
probably never have become a printmaker if I hadn’t been hit by a car turning left without
signaling on my bicycle as I was coming down a steep hill one day, and had to spend four
months in a full leg cast. And, and therefore I couldn’t go out surfing and bike riding
and playing with my friends and I was forced to, to do something productive, and this is
what I ended up doing was this book. The first step in making a print out of this
sketch from up on Bolinas Ridge is to transition this sketch onto what becomes the key block,
and that’s the basis for creating a multi-colored print. So I take a piece of tracing paper
and I go over the back of all the lines of the sketch on the tracing paper in a very
soft pencil. And I turn it upside down on a uncut block. So before this block was cut,
it was just a big, flat surface. And I went over the back with a ballpoint pen. And then
I go to the carving. Once I get the key block carved, it has all the information from the
sketch on it. It works like the template for the print. I take the key block and print it onto Mylar
sheets and I turn it over and I rub it, and I get the whole image transferred onto as
many blocks as I’m going to need for the different colors of the print. Then the key block becomes
the very last darkest color and it’s this black that really gives the image a lot of
power. I really use some of that possibility of the
dark blacks and that strong coloration to give the print a lot of power, and to give
it a little more oomph, I would say. So now I am going to try to get this block
registered so that it’s going to hit the right place along with all the other colors on,
on the print. And the way that I do that, I have made a whole stack of registration
proofs. I run these through the press, and then I move the block a little bit if I need
to, and it’s a process of trial and error ’til I get it to hit exactly in the right
place. And I’m going to put some ink onto the plate. Okay, it seems to be inking nicely.
Let’s see what happens. Oh, way off! Now this is a good example of, see how far off that
is? That distance is how much I need to move the block over in the bed of the press. I got into making money at art when I was
really young. I was very fortunate to grow up in a town that appreciated art, and I always
had around me the inspiration of people that did art and some of them sold it. When I was
a teenager I would take some of my pen and ink drawings down to the little outdoor art
fair a couple block from my house in Mill Valley, and I would sell them to people for
ten, twenty-five dollars. I always got as many people as possible that were interested
in my work to give me their mailing addresses, and I have assiduously cultivated a mailing
list that has grown and grown and grown, and anybody that’s interested in trying to make
a living at art, I suggest that they don’t rely on galleries to take care of all that. Okay. This was it before we had the second
layer of green on, and here it is with the second layer of green. So now, the final layer of black. Here it
comes. Oh, look at that. That looks good. Voila! That’s it. Kansas City has several examples of beautiful
art deco terra cotta. The bright colors are all ceramic glazes on clay that’s been carved,
and then glazed with these pinks and yellows and blues and purples and oranges. In addition,
the beige color blocks are also made out of clay to simulate stone, and that was very
common in the early part of the Twentieth Century. And it really took me a while to
understand that it was clay. I always thought it was painted stone. I was really important
to me in my development as an artist because suddenly a whole new world of possibilities
in ceramics was opened to me. They have one scene on one side, and another
scene on the other side that’s completely different but there’s some sort of relationship
in his mind conceptually. Now I know that you’re talking about this
whole idea of the metaphor of the bull in the china shop, and so is he actually going
to be kind of sitting on a, a dining room table? The Kansas City Art Institute is coming up
to its 125th anniversary in 2010. It was really when Ken Ferguson came to the Kansas City
Art Institute that ceramics became its own department. From 1971 until 1996, Ken, George
and Victor were the three professors in the department. And the three of them built a
really, really important and wonderful department. There was a nice cross, you know, kind of
a, a mix, you know, of information pouring into the department. The students, I think,
ended up, along with the faculty, in some kind of a soup to which flavors were being
added to every time and it got richer and richer and more complex. They were artists
and they were here to find out why. I’ve been here for a fair amount of years.
