Monday, June 28, 2010

Who Knew Asheville Had Such a Great Craft Scene?... Everyone But Me

Introducing Becky Berckey, Director of Development at the Society for Contemporary Craft.

Let me preface this by saying that I am one of the few non-artists on staff at SCC. When I started working at here a year and a half ago, I made it a personal mission to learn as much as I could about contemporary craft because I knew I would need a strong foundation of understanding to do my job, as the Director of Development, effectively. This has been and will continue to be a long-time learning opportunity for me - and one that I quite enjoy. 

Recently my mom invited me to go with her to Asheville, NC for an antiquing weekend. I had no idea I was going to be visiting a major craft community full of practicing artists. I had heard of Penland School of Crafts and I knew —at least peripherally— that it was in NC, but I didn't know that, with Asheville being one of the closest metropolitan areas to the school,  a lot of practicing craft artists made Asheville their home.

My mom and I got into Asheville late on a rainy Friday night and checked into our hotel. The next morning, we got up and decided to just explore the city and see what we came across. I had seen an ad for CURVE Studios on an area map at the hotel's front desk. It advertised: "bringing people to art & art to life in Asheville's River Arts District." I needed to pick up a gift and thought it sounded neat, so my we made it a destination during our first day. We followed the map and (having no sense of direction) were driving down a road that was looking pretty deserted. There were abandoned warehouses and factories and it all looked run-down and grungy. Then we crossed over the river and were all of a sudden in the middle of Asheville's blossoming River Arts District. There were a few retail stores, but mostly signs advertising open studios and artists-at-work. We pulled into CURVE Studios, which had three buildings surrounding a small but lovely garden (also filled with hand-made furniture and art). In each building were artists studios as well as small but welcoming retail spaces where you could browse and purchase the artists' work.

The first of the three buildings we went into was a ceramics studio. Three artists — Akira Satake, Kyle Carpenter, and Maria Andrade Troya — each using different clay construction, glazing and firing techniques, had functional ceramic work on display. The second building had more of a mix of artists: Constance Williams, an encaustic painter; Kelly Prestwood, a self proclaimed "artist blacksmith,” and Patty Bilbro, another functional ceramic artist. The third studio had a big open space filled with fleece quilts. When I turned the corner, I found myself face-to-face with the works of Megan Chaney, a ceramic artist who SCC represents in the Store. 

While I enjoyed all three studios and the mix of artists, it was with Patty Bilbro's charming characters that illustrate her functional ceramic pieces that I immediately fell in love with. I picked up one of her mugs for myself that has an ostrich on one side who's dreaming of a little girl on the other. I vowed to take my mug into work when I got back and beg Sharon Massey, SCC's Store Manager, to carry Patty's work (I'm happy to say Sharon has already contacted Patty, who will be sending us work for sale in the Store very soon).

My mom and I spent some time that afternoon exploring the rest of the River Arts District (which, in addition to 100+ artist studios, also has a micro-brewery and several restaurants). And as we spent the next couple days exploring downtown Asheville and the surrounding area, I was pleasantly surprised at how many artist studios and galleries we came across, all of which seemed to be busy with local foot traffic.  

While I'm slightly embarrassed about excitedly asking my colleagues on my first day back at work "Who knew Asheville had such a great craft scene?," everyone, very politely, declined to tell me, "We all did." So thank you all for that bit of kindness. And now I know, too!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Crafty MacGyver! DIY Clay Tool Contest

I just came across this great contest that Ceramics Monthly is holding. As a ceramic artist myself, I know that often the best clay tools are the ones you make or repurpose yourself, specifically for the job at hand. Everything from a particularly curved sponge-on-a-stick, to an extruder die, to a creative reclaiming process is eligible for the prize of a $500 Gift Card to use on!

The deadline to submit is coming up — July 16th! Check out the website for details about how to enter, its a video contest so go find a tripod and get started!

Society for Contemporary Craft

Monday, June 21, 2010

Trio of Elements: A Collaboration in Wood, Clay and Silk

Trio of Elements is an exhibition at the Japan Information and Culture Center Gallery in Washington, DC. The opening reception is June 24th at 6:30 pm and there will be a lecture featuring all three of the artists. I happen to be friends with Tadao Arimoto and must say that his work is gorgeous. Born in Nara, Japan in 1949, Tadao's work is inspired by nature. He has some really interesting ideas about how objects record time and how he tries to make his work conducive to that process. His work really allows for a connection to the materials in a tactile way. Tadao also uses local wood from his area of residence in western PA. I bought a couple of wooden plates at SCC's store that he made. They were glossy black and highly textural and I learned about the process. I am going to butcher this, but basically he rough cut the plate and used a billowy torch flame to blacken the wood and burn down the soft wood pulp, leaving the harder grain pattern raised. I don't have a picture of my plates, but here is an image from his website of a great table:

I think that he made all new work for the exhibition, so it should be a real treat!

