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Craft In America - a journey to the artists origins and techniques of American craft
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origins
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Looking forward while keeping one foot firmly planted in the past characterizes the North Bennet Street School. Founded in 1885, its original mission was to train people for employment in the crafts. Under Pauline Agassiz Shaw, the idea was to enable Boston’s immigrants to adjust to a new country through the skills needed to obtain gainful employment. And while helping new arrivals to America is no longer its criteria for admission, developing craft skills for employment is. Learning and perfecting the processes of cabinetry, violin making, bookbinding, and jewelry making, are just some that have taken their place in the craft catalog. 

While there have been apprenticeships with master craft artists dating back to pre-colonial days, and can still be found today, the main responsibility of inculcating a process esthetic falls to our established schools of craft. Ever since Alfred University opened the doors of its New York State School of Clay-working and Ceramics in 1900, they have been our petri dishes of creativity, providing and sustaining an environment where process and imagination germinate and feed off each other.

Head instructor of Violin making at North Bennet Street School, Roman Barnas, helps his student

Head instructor of Violin making at North Bennet Street School, Roman Barnas, helps his student

Schools, colleges, and universities offering craft programs will be found in remote corners of the least-populated states, and plunked down in the midst of the metropolis. Craft at the Cranbrook Schools start with Grades 1-12 and go through the college years. Rhode Island School of Design – RISD – proudly offers multiple craft curricula alongside architecture industrial design and digital media. In Honolulu, Punahou High School offers its students the only full-blown glass program at that level in America. And you’ll find world-class craft programs at American institutions such as Otis, California College of the Arts, and the School of American Craft at Rochester Institute of Technology. 

Workshops – and places in them – are much in demand every year, in up or down economies. Waiting lists are common for seasonal sessions at Penland, Haystack Mountain, Arrowmont, and Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts, to name but a few. Night schools and Y’s – even informal groups of friends – provide entry-level exposure to the personal satisfaction that can come from engaging in a craft. And provide the first step to a further commitment by young and old. 

One Y in particular that fulfills this mission is located on the upper east side of Manhattan – the 92nd Street Y. Here amateurs, lifelong learners, and even professionals have been studying side by side during afternoons, evenings, and weekends for 75 years. Home for returning soldiers who took advantage of the GI Bill after World War II, the Y’s programs are often a step in process from amateur to full-fledged craft artist under the tutelage of New York’s most accomplished professionals in ceramics and jewelry making.

92nd St Y's Children's shop class, c. 1930

92nd St Y's Children's shop class, c. 1930

And then there are the students of Dave and Roberta Williamson at Baldwin-Wallace College who comfortably straddle the Williamsons’ worlds of memory and process, as they learn fine jewelry making while being cognizant of (and drawing on) objects that recall a personal connection. Field trips to antique stores and flea markets – even personal voyages through items in their own homes from relatives of generations past – reveal remembrances of times past. When combined with the techniques the Williamsons impart, the students are left with a superb knowledge of their craft, coupled with a unique look back into their own lives.

Dave and Roberta Williamson, Brooches, Rachel Gehlhar photo

Dave and Roberta Williamson, Brooches, Rachel Gehlhar photo

Individually and collectively, America is rich with resources that afford an opportunity – be it for four years, six weeks, or a weekend – to learn the ways and whys of craft. Complemented by teachers who convey processes that have stood the test of time and represent new additions to the canons of craft. 


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education

Craft In America Educational Materials look further at Process as a concept in craft. Visit the EDUCATION section HERE > to see what's available and download a Lesson Guide.

tv series

We filmed artist Dave & Roberta Williamson for the PROCESS episode. Learn more about the series HERE >

 

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