Interviewsand Articles


Editor's Introduction w & c #20: Revisiting Craft

by Richard Whittaker, Jan 19, 2017



Any persistent practice of craft is a journey of discovery spanning two worlds—the outer world of materials and the inner world of the body, feelings and mind. For the master of a craft, both worlds can be brought into harmonious relationship. I’d call this the ethos of craft. Far from being an exercise in nostalgia, we hope this issue will be a reminder of possibilities that still exist, even as we hear less and less about the practice of craft.
     Dean Schwarz’s meeting with Marguerite Wildenhain and his initiation into hantwerk, as Wildenhain called it, was life changing.
He went on to found a ceramics studio where he also taught—South Bear School, in Iowa—and became a noted potter in his own right. In our interview Schwarz talks about his experiences with Wildenhain, one of the original students in Walter Gropius’ Weimar Bauhaus of 1919. At the Bauhaus, students were taught according to the principles of the European Guild system with its roots in the Middle Ages and beyond. Through Schwarz, whose love of his teacher is palpable, something of Wildenhain’s spirit is brought to life. To learn more about this now mostly forgotten, although foundational, figure of the American studio pottery movement, I encourage the reader to secure a copy of Schwarz’s remarkable book, Marguerite Wildenhain and the Bauhaus. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
     Then we have an interview with Gale Wagner, an Oakland sculptor best known for his large, outdoor steel pieces and as founder of the Pacific Rim Sculptors Group.
Including Gale might seem odd in our issue on craft. He’s an artist! And I’d like to avoid the confusion around the art/craft dichotomy. At a certain level, it’s impossible to discriminate between the two. There’s no question that Wagner’s work shows impeccable craft. Some years ago he was describing the delicate operation of applying his hand-dyed tissue paper to cover the thin struts of the lightweight planes he’s been building lately. The way he spoke evoked a mystical feeling, a reminder of the inner territory that can come into play in a serious engagement in craft.
     Rue Harrison’s interview with Pam Hiller opens a window into the craft of weaving. Hiller specializes in restoring hand-woven carpets. She learned as an apprentice and speaks eloquently about some of the inner challenges of this ancient craft. Serendipitously, another form of weaving came our way as a gift, two lovely pieces of kente cloth. These came via the distinguished woodworker Jeffry Lohr and his wife, Linda, whose story we share in our Art of Living feature. It all began with an email from Abu Abdulai, an importunate stranger from Ghana. Something told Lohr it wasn’t just spam. Engaging in an exchange with Adulai turned out to be life changing for everyone involved. In “Moringa Community” this compelling tale is told. And it’s still only at its beginning.
[editor’s note: the story is now over seven years old and Moringa Community is going strong.}
     Getting back to pottery, we have a story I ran across while at an opening at Sandy Simon’s Trax Gallery in Berkeley. Simon’s commitment to honoring handmade utilitarian ware is inspiring. Simon asked each potter to say a few words about their work. It was during Christa Assad’s remarks that I heard something surprising. On the spot, I knew it was something I had to share with readers. Et voilá.
     Then, on a recent trip, I met jeweler Tom Lorio. It didn’t take long to realize I was talking with one of those for whom the creative process takes priority over everything else—the truly hard-bitten. He puts it this way, “There’s a moment in the cycle of work where I go from intense fullness and satisfaction to complete emptiness. It’s exquisite. It’s what got me started and what keeps me going.” It’s a pleasure introducing this artist/craftsman living in Baton Rouge.
     This issue is full of great discoveries, and they didn’t all come at once. In fact, I was worried about finding enough material in time for our April deadline. (There’s always lots of material, but not so much that meets our intangible requirements.) And then two more pieces came our way, as if from above. A volunteer in London told us her cousin, Tarak Shah, had started an art gallery in an empty office cubicle—in Berkeley! I wasted no time following up, and it’s even better than I imagined. Then, on a recent visit to New York, I discovered that subscriber (and Rue Harrison’s brother) David, has had a life-long affair with ink and watercolor.
It seemed a perfect time to launch a new feature: Reader’s Forum. Maybe this will inspire more subscribers to share their art and thoughts.
     Of course, we have new installments of our on-going features: part 5 of Enrique Martínez Celaya’s remarkable meditation on art and value, Guide, and the continuing saga of Indigo Animal at the Lawn Statuary Research Institute.
     We would love to hear about how our offering on the spirit of craft has been received. And I invite you to visit our Facebook page, a work in progress.


About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.


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