MakeSpeak: Why Craft Now?
November 10, 2016 — Inside Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s Tower Auditorium, the night crackles with creativity. A jaw harp resonates along the room’s high ceiling as the audience settles into their seats for the start of MakeSpeak, an ongoing series of events intended to encourage greater conversation on craft. Seven presenters are given seven minutes to discuss their take on craft.
The forums are “choreographed” by the Commonwealth of Craft, a consortium of Massachusetts educational and cultural organizations.
This evening’s discussion is centered on Why Craft Now? Presenters range from a woodworking student to a representative of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. While each presenter comes from a very different art background, the collective appreciation of craft, and its importance in everyday life, is apparent. In today’s changing political climate, crafting acts as a form of activism and a way for one’s voice to be heard.
The night’s first presenter is Jerry Arends, a woodworking student at the North Bennet Street School. Arends began his crafting career with a three-month furniture intensive program in college. After many years in the military, he turned his focus to woodworking after seeing iconic British kitchen designer, Johnny Grey’s book, Kitchen Culture: Re-inventing Kitchen Design. Grey’s work encouraged Arendsto pursue a career as a woodworker and allowed him to see how creative design can create something unconventional and inspiring.
Beth McLaughlin, chief curator of exhibitions and collections at the Fuller Craft Museum, said that “a desire to know how something is made” inspired her to turn to a career in craft. McLaughlin, along with Fabio Fernández, executive director of the Society of Arts and Crafts, placed an emphasis on how craft insights change. Fernández’s father is a carpenter and his mother a seamstress, giving him an early teaching on and appreciation for the lasting power of hand-made things.
Massachusetts College of Art and Design professor Ezra Shales presented a modern view of craft, placing emphasis is on factory craft, which he described as a focus of the ordinary. “Creativity is an individual act of genius,” he explained. Manufacturing takes skill because we have, “an emotional attachment to consistency.” Shales said. In contrast, “active learning” is a large part of Eliot School program director Alison Croney’s approach to craft. For her, the importance of craft is to connect the natural environment with the community and to teach children hands-on skills.
Emily Zilber, C. and Anita L. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, acknowledged that craft is not the first thing you think of in a fine arts museum, but it does, in fact, play a large role. From the museum’s hand-crafted Tiffany’s lamps to the MFA’s 1913 acquisition of a Josephine Shaw brooch, hand-made items are essential to the museum’s collections. As Zilber stated, “[hand-made items] encourage direct engagement with the world and creates an expanded sense of value around us.”
The final presenter, Donalyn Stephenson, president and CEO of FABLabs for America, emphasized the importance of technology in today’s changing world. In conjunction with hand-made craft, technology can widen our creativity and allow us to grow as individuals and connect us as a community.
Through conversation with these seven presenters, the importance of craft on both an individual and community level is evident. Craft allows growth and encourages engagement with the physical world in a sometimes technologically overwhelming era.
MakeSpeak’s next event is scheduled for April 6, 2017 at North Bennet Street School, 150 North St., Boston. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/MakeSpeak/.)