Helen Drutt, “All That Glitters: Goldsmith ’70,” Craft Horizons 30, no. 4 (August 1970): 42-45, 69. Reproduced with permission of the American Craft Council.
All that glitters: GOLDSMITH ’70
by HELEN DRUTT
This first national competitive exhibition reveals the diversity of materials in metalwork today
Since 1952, the St. Paul Art Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, has held its biennial craft competition “Fiber/Clay/Metal.” Considering the acceleration in each of those mediums, the Center, now the Minnesota Museum of Art, decided to hold competitions in each medium separately, beginning this year with metal, and with fiber and clay to be concentrated upon in succeeding years. Organized by the Museum and its director, Malcolm E. Lein, the opening of “Goldsmith ’70” coincided with the Society of North American Goldsmiths’ first meeting (March 25-27), which was also held at the Museum. “Goldsmith ’70” represents craftsmen from Canada and the U.S., and includes an invitational exhibition by members of the Society of North American Goldsmiths in addition to the open competition. Jurors were William Woolfenden, director of the Archives of American Art, and metalworkers Stanley Lechtzin and John Prip. They selected 130 pieces by 70 craftsmen. After being shown at the Minnesota Museum of Art (March 26-May 17), “Goldsmith ’70” traveled to New York, where it is currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (June 19-September 7).
The expected quality, and in some cases, the established excellence of most well-known names in the field is visible – Hans Christensen, Ken Cory, Bob Ebendorf, Alma Eikerman, Phillip Fike, Arline Fisch, Michael Jerry, Brent Kington, Stanley Lechtzin, Ronald McNeish, John Marshall, Miye Matsukata, Kurt Matzdorf, Frederick Miller, John Paul Miller, Philip Morton, Ronald Pearson, Alvin Pine, John Prip, Svetozar Radakovich, June Schwarcz, Heikki Seppa, Olaf Skoogfors, Arthur Vierthaler, Bob Winston, and J. Fred Woell-some predictable, others moving forward with new inspired statements. But even more exciting is the emergence of the young and unfamiliar new names who will keep the traditions alive. Among the outstanding are Richard Mawdsley, Eleanor Moty, Albert Paley, Helen Shirk, and Chris Sublett.
Few exhibitors explored new technology as a corporate part of their designs. Although June Schwarcz and Vierthaler employ electroforming as a textural embellishment, the process is not vital to the life of their pieces. On the other hand, Lechtzin’s development of the technique enables him to deal with design concepts otherwise impossible. His forms are organic and unique and dedicated to surprising combinations of materials, moving toward a size not seen since Lalique! Sinuous fibula spring forward from pod-like forms and continue until halted by an agate or chalcedony rose, and then the traditional surprise of a few pearls. His development of the process permits him to capture the gold and add another layer of metal to the natural structure.
There are refined, elegant statements by Radakovich and Miye Matsukata, the latter taking ancient Mayan stones, Chinese jade, or beads and combining them with gold to create delicate, feminine, and exceedingly wearable designs. A super punch bowl, raised and chased from one-quarter inch gauge silver is Marshall’s fantastic achievement. Solid silversmithing is evidenced in Christensen’s spice box which rises from a single pedestal into upper and lower hemispheres, freeing the spice box from the expected traditional castle-like form.
Prip’s monumental covered container has a serene presence surrounding its simply stated contemporary form. An-other highlight is Walter Schluep’s gold brooch, with its highly polished surface crisply impressed with a perfect symbol of the number three and then deliberately broken on the diagonal—left apart and yet together.
Skoogfors again shows that he is one with his material, from the skillful execution of a bronze and gold-plated chalice to the well-articulated shapes of constructed pendants. He also reveals a slow moving away from his commitment to casting. In a magnificently assembled pendant, one small disk, accented by three pearls on its surface, hangs from the gold neckpiece and dips toward a larger crater-like dome with a fused surface, which delicately permits three forged wires to suspend themselves in space.
John Paul Miller again distinguishes himself by a gold and enamel miniature creature whose surface is enriched by the textures and geometric patterning of gold granulation. Nor is it a surprise to see Fike’s beautifully controlled grenadilla wood and gold striped fibula that seems to petrify as it first begins to move. But there are surprises in Mawdsley’s weird, fantastic pendants. Intricate bits and pieces of silver combine with onyx and pearls into elaborate constructions to be worn. At first, the overall impression is the illustrative rebirth of llya Schorr, but the technique is not there and the subject matter is not religious.
Paley is inspired by art nouveau and Celtic traditions. Fabricated pins and sectional fibulas combine the unexpected: gold, silver, and bronze hold quietly positioned and half-hidden labradorite, pearls, and rutilated quartz. Oxidized silver shield-like forms halt the viewer from going beyond only to be thrown sideways by the delicate tendrils which travel and form graceful, well-balanced extensions.
Eleanor Moty’s copper, bronze, and silver neckpiece is a remarkable sculpture to wear. Carnelian, quartz crystal, and photo-etched segments wed with the metals to create a three-dimensional object of importance. The electroforming process is used decoratively to produce a slightly molten beaded effect. Elliott Pujol’s chased brass rings and Richard MaFong’s silver and topaz ring use the finger as a pedestal for the miniature, sculptured statement.
In an epaulet by Dickie Ladousa the brain-like quality of the chased metal, like a shoulder cap, firmly holds the carefully folded and positioned ribbons in red, white, and blue. Cory’s minimal statements are the height of contemporary thought and design, combining copper and plastic in unique geo-metric forms. Olli Peter Valanne’s gold-plated and plastic ring is a lost city under water.
Woell again emphasizes his special place in the field, using metal and found objects. Woell is a social critic of our time; his pin, entitled “Mother,” is reminiscent of American Legion school awards and badges earned by sharpshooters. A Bosch-like creature sits atop an oversized cycle, clutching another surrealistic form beneath and looking straight forward as the pull-element grows vine-like into space, stopped only by another bird-like giant bead. That same bird-like bead wraps itself around the finger in a Kington ring.
As for the mysterious, Chris Sublett’s “Toy Creatures” and Jew’s harps are tours-de-force in bronze and brass—miniature in size, overwhelming in concept. Arline Fisch’s headpiece reemphasizes her commitment to metal as body adornment and covering. A modern day pre-Columbian headdress is discovered, as delicately forged silver forms a cap for the head and a support for trailing silver extensions.
Mary Lee Hu wraps and intricately weaves silver with all the care of a fine basket weaver into a medusa-like necklace of strangeness. Carolyn Utter fabricates and casts gold-plated silver into a pendant which hangs shield-like below the collarbone and is not unlike the superbly cast gold bracelet by Pearson. Carol Small’s organic forms rise from a carefully raised copper piece and end in a roughly rippled, folded edge, emphasizing the malleability of the material.