I think I’m starting my 37th year here. I am here, my colleagues are here for the students
because they’re damn interesting kids. You’re always going to be mating these pieces
together in this case. It’s a wonderful opportunity to take a student
through process, but at the same time they have to have some sort of intellectual connection,
passion, and they have to be able to take things farther. I mean, you know, I’m going to challenge you,
though, really to stick with that. Okay. So you got an idea, but it’s complex. I don’t
want you to walk away from that, ’cause I think it can work both ways. You’re a sharp
enough guy you can cut it. Okay. This little guy was actually found in a tomb
in Egypt, and he was left in there. It was one of the workers presumably that, you know,
they locked them in and so they, you know, perished there in the tomb. A lot of times, especially when you’re first
working with clay, things will look really beautiful in the green state and then you
fire them and they’re less exciting. This is exciting because I think it’s more beautiful
in the fired state. I’ve enjoyed working with Barrett. She has
been very affected by death of family members, and she’s trying to understand the mystery
of death through what happens to the remains to our bodies. I’m going to be doing three of these larger
figures, eventually moving to life size. I think it’ll be more powerful, the larger that
we, that we go. But what’s interesting to me is the way it
seems to be now is like a small animal, you know, like a raccoon or a possum or something
like that. I mean, the Egyptians even mummified their
pets, so I thought about going that route as well. Really? I didn’t know they mummified their
pets. Yeah, yeah they mummified their pets a lot
of times. Maybe I’ll do that with my cat. [LAUGHS] I’m kind of setting up an interior structure
for my plaster to kind of flow on. It is a constant challenge to balance teaching
and working in the studio. But what I try to do is just get down here and what I find
is that, even if I’m tired, if I start working, then the clay revitalizes me. This kind of activity, pressing the tiles,
is a very good meditative kind of activity that helps me think about what it is that
I want to do. This work goes into these pieces that are like large, I call them honeycomb
mosaics and they go together in these horizontal kind of compositions. I want people to be
enticed to touch them and to want to move them around. I want them to be extremely luscious
and very sensual and that seems to draw my audience to the pieces. I do love the tiny detail and the precious
and the things like that. And then I also just like to bang out a bunch of pieces as
well, so I kind of have a split personality in that way. Nikki Lewis was a student of mine and George
Timock and Victor Babu. You could tell when Nikki was a student that she was going to
be one of the people that would go on and continue to work with clay. When I came here, I didn’t know what was expected
of me, and then slowly I really learned I guess how to be an artist, which means that
you’re an artist all the time. You’re not an artist from nine to five. We are in the Ken Ferguson teaching collection
room with cabinets full of the collection that Kansas City has collected over nearly
sixty years of being the epicenter of ceramics in our country. This is an incredible, incredible bowl by
an artist named Jim Makins. We would stare at this piece for hours. The fineness and
thinness of the way that this was thrown, and the beauty of the lip. I love to touch
it, I love to feel my fingers in the throwing lines that his fingers made when he was here. There’s two pitchers in this cabinet that
are made by a woman in Iowa named Clary Illian. They are so beautiful. She’s thrown it so
thin, yet it feels incredibly study. I could carry it like this and be completely confident
that I wouldn’t drop it. Her skill is so, so profound. And just the simplest decoration.
Just black and white hugging each other. It’s just that beautiful little dance of the glaze
there. Thinking of texture, I see some really nice
stitching going on. Can you, can you tell me what’s going on? The stitching symbolizes recovery process.
Soldiers get injured and tend to have stitches. Yeah. Paul has a real political bent to his work
and his thinking. The assignment was to find an object in the museum to work off of, and
he is working with Saint Michael expelling the rebel angels, and connecting that to the
American military in Iraq. When something is stitched, there’s a tension,
there’s a pulling. Okay. Okay? And I don’t feel that here. To be honest,
compared to the way that I’ve seen you like really handle clay, it seems a little bit
on the timid side. Okay. And I don’t want to suggest exactly where
for you to take it, ’cause I want you to think about that for yourself, but, but that’s something
that I think can be much more powerful in this piece. When someone has a strong reaction against
it, are you going to be, you know, ready to, to talk to them? Sure, why not, you know? Yeah, I mean, that’s like how you’re going
to … That’s what I’m trying, like, I’m trying to
put it out there so that people could see it. Okay. All right. What we have here are smaller
examples of the larger piece that I was working on. So this is the object. You can kind of
see through the piece, and then it just kinda sits flush back onto the wall. When you are done with school, you are sort
of plopped down into the art world, and you’re told to sort of figure it out. In my case,
I looked in the Yellow Pages. I, I once, I called up every ceramic studio in the city.
But my other piece of advice to somebody who’s doing this is to try and have fun, you know,
while you’re, while you’re making stuff, because what’s the point of being an artist unless
you’re going to have a good time? Culture doesn’t really beg people to pursue
a career in the arts. I think you just decide every single day, you know, when you wake
up, you just decide you’re going to do it. Because there’s so many reasons not to do
it. Every time that you go into the studio and you make something, every hour that you
spend there is what keeps you moving onto the next hour. I’m putting together a part of a pop-up that
goes in my most recent book, Panorama, and the pop-up is made up of four layers, and
then the four layers go into a page, and everything just gets threaded together, so there’s very
little adhesive holding it all together. Panorama, the theme of the book was climate
change. When I started the project it was because I felt personally that I was really
avoiding learning about climate change. Not as an artist but just as a person. There are three folded sections in the book.
