PARTICIPATORY SPORT FOR CRAFT ARTISTS
J. Fred Woell, "Democracy Speaks" (brooch) 2003, mixed media: wood, copper, brass, steel, nickel. paper, plastic, 2 1/4 x 3 x 3/8"
The Lifetime Achievement Award Winner this year was J. Fred Woell. Like many attendees, this is a lecture that I often skip. If you saw Stanley Lechtzin’s “This Is Your Life” back in Philadelphia, you’ll understand why. Snark aside, this year I regretted missing Woell’s. His work, like Ebendorf’s, had a strong influence on me as an undergraduate jewelry student many years ago. Also, by the end of the conference I was feeling overly sappy about some things. More on this later. I was simply under slept at the time, and spent much of the early conference mitigating my own apathy.
I made it to Garth Clark’s lecture, stumbling in and feeling a little embarrassed having missed the Lifetime Achievement Award. This walk of shame in the lecture room is nothing new. I had anticipated Clark's lecture eagerly--whether I would agree with him or not, it's never bad to have someone stir the pot on the first day. Not only did he immediately address our host-state’s deplorable legislative behavior, especially lately, he also addressed the topic that has plagued studio jewelry since the post-90’s slump. While other studio craft fields expand, diversify, and flourish, we seem to be the last to bloom. This is a topic Clark has addressed often given his attempts to open a cross-over gallery for both ceramics and studio jewelry many, many years ago. It became evident that the “fine art” market was more willing to embrace ceramics at that time, and we never fully resolved that issue in studio jewelry. Clark’s take home lesson of the lecture is to address our phobias regarding design, and learn from the larger fashion/design world of the last decade. It has grown to challenge the expectations of design, earn the respect of the fine art world, and continues to produce work that is technically and materially diverse. Additionally, design does this without rejecting commercial success. This theme of embracing, rather than sneering at the commercial world, while maintaining autonomy, creativity, and diversity, became a major theme of the conference. And while some, including an inarticulate question-er at the end of the lecture, seemed to take offense at Clark’s advice, I found myself chewing on it as it thread through the rest of the weekend.
I missed a few of the presenters during my monastic interludes, but I think I can address a few themes overall. The Spotlight lectures were very well received this year. And I don’t just speak from my personal bias having introduced Allyson Bone (http://allysonbone.com/ ). I made it to all of them, enjoyed the work presented, found each had uniquely personal themes, and found that others shared this consensus.
Caitie Sellers’ work addressed landscape in a way that is unique—using the strengths of wire work to create linear 3-dimensional sketch-forms that serve as touchstones for her travels. She also directly addressed her production work, and the need to survive financially if she is to continue. For reference, this used to be unthinkable in a SNAG lecture and has now become the norm.
Loring Taoka’s talk addressed his uniquely personal themes on race/identity while being self-deprecating. At one time I would have summed up Taoka's work as being more political, but that does a disservice to his range. His work is minimal in form and color and direct in theme, striking a balance and creating pieces that are elegant rather than heavy-handed. He may be pigeonholed for addressing race and otherness on his own terms, but he's always created work that has many entry points. The exploration of marginalization is deeply human, and at its root, profoundly inclusive.
Amy Tavern’s most recent exhibition “This Is How I Remember It” became the focus of her lecture, and with good reason. For those who don’t know, Tavern used social media to raise funds and promote a solo exhibition and the construction of the body of work as it was created. Watching the process unfold was impressive, and I think it was one of the best integrations of new media with a gallery to successfully launch a solo exhibition that I’ve seen in our field. The work addressed loss and memory—recalling pieces from her childhood that were part of her grandmother’s jewelry collection. Pieces were then reconstructed in Amy’s signature style of angular, stylized forms and layered and scuffed spray paint. If anyone, like myself, entered into the jewelry world thanks to a Grandmother’s jewelry collection, then you were probably getting misty in the dark lecture room too.
Andrew Hayes was an unfamiliar maker to me—combining fluid metal forms with disassembled books. While the work may not fit in with many current themes of historicism or preciousness that are dominating our field, his work was comforting to me. Those early years of very technical training have left me with a soft spot for traditionalists, large scale sculptors, and anyone with a sense of humor about the trials of method and mode.