A unique statement in silver is made by Helen Shirk’s pot form. Sculpturesque and highly polished, it monumentally rises from its base forming an open pleat on one side, and stopped in its movement two-thirds of the way up by an extended lip form which defines the open sphere-like top, which is at once separate and yet continuous with the beginning movement.
The Minnesota Museum of Art purchased over twenty-one pieces to become part of its permanent collection after the exhibition has toured for two years.
Dorian Zachai, “Fiber-Clay-Metal,” Craft Horizons 25, no. 1 (January/February 1965): 10-17, 48. Reproduced with permission of the American Craft Council.
FIBER – CLAY – METAL
by DORIAN ZACHAI
In what may well have been the most selective national craft exhibition of 1964, the seventh biennial “Fiber-Clay- Metal” show of the Saint Paul Art Center, Saint Paul, Minnesota (November 18 to December 27), presented some 101 objects by 68 individuals—a small collection picked from an amazing entry of nearly 4,000 objects, the largest number of works ever submitted to this well-known competition.
The jury was made up of three artist-craftsmen whose names need no introduction to readers of CRAFT HORIZONS: jeweler Christian Schmidt of Minnesota, ceramist Peter Voulkos of California, and weaver Dorian Zachai of New Hampshire. Technical consultant was Lois Bing-ham, head of the Fine Arts Section of the United States Information Agency, Washington, D.C. The jury met for three days at the Center’s new three million dollar Arts and Science building, during which time it selected the show and named the following pieces for special recognition by recommending them. for purchase: stoneware “Sarcophagus” by Fred Bauer (Wisconsin); stoneware bowl by Paul Bogatay (Ohio); tapestry by Janice Bornt (California) ; hanging woven form by Dominic DiMare (California); silver pendant by Guy Granger (California); two porcelain slab forms by Stephen Kaltenbach (California); cast sterling hanging bells by Brent Kington (Illinois); cast silver and rose-wood chessmen by Earl Krentzin (Michigan).
In addition to the above, the Saint Paul Art Center selected twenty-three additional pieces for museum purchase by the following: ceramics: Rose Cabat (Arizona), Michael Cohen (Massachusetts), Jim Leedy (Ohio), Thomas Shafer (Iowa), David Shaner (Montana), Paul Soldner (California), John Stephenson (Michigan); fabrics: Anne Hornby (California), Terry files (Indiana), Meda Parker Johnston (Michigan), Sister Mary Remy (Wisconsin), J. Rodono-Brown (Ohio ), Nell Scott (Washington); wood: Roger Sogge (Oregon); metalwork: Abraham (address not listed), William Haendel (Illinois), Ed Lund (Wisconsin).
In the article that follows, written especially for CRAFT HORIZONS, juror Dorian Zachai gives her personal view-point on the 1964 “Fiber-Clay-Metal” exhibition, as well as juried shows in general.
PART ONE: COOPERATION
When it has to do with people attempting to make a peaceful world, I am all for it. But somehow, when juries cooperate, it all ends up looking like mashed potatoes. Like that piece of junk jewelry that was slipped in under the table and ended up being taken seriously as PROTEST [the award-winning “Medal of Honor,” shown on page 20, appeared as a new entry on the third morning that the jury met]. What a lot of bunk! It was a pretty outworn, dumb joke in my book. The only funny thing about it was the name on the obviously phony entry card, and that they didn’t print in the catalog—guess they got cold feet right in the middle of putting a blessing on the PROTEST. Actually, it is a pretty good label for anyone— “Abraham Isitshits.”
My initial feeling that man-o-man I was going to help make this kickeroozio of a show, disintegrated day by day. In the first place, the whole setup of a “craft show” seemed to get lost somewhere in the shuffle. I wish I had the figure of how many entries, for instance, in the textile section were actually useful items. Saint Paul stipulated in the prospectus that ceramic sculpture was not eligible. I must confess that I did not know this until afterwards, when irate friends pointed to pieces that could be called nothing but sculpture. If ceramic sculpture is not eligible, then how can tapestry and hangings be eligible? Is ceramic sculpture really ART, and is tapestry really CRAFT? You can guess my answer to that! So, confusion gains momentum, and control seems to slip away, and after it’s over, you wonder who had any control in the first place. And then I saw the catalog. Ordinarily I would not care to mention this aspect of the show, but works were mutilated in photos which are just about the worst I have ever seen in any catalog. I do not know where Janice Bornt is, but I hope she reads this so that I can express my horror at seeing her small fiat tapestry turned sideways and draped!
You know, there was a time when CRAFT meant CRAFT. Everyone in the field knew to some depth or other just about everyone else, and the jury system probably did seem like the only “fair” way to select a show. Things have changed. There is a craftsman under every bush along the way from New York City to San Francisco. There are a fantastic number of people working in too many different* ways. The works have no more to do with one another than does a potted geranium have to do with a jet plane, yet they are all heaved into the same “craft show.” To cite an example : How can a cleverly made Kleenex holder stand a chance for entry or a prize in a craft show when it is competing with hangings which probably have their inner eyes on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art ? I grant you that the Kleenex holder may be a masterpiece and the hanging a complete flop, but that only makes the goofy setup more apparent. More about what is craft and what is not later. To go on with juries: Why isn’t it a good idea for one person to take total responsibility for a show? It would be biased? Of course it would be biased. Any definitive opinion is biased, and it is a thousand times better than “No, you cannot point at me because I am only one anonymous voice in the entity called the JURY,” which is what I end up whining when people back me into corners and want to know how come their so-and-so didn’t get in the show. There were things accepted in “Fiber-Clay-Metal” that I consider pure and unadulterated scrap, and things which did not get accepted that I felt strongly positive towards. Since my likes and dislikes are anonymous, I frankly think that my name ought to be anonymous, too. It would be better to have been the sole juror and now be proud and responsible for every single piece exhibited. You see, with this system, no one has to take the praise or the blame. And what good is the applause if there is no one there to acknowledge it? (Like people who applaud movies, especially in an empty movie house; some people are, of course, remarkably self-sufficient.) Or, if there is to be blame, how marvelous it would be to allow someone to benefit from his mistakes! Maybe that has a little to do with why this art and craft business gets more and more confused; the errors are not being learned from; the culprits jet off in all directions the minute the dirty deed is done and never have to face the consequences, i.e. the show. Of course, the Saint Paul museum people have had years of experience with this sort of thing, and one can assume that with each show they amass tomes of wisdom. But then, on the other hand, with each show they must accept the judgments of a virgin group of jurors who may or may not be fit to judge anything outside the progress of their own work. Even with veteran jurors, the interaction of any particular combination of people makes them virgin relative to the museum people, who are in home territory.
