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American Craft Conference- Creating A New Craft Culture: Part I

ArticlesApril HigashiComment

I just returned from Minneapolis from the ACC Conference. I went to take in new ideas, and get a current pulse of the Craft field in hopes this would continue my vision for Shibumi and my studio work. At 41, I am five months pregnant. This trip seemed timely to keep the connection and vision for the future before I get sucked into motherhood. Which by the way I am excited for but I intend to continue my commitment to Craft and that is an evolving process.

The conference was well worth the investment. In general it reminded me that all of us in the "Craft" field are part of a bigger picture. For most of us we have come to this field because we love making. Making is part of our process. And then in that we try to connect the dots on making a living. We have not ended up in this field for the easy money, but for the love of the work, the lifestyle and the connection we have to our creative process, to our hands informing our minds. The commitment is to sharing our process and continually inviting people in to be reminded they can do what they love. I have gathered these reflections from some of the speakers at the conference and will share the most notable insights which I find help in going deeper in my life and my work. I can see that these and many more of the speakers will continue to have a ripple effect in my practice.


Richard Sennett was the key not speaker and his book The Craftsman is currently available. Sennett speaks about the Craftsman being misunderstood, when they are seen only from the perspective of making. His perspective is that manual activities are highly intelligent. Looking at the modern capitalist work society he points out that many business are set up to reward their workers for RESULTS and are not oriented by incentive or quality. People are not valued as much as RESULTS are                                                                                                 valued.

I see his point that the creative process, the asking of why? or following a pathway that may not prove to lead you to results is often not encouraged. And in this environment the great ideas, mistakes and creative thinking have no room to grow. And isn't this happening in many avenues of life? Are we forgetting to wander down a pathway because our to do lists have gotten so long? As Sennett says, "What is wrong with a society that does not allow rewards to people who have a craft mentality and does not reward quality?" He in fact is a believer that the hand informs the head and I do agree. It was good to be reminded of this simple daily practice that most studio artists engage in many times each day.

I've just finished the prologue in The Craftsman and I have to say I think Sennett has an amazing perspective on the benefits of material culture and he expresses it so eloquently. It almost seems obvious after you read his words. He is working on a three-part book series: The Craftsman; explores craftmanship, the skill to make things well, Warriors and Priests addresses the crafting of rituals that manage aggression and zeal, and The Foreigner explores the skill required in making and inhabiting sustainable environments.

Elissa Author shared many examples of the 60's studio artist movement, many of whom were artists from California and the West. What struck a cord with me is that the artists of that era were committed to their artwork and studio practices from the perspective of lifestyle.

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George Nakashima states his commitment to INTEGRATE~ LIFE + WORK. I can really relate. I myself have often not had much recreational time as my life is in many respects my work. I even have a musician friend and we joke that we don't know how to recreate. It is because the time and energy we put towards our work entails many of these elements and is very time consuming. Many of my friends and the artists I show in Shibumi who actually make their living at their art, also have these similar lifestyles. The integration of Life and Work I believe continues sometimes not as much as a choice but as a necessity. That is to devote the time to make new work and make a living in the process. I am happy to be reminded                                                                                                                              that it is a choice and this is what I have chosen for my lifestyle.


The author also sighted Marguerite Wildenhain, a French Bauhaus potter who later moved to the United States. She started the Pond Farm School in Guernville, California, where the students threw pots for 8-9 hours a day and could not take anything with them. They were being shown the relationship to the process and not to hold onto the results.



M.C. Richards was also sighted, who wrote Centering. I am very familiar with this book, my husband Eric Powell, who's mother is a potter keeps this book by his bedside as a staple. Richards speaks about centering and wholeness. Her belief is that self realization can be found through the craft process.

Author's talk was a reminder that as artists and dealers working to support the craft field, it is a choice and one of the reasons I have chosen this is career is the lifestyle that supports it. I would say all of the artists whom I represent breathe, eat, live and integrate their work into their art and life. I see it is laced into every aspect of their lives. Sometimes I forget this because it takes all my energy some days to keep making a living but as I am reminded it is a choice of life and I am re-empowered to once again connect with this.

I am sharing what to me are a few important reflections from the ACC Conference. You can get more detailed info by Harriette Estelle Berman's blog and Emiko-o reware's blog.

Stay tuned for Part II which will address the younger and older "Craft" generations and how they conflict and complement and are hopefully starting to integrate to make A New Craft Culture...