They are always surrounded by these panoramic photographic images. My work doesn’t tend
to be political in nature, but in this case the topic seemed so important to me as an
individual that I felt that I would explore it and see what happened. And then the next page spread will be a pop-up. I ended up discovering that in fact the issue
of climate change was even scarier than I had anticipated. So I tried to alternate between
facts about where we are today with meditations on the beauty of the planet. Even if we’re
in the middle of big environmental challenges, we can still appreciate the world we live
in. And then the next section again will be a
pop-up, which would give you a little break from the text and have a little bit more of
a, a visual experience. And now we’re coming to the ending of the
piece. An artist book is really a book that is made
by an artist with the intention that the book itself is the work of art. This is a book called True To Life. You open
the box, the book itself is this tablet with panels, and you read the text and then you
slide up every panel. I did my training at Mills College. And we
did really study beautiful letterpress printing, literary text, beautiful wood block illustrations,
all put together to make a very luxurious, very beautiful product. I think I felt a little bit intimidated by
coming up against the whole tradition of, of fine press, about using my own content,
so I would labor over, you know, is, is my writing up to standard, is, is the illustration
good enough to be in a book? And it took me years to realize that I could take what I
needed from that tradition, but then go out and take it to perhaps a place that no one
else was taking it. Time and memory are always moving, always
changing. It is the mind which insists on sometimes staying in one place. Life must
be interpreted while it is being lived. I produce one book a year, and I spend maybe
three or four months every year thinking about that book, starting to design that book and
then printing the pieces. Then we spend years putting the rest of the edition together for
sale. Why don’t you go ahead and put the, the text
scripts on that piece. On the world? Yeah, and I’ll trim this. I feel like sometimes I have a committee of
voices in my head for running my business. And it is a business, because I am printing
a hundred copies of every piece, and then we put them together and sell them to libraries
and collectors. I’m not an artist who starts with an idea
that’s very clear, that I’m going to make a book about climate change and it’s going
to have X, Y and Z. I think that I do, but very quickly it becomes clear that it’s not
going to go the way I think it’s going to go. And I have to constantly adjust. So this is the project I’m working on now,
and this is a mockup of the project, so I’m trying out different designs on my computer
in preparation for doing it letterpress. You have an ongoing text that you read throughout
the piece. The text starts out with the phrase: this is a test. You will not be given any
assistance or instructions on how to proceed. I wanted to find a technical language that
would be very hard for most people to decipher. The obvious choice was math, because math
has always been a very difficult thing for me. So I had to get some help. This was a
collaborative process with a couple of friends of mine who are really into math and very
good at math. I told them what I needed, which was mathematical equations that had a lot
of really interesting data embedded in them, but that most people would not be able to
decipher. My work is really rooted in the physical object,
so I’m using those traditional book arts techniques to develop an object that is beautiful on
some level, but it also has to have a lot of meaning. Everything that goes into the
piece should contribute to the meaning of the piece. When I first started, I spent about five years
producing editions, going to book fairs, showing the work to librarians, but it really took
about five to seven years before the press started to turn any kind of profit. Trying
to make a living with your work is a double-edged sword. Make sure that you’re doing the work
you want to do before you think about how you’re going to make a living doing it. North Bennet Street School has eight programs.
In a way we’re a university of craft, because we’re bringing together so many disparate
elements that have, as a connecting tissue, hand skills and the importance of the hand. Cabinet and furniture making is a two-year
program where students are given programs of increasing complexity and introduced to
tools as they go. When they leave here they can make any piece of furniture they want.