Actually, I do not think that the jury system is all evil. Probably in many situations it is the only practical method; however, this business with all categories of work equally eligible in the same show I cannot buy.
I do not know how Saint Paul chose this jury—perhaps at a distance we all looked similar. Or perhaps we looked like an interesting variety, the way people choose dinner partners. We did pretty much split into two camps, which might help to account for the small show. With two for and two against and neither side willing to budge, you couldn’t sit there all night to break the tie.
And the basis for judgment? That is what everyone asks. Well, it is at this point that I stop reading articles like this because they usually descend into a mystic of phraseology that depresses the guts right out of me. I would like to imitate it for you—”suitabilityofmaterials-form-experimentalconcepts-structuralconcepts-monumentalsignificance . . . ,” but I really can’t do it. You either do or you don’t get the idea. I cannot speak for any other member of the jury, but for myself: I LOOK AT THINGS WITH MY INSIDES—and that is all there is to it.
There seems to be too much of everything anyway—that’s mostly what hits me. The whole trip was for me a crazy-wild ecstasy of excesses. Those fantasy-like airports with funny, blasé people who think nothing of jetting across the country twice a week. Everything fast and hard. Then into the bright white new Saint Paul Art Center—everything smooth and polished on the outside, but when you got to the inside—Holy Christmas! To the left someone was preparing to make a patchwork quilt big enough to cover a giant asleep on the state of Minnesota (that was the textile section), and to the right was a vast sea, or better, a static landscape of muck with lots of little ups and downs (that was the pottery section). There was a pile of glitter in the foreground, just about enough for a Macy’s type Christmas tree (that was the metal). THEN— trumpets should sound here—then in the distance you saw the cardboard cartons! The pile was stupendous indeed. I was knocked on the head by the implications of those big and little boxes quietly proclaiming what they used to be intended for: “1 gross DIAMOND KITCHEN MATCHES —strong sure lights for indoor and outdoor use.” The irony of that pile sticks in my head. I wish that I had measured it—must have been thirty feet high anyway. The real crafts of this country were proclaimed on the sides of those boxes. That’s the stuff people really use and is part of their daily absolutions to hands, feet, teeth, and stomach. It’s like the real Pop art that has been all over this country, everywhere, for anyone to enjoy—all you had to do was cast your eyes about to see it.
Now I am at the old What is Art? and What is Craft? argument. I used to get impatient and say what difference does it make how a thing is classified. If it is good, it is good, and that is all that counts. Now there has to be a more accurate delineation. The reason is not for the sake of the dictionary. The reason is that the people who are making Kleenex holders and tapestries and the vast number of useful and not so useful items between are not finding their audience. Do art critics cover craft shows? Not that I know of—not in The New York Times anyway. Do avant-garde artists and art collectors swell the throngs at craft shows? I can’t prove one way or the other, but I sort of doubt it. The evidence I have seen is that they look down their noses at this whole area. Most devotees to craft shows look to me like they are shopping for interior decorating ideas or ideas to further their own progress with their own particular craft-hobby. Which is just fine. But, are these last mentioned people interested in buying an avant-garde hanging it.
If a CRAFT show is a CRAFT show, then crafts should be sent to it—no °1 If the work has no tangible function, then it should be sent to an ART SHOW—no? And if the individual is too chicken to label his no-use-craft-object “art,” then he should not send it anywhere.
Does that sound too simple and stupid’? To me, it sounds simple and sensible. The bulk of the responsibility for this mess lies with the students and amateurs who haven’t the foggiest idea what they are doing or why. I suppose that this is understandable. This group also seems to have a big thing about being “experimental.” My thoughts about this are perhaps obvious, but I will put them down anyway. To experiment implies a preliminary search which hopefully leads to an idea or thing. An artist who has respect for his work throws a good deal of his experimental work on the trash heap ; otherwise, how can it be termed experimental’? If your experiments are going to lead to anything, you work with them and use them as a foundation. Then perhaps you will have something worth looking at. The experiment is not (except maybe once in a great while) an end unto itself and a work of art, nor is it (just about never) a useful craft.
In general, as I gazed about that sea of stuff, I wondered what motivated people. Thinking back, it mostly looked like a lot of egos eager to hop on a band wagon— a liberal sprinkling of naive hobbyists, teachers and educational types who don’t work enough on their own stuff to really come up with something but nevertheless are dead set on enhancing the aura about their names. There were a few obvious beginners who looked promising; I wish them luck and hope they keep working.
At this point I must stop and say that there was a small core of work, real work, done by mature artists who I think must enter these shows out of an old loyalty to the “cause.” There were plenty of names” who did not send at all. Whether or not they enter a show or get into a show has absolutely no effect on these people or their work. They will continue to work. I think they know that whether or not they get into a show has to do with “Bingo.” All shows are “Bingo.” Until the “Bingo” part of the system is done away with, an intelligent artist will have difficulty taking the outcome of a particular show seriously. If working artists can-not take this thing seriously, then for whom are they run °? For the students, teachers, amateurs, and hobbyists’? Sure, these part-time artists do some nice things, but I, for one, am looking for something more complex, something way beyond what I am at present capable of. I want to have to stretch my brain until it hurts—not stoop and be comfortably bored.
*Actually my complaint is that they are all imitating one another or their instructors—by “different” ways I mean more ways than were being done ten or fifteen years ago.
Conrad Brown, “Peter Voulkos,” Craft Horizons 16, no. 5 (September/October 1956): 12-18. Reproduced with permission of the American Craft Council.
Southern California’s top potter combines wheel-thrown elements and slabs in some startling new large-scale pottery.
The most discussed ceramist in California today is a man named Peter Voulkos. A tremendously virile and productive potter, many of his pots measure more than half his height. He throws “large”—an early influence, he admits, of photographs of small pots he thought were huge. Voulkos uses clay by the ton. In fact, he and four graduate students working under him at the Los Angeles County Art Institute where he teaches used over 15 tons of clay this past academic year.
Born and brought up in the small college town of Bozeman, Montana, in a mountainous part of the state, he is the son of Greek parents who settled there after the first world war to open a restaurant. A graduate of Montana State College, Voulkos was headed for a career in commercial art when he discovered pottery, a fourth-year requirement at the college. His intense interest in working in clay has never slackened. Going on to earn an M.F.A. in ceramics in 1952 at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, he has since won some dozen major prizes for his work, not the least of which was a gold medal (the only American to win one) at the international exposition of ceramics held at Cannes a year ago.