Willi Singleton is also a highly skilled artist who produces exquisite wood-fired pottery in traditional forms. On his website Willi explains how he was introduced to wood-firing during an apprenticeship in Tamba, Japan. Naturally, this experience colored his aesthetic and perspective on pottery and he returned to the US 5 years later to set up a wood-fire pottery in eastern PA. He utilizes many local materials for his glazes and even for his clay body. Having had the opportunity to handle his work in SCC's Store, I can say that it is substantial. It's not overly heavy by any means, but it has a heft to it. The work in person appears stately and dignified, if I may attribute such qualities to a pot, while also being quite functional and accessible. Here is a picture from his website:

I am not familiar with the third artist in the exhibition, Yoichi Nakajima, who works in silk. The exhibition description says, "Using handspun thread from carefully selected Japanese silk worms and natural dyes, Tokyo’s Yoichi Nakajima reconstructs historic silk brocade. His work is used to enhance the beauty of collections in museums across the US." I would expected that the work is equally as enticing as that of the other two artists. 

This exhibition is focused on these three artists, all with strong ties to both Japan and the US. Each artist finds great inspiration in nature, and, it seems, particularly in their own local environments. Of the two artists I am familiar with, and I will assume the third as well, they all make work that expresses the best material qualities of the wood, clay and silk, allowing the materials to empower the piece. If you have a chance to get to DC to check it out, do.

Society for Contemporary Craft

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Humanities on the Road

Hey gang! Did you know that Saturday is Juneteenth? A day which celebrates the day in 1865 that word of the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery in the United States, finally made it to the state of Texas. It is considered the date when the last slaves in America were freed. SCC is commemorating this  day with a really cool program:

Temujin Ekunfeo’s African Arts Of The Yoruba Diaspora. Through Temujin's songs, stories, drumming and bead work, you'll experience both performance and discussion while learning about the Yoruba Diaspora of Cuba and the US. The Yoruba, a large ethnic group from southwest Nigeria, were taken as slaves to Cuba. Because of their large numbers, the Yoruba were able to recreate their religion, values and language in the enslaved communities of the New World. A priest in the Yoruba tradition, Temujin Ekunfeo researches African folklore from the Americas and Africa and shares this knowledge by means of family-oriented, audience-participatory storytelling presentations, like the one he's doing on Saturday. All of this is done in the ancient tradition of hailing crowds with his talking drum. This free presentation will be filmed for an episode of Humanities On The Road, a new series produced by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to air on PCN. 

Saturday June 19th
2 pm (get there earlier to make sure you get a good seat!)
At the Society for Contemporary Craft at 2100 Smallman Street, PGH, PA 15222

If you scroll to the bottom of this blog there is a map, in case you don't know how to get here.


Quick follow up on Flea Markets! Sadly I did not make it to the Little Flea on Saturday. I did get to the Pittsburgh Flea which was very small and a bit disappointing. Perhaps it was because they called for thunderstorms? I don't know, but there were only a half dozen booths, some cool stuff, but didn't make for a good Flea Marketing afternoon. 

Society for Contemporary Craft

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Power of Giving is in your Hands. Vote on June 15th.

I have decided to hold off on recapping about my Flea Marketing weekend to introduce a fantastic program called Chase Community Giving.

This project, started earlier this year, is Chase's new approach to corporate giving. The new approach is that they are letting the public vote to choose who gets the money. 

Chase will be donating 5 million dollars to be dispersed to almost 200 charities all over the country. One charity will receive $250K, but there will be 195 awards of $20K each! All you need in order to vote is a Facebook account and approximately 4 minutes. To vote go here.

$20,000 is an incredible gift to give an organization - that could be somebodies salary, a new out reach program, scholarships, computers, etc. As a non-profit arts organization in a time of recession, SCC is facing large cut-backs in Federal, State, and Private support of the arts, making it difficult to for us to grow and develop our programing. We serve the community as a free resource to see cutting-edge contemporary craft- one of only a handful in the country. SCC supports a number of incredible Outreach Programs that bring art to homeless women and children, the elderly, and at-risk youth in Pittsburgh. In addition to free admission, we have a free hands-on art activity for children in our drop-in studio, and offer affordable classes in a wide range of craft.

Some people feel that art is expendable, that there are more important things to support. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but I have to loudly disagree. Art is transformative—it can save lives; it can change lives. Art is not just passively looking at stuff in a gallery or museum. It's not something that only the Avante Garde can understand. Art is a way for anybody to communicate anything that they can not say in words; it is a way to feel capable and confident through using your hands to create; it is how we learn to appreciate the beauty of the world all around us - trees, architecture, rust spots on sidewalks, patterns of light. Art and Craft warm the soul, sooth the mind, and empower body. 

Through Chase's logo, a painted hand-print on white paper, they are expressing solidarity, community, and interaction through art...or design if you would rather, but the reference to a child creating with paint and bare hands makes me think that Chase values art. Maybe I'm reaching here, but I am sure you see it too.

I think that the Society for Contemporary Craft is a very worthy organization to support, that is why I work here. I hope that you will agree and vote for us to have a chance at a $20K donation! 

Thanks friends!

