By Stuart Kestenbaum
I stepped down from my position at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts at the end of May. I had been director for nearly 27 years. That’s a long time to be in one place. It’s 27 times longer than when I was in second grade and learned about the solar system and volcanoes. I could have completed college six times and included some gap years as well. In an era when more rapid job transitions are commonplace, it’s unusual to stay in one place for so long.
Why stay that long? Haystack was a perfect place to work. It’s an institution dedicated to the creative process and the central role of creativity in our lives. Nobody takes a workshop or participates in a residency because they have to. Everyone who becomes part of the intensive workshops at the school is there because they want to be. For many it’s a deep yearning. This is the time they owe to themselves. This is the workshop they’ve dreamed of taking ever since they were in college. This is the place their professor at school or teacher at an art center told them about. This is the place where daily distractions disappear and people can focus completely on their studio work. As the director, I got to witness artistic transformations that take place within a supportive community. From my first session in 1989 to the final program of 2014, Haystack provided me with an energy that propelled me through the years.
Why leave? Being surrounded by all that creative energy, I realized that I needed more time for my own creative work. I want to write more and also work collaboratively with my wife, visual artist Susan Webster, on pieces that combine text and image. While I am looking forward to those creative endeavors, I can’t leave completely. I believe wholeheartedly in the impact that institutions such as Haystack have.
That’s why I will be working as a strategist/spokesman with craftschools.us, a consortium of intensive residential craft programs—Arrowmont, Haystack, Penland, Peters Valley, and Pilchuck. Over the past few years the directors of these programs had been meeting to talk about how we could promote our schools. Last November we launched the Craft School Experience initiative to let people from outside our field and people within our fields who are unaware of our presence, know about the remarkable opportunities available through our programs.
As we met—working closely with Ennis Carter of Social Impact Studios—to articulate what distinguishes these programs, we came up with phrases that would express the essence of what we do. One phrase that resonated with all of us was Make/Time. I liked that it suggested so much about our programs. We are first and foremost places of making—using materials that honor tradition and take us beyond traditions too. We are equally about time. Time is that rare commodity we used to envision we would have more of in the future, but in fact seem to have less, except for those long stretches that we offer in our studios. When time and materials come together, a journey begins. It’s available to anyone—from makers with years of experience to those just beginning—willing to walk through our studio doors.
Visit a Craft School!