Friday, July 8, 2011

Craft in America by PBS

Well, it has been a long time since I have blogged! Since my last post, my journey has brought me to Amherst, Massachusetts. In this first year (we actually arrived to town a year ago today), my primary job as an elementary teacher, has required most of my time. As a result, there hasn't been much time for bookbinding and other creative projects. Now that I am out of school for the summer, I am getting back into bookbinding, paper folding, and working with paints and inks. I have used "screen time" to reclaim some of my inspiration.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have enjoyed watching the PBS series, Craft in America on DVD. It is thought provoking to listen to various artists talk about their craft and their inspiration. While watching this, I find myself more eager to launch into my own work, and to do so with more care and precision. The first DVD in this series has brought a few thoughts to mind.

* As artists create inanimate objects, so much thought, creativity, and the human element goes into the piece. It makes the object feel like so much more than just an item. Of course part of this happens in the way an artist puts so much of themselves in the work. But, it also happens through conversations. As artists talk to other crafters or with people who admire the work, a deeper understanding and connection is formed. I find this to be true when people reflect on my handmade books. Even if they don't buy one of my journals, I appreciate the feedback and conversations that take place around my work. I come to see and understand my work in a different way - through their eyes and their words. I realize the handmade object serves as a thread that binds people together. This is meaningful!

* The idea of passing special items and objects from person to person, generation to generation really resonates with me. I have always been more drawn to old antiques (even though I like many modern devices as well). When we make a handmade object - books, furniture, quilts, glassware, baskets, or jewelry, we give "life" to an object. This special item, when passed along to others, allows the receiving person to find their own meaning in the piece. I have a quilt that someone made for me when I was born - hand stitching. I wonder about the fabric used in the design; what else was the fabric used for? Perhaps, the fabric came from clothes worn by her relatives or from fabric that was used to make clothes for relatives. Again, the idea of connectivity comes through. While I have very few memories of the person who made this for me, it means a lot to me that she created it. As a teacher, I enjoy taking the quilt to school to share some of these big ideas with children.

*.Another idea that leaves me thinking is that many of the crafters featured in this series had very practical reasons for their trade. For many, it had to do with learning a skill taught to them from a parent or grandparent - something passed down through families. While others learned their craft as a way to earn income for their families during difficult times. And for some, the craft was deeply rooted in cultural heritage. As so much of our world changes around us, most of the skills associated with handmade objects are very old - there is very little change in the techniques and methods. Regardless of our reasons, there is something secure in appreciating the history of our craft.

* One of the artists in this series reflected on the fact that the quality of her work is better because she surrounds herself with other artists. She gets to see the work they produce, and this inspires her to stretch herself. Watching this series had a similar effect on me. Seeing the quality and craftsmanship achieved by these skilled crafters (and how their work evolved over time) inspired me to reflect on the quality of my own work while also thinking more creatively about the materials I use and how I use them.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Stephen! It's great to hear from you - I kept your blog on my "follow" list and I'm so glad!

    This is a really good post - very thought-provoking. You make some great points and I think I pretty well relate to/agree with all you say. I would like to see this series (not sure if I could get the dvd's in UK, but worth a try).
    I so enjoy the conversations I have with customers who have commissioned a book from me. Some of them get so fired up and excited - it even comes across in their Convo messages, just in black & white print on the screen. It gets me excited to be producing something special for them - and I'm sure I come up with better ideas and make a more interesting book, just because of their enthusiastic input. I recently made a "Buddhist themed" sketchbook for a customer. It turned out amazing, because we bounced ideas back and forth and had fun together - I loved the process of creating her special book - and she was delighted with the result of our joint efforts. I felt that we both made that book! I've had several great customers this year. It can be really stimulating to interact and discuss my work, with customers and other bookbinders / other artists.
    And I also love the idea that my Guest Books, Photo Albums, Scrapbooks, Visitors' Books etc are going off to all over the world, to have a "life" of their own and be kept as a special thing, by their new owner.

    Thanks for this great post. Glad to hear you have been having a good time in your new (busy!) job. Hope you have a relaxing, fun and stimulating Summer break.