Today, at 32, Voulkos says, “When you’re experimenting at the wheel you can’t explain a lot of things you do. You just say to yourself, ‘the form will find its way’—it always does.”
When he works he appears to give both his reflexes and his emotions an exceedingly long intellectual tether. “That’s what makes it exciting,” he asserts. “The minute you begin to feel you understand what you’re doing it loses that searching quality. You have to forget about the little technical problems that don’t matter—you’ve over-come them long ago anyway. You finally reach a point where you’re no longer concerned with keeping this blob of clay centered on the wheel and up in the air. Your emotions take over and what happens just happens. Usually you don’t know it’s happened until after it’s done.”
The heterogeneousness of the man’s pottery is a measure of the depth of his intuitive perception, of his constant discontent with the outcome. No pot looks as if its maker had exhausted the resources of his creativity. None of his work supposes any end to the restless search for expression.
Voulkos believes he can chart his idea development: Once he has leveled off at what seems like a plateau, he can never resist diving into a program of experimentation, one idea leading to another as he does a series of pots in quick succession.
“Before I know it I’ve gotten way off on a limb, so far away that new ideas become unmanageable, and I come back toward the plateau again—but not all the way back. Actually, I start a new plateau a little higher up in my development than the one before it, and here I assimilate all I learned while I was out there on my ‘limb.’ ”
Growing and learning and moving ahead, he is sure that a better grasp of one’s progress is possible working this way, with never any chance of becoming “real precious,” the way so many potters have who go on repeating variations on one or two successful ideas year after year.
Voulkos, satisfied to be forever dissatisfied, thinks many potters work too hard to assuage a drive to make the end result a “perfect” thing within the accepted use of the material. There are no limitations but arbitrary ones in the use of materials and tools—”no rules, just concepts.” He wonders if there may be in all the arts too much importance attached to the way a particular person uses a particular material or tool. “Pottery has to be more than an exercize in facility—the human element, expression, is badly neglected.” Using as tools mere scraps of wood and metal and cheap 10-cent store brushes, Voulkos declares, “You find your own tools just like you find your own way of working.”
The greatest joy and stimulation in pottery, Voulkos admits, derives from its disciplines— the discipline of the wheel, the discipline of the materials and the discipline of having to make something that will stand up and function—not to be confused with utilitarian function, “but rather a function for the human soul.” It is its very disciplines that Voulkos thinks may make pottery potentially a greater art form than other more broadly defined types of art. The successful potter must set himself a tightly circumscribed area of creativity, and then, within this area, he should try to be as free of limitations as possible. “Only then can you really express your true feelings.”
Yet there is contradiction in this for Voulkos, for when his spirit for potting begins to wane he turns to painting, which he considers—as a safety valve for excess creative energy—to be far superior to any craft, simply because painting is completely free of limitations. He also paints to realize certain ideas that would be impossible to interpret in ceramics. “It is sometimes easier to break through in another medium.”
He has found, too, that painters have considerable empathy for pottery; they seem to get to the root of the matter quickly, possibly because painters latch onto imaginative ideas quicker and are not all tied up in techniques the way potters—and most sculptors—always seem to be. “I would rather see good painters than potters on pottery show juries,” says Voulkos. “Most pottery juries wind up with shows that are nothing more than assemblages of tricks and techniques. It’s a simple matter to pick out a pot’s poor qualities but it’s impossible to analyze a good pot.”
Voulkos is a great admirer of Picasso because Picasso, within his various areas of artistic achievement, is such an innovator. He is an artist, says Voulkos, who goes off on all sorts of tangents and everybody follows him because he’s Picasso. But before they ever reach him he’s off on another.
There was a time, Voulkos admits, when, tired of hearing from all sides how bad Picasso’s pottery is, he went out and bought all the Picasso prints he could lay his hands on and tacked them up all around his studio, “to live with until I really felt I had absorbed all he had to say to me.” In spite of the fact that potters the world over criticize it, Voulkos likes much of Picasso’s pottery for the way that Picasso has detached himself from centuries-old traditions in the ceramic arts. “We’re all so indoctrinated,” says Voulkos, stretching for outer space in his own way, prefering to make his own discoveries by himself.
A potter who usually finds pottery exhibitions dull and depressing, Voulkos’ strongest sources of inspiration are not ceramic ones at all but stem from his interests in contemporary painting, sculpture and music (he is a student of classical guitar and a connoisseur of progressive jazz).
Voulkos himself has become a considerable influence among California potters, principally through his teaching. His system of instruction, however, consists mainly in working right alongside his students. He thinks the approach to art education in most schools is too dry, too lacking in stimulation. “They go so far back, by the time you get up to today, there’s no time for tomorrow.” Especially in the teaching of pottery, a relatively new art form for U.S. schools, he thinks too much emphasis is put on meaningless techniques and overworked dogmas that merely give students and teachers a false sense of security in what they are trying to accomplish.
Disliking the idea of setting up a lot of little rules and problems for his students, Voulkos only gives them enough technique to get them started thinking for themselves. “I talk to them about what they’re doing (his pupils say he seldom criticizes) and I try never to say, ‘I don’t like this,’ because I believe if a student has any native ability worth bringing out, he’ll see for himself when he’s gone up a blind alley, and it’s the experience of finding your own way out of blind alleys that forms the most valuable part of a student’s training.”
The type of work a teacher does, he says, will always rub off on his pupils—”It’s not a sign of poor teaching, it’s inevitable.” Voulkos thinks you cannot tell if a student will turn out to be a successful artist for five or even 10 years after he has left school. “If by then he’s still copying his teacher, well, you might say he isn’t very creative.”
Although in principle he disagrees with collaboration within a single art medium, Voulkos admits there may be some merit in this currently much-discussed idea. He says that when Picasso decorates a shape turned out by a potter, for instance, one cannot help but feel a distinct separation between the potter who made it and the painter who decorated it. It is the intensity of the decoration that has made the whole idea workable. You are in a sense collaborating whenever you execute a design for somebody. This is a difficult problem for the U.S. artist-craftsman. Collaborating and executing will put bread on the table. Voulkos admits, but as for himself : “If I had to sublimate my own creativity, if I had to turn out a pot of someone else’s design —why I’d just as soon make a living pumping gas.” He is willing to do what amounts to custom work only if he approves of the basic idea and can apply his own creativity.
As for making pottery that will sell readily, he does a raft of very simple little bowls, plates and cups as pot boilers with-out much if any new creative thinking involved. This is just a kinesthetic exercise which, he says, “I do during a lull—and to tell the truth, I’d rather do any day than pump gas.”