VOTING STARTS JUNE 15th, 2010. To vote go here

And now, three really cute pictures of students participating in one of our projects, Artist and Kids. This gave a group of students without much access to the arts the opportunity to work with a professional artist in a two-day workshop to create environmentally friendly furniture using found sticks and reclaimed wood. 


Friday, June 11, 2010

A Flea is a Flea is a Flea....

I am looking forward to going Flea Marketing this weekend!

On Saturday I am off to the Lawrenceville Little Flea! The Little Flea is definitely a flea market, but also more than that. It features "a rotating variety of flea, craft and food", so you're not always looking at the same stuff week after week. Three reasons why this flea is amazing. One: It supports the green movement by supporting local makers and local buyers. In fact, it is a part of Act Locally!, a project of Equita (a local, green and fair trade shop). Two: It empowers an up-and-coming neighborhood. Held once a week all summer long, this Flea brings neighbors out in support of neighbors, as well as bringing folks from other places to Lawrenceville. Bringing outsiders in for a positive and unique shopping, browsing, and leisure experience helps spread the good word about this vibrant neighborhood. All of this contributes to the sustainability of the area. Three: Did I say unique already? Lawrenceville's business district is filled with all kinds of little shops started up by entrepreneurs with all kinds of backgrounds...and growing! The variety of places and the locally-owned and non-corporate environment of the district is echoed in Little Flea. This isn't just a junk sale, but a Flea that complements the local Lawrenceville flavor! Of course, if you're looking for typical flea market stuff, there is plenty of that too! The market will be held weekly at the corner of Butler St. and 36th. (Goeller's parking lot) from 8am-3pm. I pulled the images off of Equita's Flickr page.

On Sunday I am going to try out a new one - the Pittsburgh Flea. This one is actually held in the parking lot behind SCC on 21st and Railroad St. in Pittsburgh's Strip District. It is open every Sunday, April - November between 8 am and 3 pm. I have not been to this one yet, but my hopes are high after seeing these pictures on their blog:

Hopefully it won't rain like the weather says it will and I'll have a chance to explore both of these fleas on my bike. I will try to take pictures of neat crafters and special finds to post next week!

Society for Contemporary Craft

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Handmade Nation Comes to Pittsburgh!

YES! We have confirmed the details. Handmade Nation will be screened in Pittsburgh at the Harris Theater on November 6th! The folks at Pittsburgh Filmmakers were incredibly nice and very willing to work with SCC to co-sponsor this event.

If you're unfamiliar with Faythe Levine and her documentary Handmade Nation, she has a pretty great website and blog, but I'll give you a synopsis too.  Handmade Nation documents the new wave of art, craft, and design through interviews with artists, crafters, curators, and designers working within the DIY movement.

Faythe Levine is considered to be a pillar of the DIY movement. In 2004, she started the Art vs. Craft fair which is known for showcasing new and innovative work from the Midwest while pushing the boundaries of what you would think to find at a traditional art or craft fair. Levine’s role in DIY has become more diverse from artist to curator, director, and author of a book with the same title as her film, Handmade Nation.

Handmade Nation, Levine’s directorial debut, frames the contemporary craft movement as evolving out of the indie-driven culture of the creation of Zines, punk rock music and the rejection of mass-produced goods. She see's DIY as building an alternative to mainstream consumption, not a lifestyle trend. To create the documentary, Faythe traveled to 15 cities and covered more than 19,000 miles to conduct interviews with members within the DIY community.  Some of my favorites that are in the film include Jenny Hart, of Sublime Stitching, and Whitney Lee who makes pornographic hook rugs.

The Harris Theater, where the screening will be, is a beautiful place with a lot of history. Originally it was the first theater in Pittsburgh dedicated to showing "Art Films" and was called the Art Cinema, though it eventually fizzled out and became a porn theater in the 60's. But, in 1995, with the coming of Pittsburgh's Renaissance and the redevelopment of Liberty Avenue in downtown, the Harris was restored, renamed, and reopened to the public! It's a classic with a balcony section and a big old-school style marquee.

Kicking off the first day of the Three Rivers Film Festival, the Harris will screen Handmade Nation on November 6, 2010 at 2pm. Following the movie, SCC is hosting a reception with Faythe Levine. There will be a chance to buy her book or dvd and have it signed. The screening isn't up on there website yet, it wasn't originally part of the film fest, but here's hoping it'll get up there soon!

Monday, June 7, 2010

I was really excited to see this post on Garth Johnson's blog. Seed Bombs are such a fun way to brighten up the city, and these ones in particular are amazing. I first came across the grenade seed bomb through another website, Kabloom. These ones, called Seedboms, aren't related to the Flower Grenades that Garth featured.
There is a lot of information about seed bombs online. Pittsburgh has so much unused land in abandoned parking lot, buildings and factories, and green lots where houses used to stand. This city is ripe for seed bombing. While these grenades are pretty rad, I think half the fun is making the bombs yourself.  It's pretty easy. All you need is some powdered clay, fertilizer, and some native plant seeds. Mix it up, add a dash of water, form balls and let them dry.

Society for Contemporary Craft