Allyson Bone, "Leafy Pair", 2012, sterling silver, onyx
Last, but not least, Allyson Bone…I did her introduction so I doubt I can address her lecture objectively. Her experience in the world of fashion working as a CAD designer for Alexis Bittar after completing her MFA at New Paltz is something I have heard much about. Long phone calls, stressed out texts, and random e-mails have kept me up to date as that experience unfolded. I knew others in our field would be as interested, and as sympathetic, to her struggle. The academic studio vs. the commercial studio only furthered the thread through the conference—of financial solvency, one way or another. I heard from others that it was well received, so I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say it was a wonderful talk. And as I rambled on in my introduction, when you attend the conference for years with the same friends and then get to introduce one of them for their lecture, you feel very lucky.
I hope they expand these brief lectures, or potentially create an application process, because they are already becoming hot tickets on the programming. For students and emerging makers, it is a wonderful opportunity to share the bumpier years and learn from one another.
More on the other long form lectures, and the nitty gritty side of SNAG in the next post...
well, Garth Clerk certainly set the tone for the conference and there were others that seemed to repeat his mantra. I am not so sure that I whole heartedly agree. While there is a lot of good design that operates beyond mere commercial success I feel that it is precisely the freedom from financial pressures that allows creativity to flourish and for the work to develop greater depth. Fine art? Design? Craft? Why not just jewelry? Maybe there was a reason why jewelry did not fly when combined with ceramics. The scale and closeness to the body make jewelry a different animal from other traditional crafts, something I think we should be more proud of. Then, just maybe, we can be our own daddy!
While I understand that the Lifetime Achievement Award is sometimes a snooze, it boogles my mind that you usually skip it. To decide not to go because you are too busy, too tired, or can't be bothered is not O.K.. To publicly endorse this behavior makes me mad! So sorry to say, I can't be silent.
It has nothing to do with whether you like the work, or like the person. IT is not a popularity contest. It is a sign of respect.
If it weren't for these people that dedicated their life to the development of their work, the field of metals wouldn't exist and the technology they developed would not be the handy dandy technology in the corner of the classroom studio.
The irreverent use of materials, and the political messages of Fred Woell were a first at a time when everyone, I mean everyone was working with precious metals. The PowerPoint presentation by Eleanor Moty was incredibly well done. I sat in the audience crying during this review of his lifetime of achievements.
So sorry to say, regret is not enough. Actions demonstrate leadership.
Harriete Estel Berman
Katja--Just to clarify, I won't be calling myself a designer any time soon! But I thought his argument was persuasive on many fronts. Learning from the victories in design will be helpful. There has been a bias against it on many fronts in the craft world, and I thought part of his objective was to broadcast that we need to move past that. Hope that helps communicate my thoughts better--I still would rather be my own Daddy rather than select a new one, of course!
Harriete--I have no intention of endorsing my absenteeism. My wrap up has been broken into a few pieces, and some threads will be tied up in the last post that may articulate my feelings better. I went into this conference deeply skeptical of how invested I would be--largely due to very personal reasons that have nothing to do with SNAG/jewelry, but to a lesser degree due to the creeping cynicism that comes with repeat conference attendance. Another topic I will address more in the last post. I'm sorry that you were offended by my honesty regarding the Lifetime Achievement Award. I truly regretted missing it this year, but I don't always regret missing it. Not because I dislike the artists selected, or the work shown. As to your comment about popularity contests, popularity has never been a big hit with me anyway. It simply happens, and I am acknowledging it. My regret over missing it this year is a lesson learned for me personally, but hopefully sharing the regret will serve to persuade others of like mind to change this behavior as well. It would be disingenuous of me to not communicate that I did not go and gloss over this. As I said earlier, I spent this conference mitigating my own apathy. I hope you will find some resolution when I put up the final post.
Thanks Jillian, my issue is not missing this one Lifetime Achievement Award, but the importance of understanding and acknowledging the past when we look into our future.