Voulkos doesn’t care what ultimate purpose his pottery is put to, believing it is up to the people who buy the things they want. He gets irked at those who ask, “what is it for?” because he considers each piece an entity unto itself—and least of all an adjunct to an interior decorating scheme. He thinks, however, that people have more difficulty picking out pottery than many other forms of art because it is so hard for today’s consumer to accept the fact that a thing that costs a lot may be imperfect in profile or decorative treatment and may still be beautiful. Unlike the Orientals. Americans judge too much by technical perfection and mere surface appearance. In doing so, they lose the expression of the artist, which, after all, is what studio pottery is all about, Voulkos asserts.
“Usually the last thing on my mind is why I am a potter,” he says. “When you come right down to it, I have a very selfish attitude—I don’t really make pots for people but to satisfy myself.”
This is his theory on the great increase in the popularity of pottery, and in fact, of all the craft arts in California: They clarify a person’s position as an aware individual, as one who appreciates owning—or making —works of art in any form. And in California, where so many people live in vast developments of look-alike houses, there is a tremendous appetite for individuality, especially among the post-war generation.
The battle for the validity of contemporary design has been won in the Far West, he says. The current fight is what kind of “modern” will it be? Fashion, which has become an important factor in California design, is less snobbishness these days and more an intellectual awareness of good design. This, Voulkos thinks, is a product of the state’s excellent school system and of the great interest in the adult education art program.
Californians’ long-criticized tendency not to have their roots down very deep in the dusty soil of their state, coupled with a desire for an indigenous culture of some sort, have not only prompted this back-to-school movement but, Voulkos thinks, may also have something to do with the increased popularity of crafts. Most of California’s schools and colleges teach courses in them. A tremendous amateur interest in the crafts is sweeping the state—and people who seriously pursue a craft as a hobby make critical and enthusiastic consumers.
The state naturally has an abundance of bad art, so bad, in fact, it can stimulate a creative person into doing more intense work in protest, says Voulkos, who credits California with aiding his own search for himself. “The mediocre and the eclectic will always flourish where masses of people come together. It is not easy to lose yourself and find yourself at the same time.”
Possibly the extent to which Peter Voulkos has discovered himself may be measured by the faith that the County of Los Angeles seems to place in him, erecting this year a fabulous new $75,000 building at the County Art Institute to house the Ceramics Department which Voulkos heads. The building will be equipped to handle students interested in all phases of ceramics, industrial, architectural and art. Here each student will have a partitioned-off cubicle “studio” of his own containing both a power-driven potter’s wheel and a kick wheel. Voulkos, incidentally, uses both.
The theory is that the new building’s individual cubicle-studios will get the students used to working alone, which, after all, says Voulkos, is the way they will be working when they leave the school. He intends to urge them to sell what they make to gain experience in the problems of marketing pottery. He will simply ask each student to pretend at a certain point in his development that he is on his own. He will have him seek retail outlets all over the country and keep tabs on hypothetical profit and loss. Any money a student may actually make will go toward buying the equipment he will need to set up his own pottery. Voulkos also teaches his students to make their own equipment; one potter’s wheel designed at the school is now marketed commercially.
Concurrent with the publication of this issue—in mid-October—Peter Voulkos is having his second one-man show in the East at Bonniers in New York. The pieces shown include some that were made this year.
They were all fired in a gas-burning kiln with a reduction atmosphere type of firing taken to cone 10, Voulkos explains, adding that he hopes potters who see his show will remember that some of the best pots man ever made were fired in dung fires at relatively low temperatures — “which only proves that technique is not the important factor in making pottery. It must come from the heart.”
Warren and Alixandra MacKenzie, “Letter to the Editor,” Craft Horizons 13, no. 3 (June 1953): 44-45. Reproduced with permission of the American Craft Council.
A letter on training for craftsmen from Alixandra and Warren MacKenzie of The Saint Paul Gallery and School of Art.
To the Editor: As artists, potters—and readers of Craft Horizons—we are interested in basic education for young American craftsmen. Both Warren and I started as students of painting in one of the large professional art schools. We then became interested in ceramics and received the typical art school training in this field for three years. Upon graduation, with all of the ego of young art students, we went out to teach and make pots. But we soon realized the training we had received was completely inadequate in preparing us to be producing craftsmen.
We were fortunate at this time in being able to apprentice ourselves to Bernard Leach in England for two years. As apprentices we worked eight hours a day, producing the standard ware of the pottery in quantities of fifty to a hundred, in the tradition of the old pottery workshops. It was quite a revelation to find that the young local boys, without art school training, could throw with a sensitivity and freedom which would put to shame the average “artist-potter” in the United States. Out of that period of concentrated work we learned a facility which now permits us to throw from fifty to two hundred pots a day, depending on the size and shape.
As far as we have been able to determine, there is no such workshop training in our schools today. This may be the explanation in part of the relatively high price and limited sale of handmade pots here. Yet we feel there is a need for handmade pots, not as replacement, but as a complement to the best machine-made pots in the world. We believe basic reasons for this limited market are partly economic; but it is also due to a fundamental lack in the education of both craftsman and consumer: each of them has grown to expect and to appreciate machine perfection only. While many of us admire irregularities found in nature. we expect from man—a natural organic being—the perfection of the machine. The average artist-potter today understands “repetitive throwing” to mean a deadening of his work. He fails to realize that the classic examples we find in our museums from all cultures. were made precisely in this manner. Dead pots are not the result of the method but rather of the man.
In our own production we have no special materials or techniques other than those which have been available to all potters for hundreds of years. To use our materials in as natural and sensitive a way as possible is one of our main objectives, as well as a desire to supply a need in contemporary living instead of making for exhibitions and collections alone. Our belief is that a revision of educational emphasis is necessary. not only on the professional level but also in the approach to consumer appreciation. That there is tremendous interest and talent in America is obvious, yet the interested person must go either to Europe or Asia for the practical training which will permit him to make good use of his natural abilities.
(Signed) Warren and Alixandra MacKenzie
Rose Slivka, “The New Ceramic Presence,” Craft Horizons 21, no. 4 (July/August 1961): 31-37. Reproduced with permission of the American Craft Council.
THE NEW CERAMIC PRESENCE
by ROSE SLIVKA
AMERICAN ceramics—exuberant, bold, irreverent—has 111 excited admiration and controversy among craftsmen in every field both here and abroad. The most populated, aggressively experimental and mutable area of craft expression, it is symptomatic of the vitality of U.S. crafts with its serious, personal, evocative purposes.