There’s nothing they can’t do. We’ve been here for 125 years, but not as
long as our neighbor, Old North Church. If you look out that window you’ll see the one-if-by-land
and two-if-by-sea church. It is the church that triggered Paul Revere’s ride to save
the colonial army. Boston in the middle of the 19th century was
the destination for hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming from Europe. And it was
characterized really by poverty, by unemployment, and by crime. So a large number of social
service programs were initiated. North Bennet Street School started in 1885
when its founder, Pauline Agassiz Shaw, rented the building that we’re in to house a number
of social service programs. What you want to do is tighten this one up. Okay. Tighten this up, tighten this up, and then
you know where to make the knot and then pull it inside and it’ll kind of like, yeah. Bookbinding is a program that has experienced
a tremendous growth in the last ten years. We are so used to thinking that we’re entering
a paperless world, and with all of the technology, books are going to be irrelevant. Well, I
guess not, because the waiting list to get into bookbinding has never been longer. Locksmithing is one of my favorite programs
here at North Bennet Street School. Locksmithing trains our students in the repair and maintenance
and installation of locks. We do focus on historic locks. Here on the bench we have three 17th-century
antique locks. This came from the Charles Street jail. And as you can see, the locksmith
that created this lock, the only reason for these heart-shaped cutouts is really for the
pride that the locksmith that built this had in what he was doing. This would only be seen
by another locksmith. Yeah, A4 is still a little sharp. Piano technology is a program that lasts two
years. The first year really focuses on tuning and also the repair of pianos, anything that
can be done within a person’s home. The second year focuses on comprehensive restoration
and rebuilding of pianos. We take the entire piano apart, saving only the case and the
casting. So if you stay for the second year, you’re able to basically build a piano. This one for me has slightly more, there’s
a little bit of a gap here. Yeah. Just remove some material, so when we clamp
it, it will fit more snug. Violin making and repair is the only three-year
program we have here at North Bennet Street School. So the curve would be fitting better. They start from scratch with no required skills.
The first several weeks is just about tools, sharpening tools and the materials that are
used in violin making. I am gouging out the channel on my cello plate,
so that I can get ready for purfling. Purfling is the white and black inlay that goes around
the edge. It’s kind of a decorative feature, but it also helps if the instrument were to
get a crack that started on the edge, the crack would stop at the inlay and not go into
the instrument. During the course of the three years, they
make six violins, a viola and a cello. We don’t teach bow-making. We really stick to
violins, violas and cellos and similar stringed instruments. We have scans of the actual molds that Stradivari
used. In different points of his life he used different molds. So this, this particular
mold is one of the larger of the Stradivari molds that he used. And it’s actually the
exact same size, and we will actually take a, a finished measurement of the back plate,
which is a standard way to measure a violin. And we try to get it to within usually a tenth
of a millimeter as to what Stradivari had. It has great sound. All the ratios and, you
know, and proportions are, are very classical, very, they’re really good. I’m preparing purfling to fit the C-bout of
my viola. You just use a small amount of moisture, and I’m using a bending iron, bending the
purfling to the shape of the C-bout. You can see the one I did from a little bit earlier.
I did this C-bout and the lower bout here. Growing up, my father owned a violin rental
shop. When I was fourteen I started working for him in his shop in the summers and school
breaks. I ended up deciding to go into music, and I got my Bachelor’s of Music in piano.
In the meantime, my dad passed away and I inherited the shop. At first I wasn’t sure
if I was going to keep it or not, and I held onto it until I graduated school, and then
I took some repair courses, and it was amazing. I fell in love with it. The shop’s still open
in New Jersey. Hopefully I’ll be able to make a go of it after I finish school here. Modern violin making is really very good,
but there is still a prejudice in the playing community that you can’t get any better than
the old instruments. Part of why players like old instruments is because the instruments
have history, and especially the great instruments, like a player can say, well, it went to this
virtuoso and it went to that virtuoso and now I get to play it. And so I think that
players probably really like the ancestry and that they feel connected to the past world
of music if they have a great old instrument. There is some research going on about what
makes instruments good instruments, and there’s a group of people using an MRI machine on
a violin to take a scan, and then they have made movies where you are watching it as the
camera moves through the instrument. You can see the thicknesses of the plates and how
they vary and you can see like when the corners come in and you can see the sound posts and
you can see all of these things. It’s really interesting. You know, the placement of the F-holes is
really important. The size of the F-holes is really important. You can actually take
this, this section here and with the wood that’s cut away, it enables the, the wood
to flex, and this is probably the most important part of the sounding point of the instrument. If they don’t have a background in violin
or stringed instruments, we give them lessons, because we feel that they need to have at
least a rudimentary ability to play the instrument for them to be good makers. In our modern world, people don’t think about
where things come from. People don’t think about how they’re made. People don’t think
about even where their food comes from, and it’s so nice to be able to make something
and, and know that I made it from the beginning to end, and like, this is where it came from
and this is how I got there, and I think there’s a lot of value in that. It gives you a sense
of accomplishment. Violin making for all these little things,
I think you have to be just intuitive, you know, and just kind of take things on, on
the, the way you feel about them. I had no idea how difficult it was before
I started school. You know, you start with a chunk of wood. In the end you end up with
a violin. I mean that’s, that’s amazing! How, how does that work? I mean, it’s almost like
magic.

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