As in the other arts, ceramics, also, has broken new ground and challenged past traditions, suggested new meanings and possibilities to old functions and habits of seeing, and has won the startled attention of a world unprepared for the unexpected. (At the second International Ceramic Exhibitions at Ostend, Belgium, in 1959, the U.S. exhibit, circulated abroad for the last two years, became the focus of the show.) To attempt some insight into what is happening—for it is a happening, peculiar to our time and to American art as a whole — to probe the complex sources of our ceramics and its vigorous new forms is the aim of this investigation.
What is there in the historical and philosophic fabric of America that engendered the unique mood of our expression?
America, the only nation in the history of the modern world to be formed out of an idea rather than geographic circumstance or racial motivations—the country compelled by the electrifying and still new idea of personal freedom that cut through geographic, racial, and economic lines to impel people everywhere in unparalleled scope, rate and number—was a philosophic product of the Age of Reason and the economic spawn of the Industrial Revolution. In the two hundred years of our short history, our expanding frontier kept us absorbed in the problems of practical function and pressured us to solve them in a hurry. We have, as a result, become the most developed national intelligence in satisfying functional needs for the mass (in a massive country), with availability an ideal. The rapidity, the scale, and the intense involvement in mechanization have been unprecedented. If there is, in fact, any one pervasive element in the American climate, it is that of the machine— its power, its speed, its strength, its force, its energy, its productivity, its violence.
Not unified by blood or national origin (everyone is from someplace else), or a sense of place (with many generations of a family history identified with one place, as in Europe), we are a restless people. A nation of immigrants with a continuing history of migration, we are obsessed by the need for arrival—a pursuit that eludes us. And so, we are always on the go. (Our writers—Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Thomas Wolfe, and, most recently, Jack Kerouac—have struggled for a literary art form to express this.) Having solved our need for mobility by mechanical means, we love engineering and performance and the materials and tools by which we have achieved them.
In our involvement with practical matters, we were too busy really to cultivate the idea of beauty. Beauty as such—the classical precepts of harmonious completion, of perfection, of balance—is still a Western European idea, and it is entirely possible that it is not the esthetic urgency of an artist functioning in an American climate—a climate which not only has been infused with the dynamics of machine technology, but with the action of men—ruggedly individual and vernacular men (the pioneer, the cowboy) with a genius for improvisation. Our environment, our temperament, our creative tensions do not seem to encourage the making of beauty as such, but rather the act of beauty as creative adventure— energy at work—tools and materials finding each other—machines in movement —power and speed—always incomplete, always in process.
As far back as 1870, a Shaker spokesman declared that Shaker architecture ignored “architectural effect and beauty of design” because what people called “beautiful” was “absurd and abnormal.” * It had been stated by others before and was restated many times since, including the declaration in the 1920’s by famous architect Raymond M. Hood: “This beauty stuff is all the bunk.” ** A typical American attitude, it may well have expressed the beginning of a new American esthetic rather than gross lack of appreciation for the old one.
This is the ebullient, unprecedented, environment of the art that, particularly in the fifteen years since World War II, has asserted itself on every level.
First manifested in painting—the freest of the arts from the disciplines of material or function—it projected such a presence of energy, new ideas and methods, that it released a chain reaction all over the world, and for the first time we saw the influence of American painting abroad. But nowhere has the impact of contemporary American painting been greater than here at home. Feeding on itself, it has multiplied and grown in vitality and daring to penetrate every field of creative activity.
Pottery, of course, has always served as a vehicle for painting, so this in itself is nothing new. The painted pottery of Greece strictly followed the precepts of the painting of the time in style and quality, while that of Japan was often freer and in advance of its other media of painting, even anticipating abstract modern approaches. Contemporary painting, however, has expanded the vocabulary of abstract decoration and given fresh meaning to the accidental effects of dipped, dripped, poured and brushed glazes and slips on the pot in the round.
But its greatest and most far-reaching effect in ceramics has been the new emphasis it gave to the excitement of surface qualities—texture, color, form— and to the artistic validity of spontaneous creative events during the actual working process—to everything that happens to the clay while the pot is being made.* Clay, perhaps more than any other material, undergoes a fabulous creative transformation—from a palpable substance to a stone-like, self-supporting structure—the self-recorded history of which is burned and frozen into itself by fire.
More than in any other form of art, there is a tradition of the “accident” in ceramics—the unpremeditated, fortuitous event that may take place out of the potter’s control, in the interaction between the living forces of clay and fire which may exercise mysterious wills of their own. The fact that the validity of the “accident” is a conscious precept in modern painting and sculpture is a vital link between the practice of pottery and the fine arts today. By giving the inherent nature of the material greater freedom to assert its possibilities—possibilities generated by the individual, personal quality of the artist’s specific handling—the artist underscores the multiplicity of life (the life of materials and his own), the events and changes that take place during his creative act.
Painting shares with ceramics the joys and the need for spontaneity in which the will to create and the idea culminate and find simultaneous expression in the physical process of the act. Working with a sense of immediacy is natural and necessary to the process of working with clay. It is plastic only when it is wet and it must be worked quickly or it dries, hardens and changes into a rigid material.
The painter, moreover, having expanded the vistas of his material, physically treats paint as if it were clay—a soft, wet, viscous substance responsive to the direction and force of the hand and to the touch, directly or with tool; it can be dripped, poured, brushed, squeezed, thrown, pinched, scratched, scraped, modeled— treated as both fluid and solid. Like the potter, he even incorporates foreign materials—such as sand, glass, coffee grounds, crushed stone, etc.—with paint as the binder, to emphasize texture and surface quality beyond color. (We are aware that the application of paint as color, with its inherent qualities and dependency for a supporting structure by adhesion to a plane in another material, makes a fundamental difference between the two arts—between it and all other practices of the plastic arts. We are not trying to simplify or equate. We are pointing to those common denominators that have profoundly affected and influenced the new movement in pottery.) It is corollary that the potter today treats clay as if it were paint. A fusion of the act and attitudes of contemporary painting with the material of clay and the techniques of pottery (the potter’s hand if not always his wheel is there), it has resulted in a new formal gesture that imposes on sculpture.
In the past, pottery form, limited and predetermined by function, with a few outstanding exceptions, has served the freer expressive interests of surface. Today, the classical form has been subjected and even discarded in the interests of surface—an energetic, baroque clay surface with itself the formal “canvas.” The paint, the “canvas” and the structure of the “canvas” are a unity of clay.
There are three extensions of clay as paint in contemporary pottery: 1) the pot form is used as a “canvas;” 2) the clay itself is used as paint three-dimensionally— with tactility, color, and actual form; 3) form and surface are used to oppose each other rather than complement each other in their traditional harmonious relationship—with color breaking into and defining, creating, destroying form. This has led the potter into pushing the limits of painting on the pot into new areas of plastic expression: sculptured painting, with the painted surface in control of the form. The potter manipulates the clay itself as if it were paint—he slashes, drips, scrubs down or builds up for expressive forms and textures. Or around the basic hollow core he creates a continuum of surface planes on which to paint. In so doing, he creates a sculptural entity whose form he then obliterates with the painting. This, in turn, sets up new tensions between forms and paint. It is a reversal of the three-dimensional form painted in two. Now the two-dimensional is expressed in three—on a multi-planed, sculptured “canvas.” As a result, modern ceramic expression ranges in variety from painted pottery to potted painting to sculptured painting to painted sculpture to potted sculpture to sculptured pottery. And often the distinctions are very thin or non-existent.
The current pull of potters into sculpture— in every material and method, including welded metals, cast bronze, plaster, wood, plastics, etc.—is a phenomenon of the last five years. So great a catalyst has been American painting that the odyssey from surface to form has been made through its power. Manipulating form as far as it could go to project the excitement of surface values, the potters found even the slightest concession to function too limiting. From painter-potters, they were impelled to become painter-sculptors. Instead of form serving function, it now serves to develop the possibilities of the new painting. However, while this painting generates the creation of forms for itself—often massive in scale—it tolerates the dominance of no presence other than itself. In his new idea of a formal synthesis, the potter is inevitably pushing into space—into the direction of sculpture.
As a fusion between the two dimensional and the three dimensional, American pottery is realizing itself as a distinct art form. In developing its own hybrid expression, it is like a barometer of our esthetic situation.
Involvement in the new handling of surface with form, however, cannot rest on traditional categorizing. The lines cross back and forth continuously. While the painter, in building and modeling his surface has reached toward the direction of sculpture, so, too, the sculptor has been independently reaching away from the conventional bounds of sculptural form toward an energy of space and the formal possibilities of an activated surface (with or without color). The hybrid nature of this expression, however, has always been within the realm of sculpture, only to be released as an entity in our time.
Sculpture, as every area of the plastic arts, is re-evaluating the very idea that gave it birth—monumentality. A traditional sculptural aspiration, its values, too, have changed. The sculptor today places greater emphasis on event rather than occasion, in the force of movement and the stance of dance rather than in the power of permanence and the weight of immobility, in the metamorphosis of meanings rather than in the eternity of symbols.
Specific to the kinship between potter and sculptor is the fact that clay is a primary material for both (for the potter, the sole material; for the sculptor, one of several). Its tools and methods impose many of the same technical skills and attitudes on both. In general, potter and sculptor share a creative involvement in the actuality of material as such—its body and dimension—an experience of the physicality of an object that in scale and shape relates to the physicality of the artist’s own body in a particular space.
The developments in abstract sculpture have decidedly affected the formal environment of ceramists everywhere. The decision of the sculptor to reinterpret the figure as well as all organic form through abstraction and even to project intellectually devised forms with no objective reference inevitably enlarged the formal vistas of every craftsman and designer working in three dimensions.
To pottery, sculpture has communicated its own sense of release from the tyranny of traditional tools and materials, a search for new ways of treating materials and for new forms to express new images and new ideas.
In addition to painting and sculpture, other influences that contributed decisively to the new expression in American pottery were: The bold ceramic thrust of Picasso, and Miro with Artigas, gave encouragement and stimulation to the movement which had already begun here. The Zen pottery of Japan, furthermore, with its precepts of asymmetry, imperfection (crude material simplicity), incomplete-ness (process), found profound sympathy in the sensibilities of American potters.
The freedom of the American potter to experiment, to risk, to make mistakes freely on a creative and quantitative level that is proportionally unequalled anywhere else has been facilitated, to a large extent, by this country’s wealth and availability of tools and materials. It gave further impetus to the potter’s involvement in total process—in the mastery of technology and the actual making of the object from beginning to end— in marked contrast to the artist-potters of European countries who leave the technology and execution to the peasant potter and do only the designing and finishing. Aside from the fact that we have no anonymous peasant potters in this country to do only the technical or preparatory work, the American loves his tools too much to leave that part of the fun to someone else. For him, the entire process contains creative possibilities. Intimacy with the tools and materials of his craft is a source of the artist’s power.
Spontaneity, as the creative manifestation of this intimate knowledge of tools and their use on materials in pursuit of an art, has been dramatically articulated as an American identity in the art of jazz—the one medium that was born here. Always seeking to break through expected patterns, the jazzman makes it while he is playing it. With superb mastery of his instrument and intimate identification with it, the instrumentalist creates at the same time he performs; the entire process is there for the listener to hear— he witnesses the acts of creation at the time they are happening and shares with the performer the elation of a creative act.
Crafts which functioned in the communal or regional culture of an agrarian society do not have the same meaning in the internationalized culture of an industrial society. Thus, all over the modern world, the creative potter has been re-evaluating his relation to function. Certainly, the potter in the U.S.A. is no longer obliged to produce for conventional function, since the machine has given us so many containers for every conceivable variety of purposes and in every possible material—plastic, paper, glass, ceramic, fiber, metal—with such quick obsolescence and replacement rates that they make almost no demands on our sensibilities, leaving us free—easy come, easy go—from being possessed by the profusion and procession of objects that fill our lives today. We are accustomed to our functional problems being solved efficiently and economically by mechanical means; yet we are acutely aware of our particular need for the handcrafts today to satisfy esthetic and psychological urgencies. The painter-potter, therefore, engages in a challenge of function as a formal and objective determinant; he subjects design to the plastic dynamics of interacting form and color and even avoids immediate functional association —the value by which machine-made products are defined—a value which can impede free sensory discovery of the object just as its limitations can impede his creative act. And so, the value of use becomes a secondary or even arbitrary attribute.
Then comes the inevitable question: Is it craft? In the view of this writer, as long as it is the intent of the craftsman to produce an object of craft (the execution of which he performs with the recognized tools, materials, and methods of craftsmanship), and he incorporates acknowledgment, however implied, of functional possibilities or commitments (including the function of decoration)—as long as he maintains personal control over the execution of the final product, and he assumes personal responsibility for its esthetic and material quality—it is craft. At the point that all links with the idea of function have been severed, it leaves the field of the crafts.
Ceramics, perhaps more than any other craft, throughout its long history has produced useful objects which are considered fine art. Time has a way of overwhelming the functional values of an object that outlives the men who made and used it, with the power of its own objective presence—that life-invested quality of being that transcends and energizes. When this happens, such objects are forever honored for their own sakes.
We are now groping for a new esthetic to meet the needs of our time, or perhaps it is a new anti-esthetic to break visual patterns that no longer suffice. The most powerful forces of our environment— electronic and atomic, inner and outer space, speed—are invisible to the naked eye. Our esthetic tradition, involved as it has been with visual experience, does not satisfy the extension and growth of reality in our time. Our greatest sensory barrier to a new esthetic is visual enslavement in a sub-visual world. The aspect of man is no longer the center of things, and his eyes are only accessories of his own growing sense of displacement.
Throughout the arts in America we are in the presence of a quest for a deeper feeling of presence.
The American potter, isolated from the mass market which makes no demands on his product as a material necessity, is motivated by a personal esthetic and a personal philosophy. Lacking an American pottery tradition, he has looked to the world heritage and made it his own. For this, he has had to study and travel. Today, with his knowledge about himself, his craft and his art—historically, contemporaneously, and geographically— cumulatively greater than ever before, the U.S. craftsman, a lonely, ambitious eclectic, is the most eager in search of his own identity.
All this, then, has made him most susceptible and responsive to the startling achievements of contemporary American painting and sculpture. For better or worse, he has allied himself with a plastic expression that comes from his own culture and his own time, and from an attitude towards work and its processes with which he can identify. The American potter gets inspiration from the top— from the most developed artistic, intuitive consciousness in his society. As always, the artist is led—not by the patron, not by populace, certainly not by the critic—artist is led by artist. The artist is his own culture.
Briefly, the characteristic directions of the new American pottery are: the search for a new ceramic presence, the concern with the energy and excitement of surface, and the attack on the classical, formal rendering.
Pottery, with a continuity that reaches back to the very beginnings of man, has always had a tradition for variety. If there is any one traditional characteristic of American pottery, it is this enormous variety. And if there is anything that distinguishes American plastic expression, it is the forthrightness, the fearlessness, the individuality, the aloneness of each man’s search. ■
* John Kouwenhoven’s documented study of American esthetics, “Made in America,” published by Charles T. Branford Co., 1948.
**The writer does not wish this article to be interpreted as a statement of special partisan-ship for those potters working with the new forms and motivations. It is an attempt to treat a direction of work which, with its provocative attitudes, has evoked strong response— for is as well as against it. Our partisanship is for creative work in all its variety. We recognize that pottery has as many faces as the people who m
Richard F. Bach. “What is a Craftsman?” Craft Horizons 1, no. 1 (November 1941), 20-21. Reproduced with permission of the American Craft Council.
“CRAFTSMAN” is a much discussed word—one which should be properly defined and understood by all. Does it mean an attitude of mind, an ability in the use of one’s hands, or a deeper creative capacity? Some time ago Mr. Bach wrote an article in the American Magazine of Art, in which he gave his definition. Pertinent excerpts from that article have formed the basis of the paragraphs which follow, and are printed here with permission of that publication. How many of our readers agree with him? How many disagree? Won’t you write us your definition for our next issue? Do it now, while the subject is still uppermost in your mind. Progress comes from an inter-change of ideas, intellectual disagreement and frank discussion. We count on hearing from you.
What Is A Craftsman?
by RICHARD F. BACH
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
In the arts, as in other pursuits of life, the ordinary terms of daily use suffer constant change of meaning. When at last the change becomes patent to all, many of us are surprised, and not a few refuse to accept the newer meaning. So it is with the term “craftsman.” We are accustomed to think of a craftsman as one who unites in himself ability in both design and execution. Too readily do we ignore the means used by the craftsman to make his products, the quick assumption being that he makes things “by hand,” perhaps with the help of simple tools which are held in the hand.
Does the potter make his slip by hand, for instance? If he does, he wastes his time and willfully raises the price of his product, thus harming the cause of craftsmanship. The craftsman potter’s balling mill is purely mechanical; its use is merely an aid in producing a work of craftsmanship. The craftsman of old had no such contrivance, and it is in these simple mechanical expedients we begin to see the differentiation between the old and the new.
If a craftsman uses such a machine, is he the less a craftsman? The use of new machines may be carried into all the crafts. Every metal tool used is produced by machine. Does this mean there are no longer craftsmen in the old sense? And why should there be? There is no progress in a stalemate. Craftsmen must play the game in the modern sense, taking advantage of every modern convenience that will free their minds, yes, and their hands, from humdrum routine and give time and space for design. The one con-trolling thought remains—the craftsman must unite in himself the ability both to design and to produce; from beginning to end the whole process must be within his power.
Now many a craftsman of old gained a popularity which made it impossible for him to turn out the pieces called for by his trade. As this grew he added assistants to his staff, till finally he had a large shop. Thinking out his problem, he saw the advantage of assigning to these helpers the kind of work for which they seemed best fitted. The result was a smooth-running shop, manned by specialists, turning out material more rapidly and in all probability better than before. The master still knew the whole gamut of duties, but his hand touched lathe and mallet less frequently. Nevertheless, he remained a craftsman to the end of his days, and in this way he profited by his success and spread his own genius out to more and more people.
No doubt there were not a great many shops of this type, but their example appears in the larger craftsman shops we have now, and the controlling thought still remains: the master of the establishment must unite within himself the ability both to design and to produce. The difference appears in his assistants. Among these we find specialists who have no ambition to become craftsmen; and some who may be but laborers in the plant. And among these we also find artisans, skilled minds and hands, that will in the end replace those of the master and perpetuate the craft. Craftsmanship characterizes the plant as well as the individual. When that plant uses machinery which becomes too complicated for one person to manage, or where there are too many machines for him to control, the plant becomes a factory, and we will find it used for quantity production. But until that point is reached and as long as the master still unites within himself the ability both to design and to produce everything his establishment turns out, we have craftsmanship. The presence of steam, electricity or water motive power is no bar to craftsmanship, . . . nor is the use of machines, as such. A hacksaw is a machine! A catapult in ancient Rome was an “engine” of war. We have come a long way from the old conception, though without question there will always be craftsmen who work with their hands and with the simplest tools because they like to—and can afford to, which may be more important in these crowded times.
It would be well to remember that a craftsman is not a holy hermit of art, bound to wear a halo in the hereafter because he is a craftsman; nor is his work bound to be good because it was done by a craftsman. Craftsmanship improves, as do other things, by competition.
Had the craftsman seen his opportunity of working with and for the machine instead of fighting it, the manufacturer would have seen his value as a designer. As the machine has grown in economic significance the craftsman has lost economic stature. His chance will come again; this one opportunity, at least, will knock twice.
Read a curated selection of articles from archives of Craft Horizons magazine, and dig deeper into the stories of makers in the burgeoning American craft movement of the mid-20th century. All reproduced with permission of the American Craft Council.
March 7 – June 2, 2019
Beautiful, handmade works and an inside look into the history of mid-century makers behind the American craft movement.