Bill May is the executive director of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. He established a studio specializing in architectural art glass which he directed for twenty-five years.
Twenty–eight years ago, having enrolled in my first craft workshop, I sat in the auditorium at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, waiting to be welcomed by the school director and wondering exactly what I had gotten myself into. A Humanities major and a high school English teacher who had grown up in a home that had only a hammer and a single screwdriver in the way of tools, I felt certain I was in a room full of real artists and makers, and it would soon be discovered that I came only equipped with curiosity and enthusiasm. As I have learned over the last three decades, that was all I really needed.
I now know that the focus of a craft workshop is not about what you don’t know, but rather what you can learn. Successful craft schools provide a welcoming and safe place to reflect, explore, question, problem solve, and create with others engaged in the same pursuit. It is a shared pursuit, one without competition, one based on respect and possibility. The anxiety and excitement that comes from thinking about something, trying something, making something unites students of different ages, backgrounds, and skill levels. Those attempting to create understand the sentiment expressed by the writer Oscar Wilde, “The anxiety is unbearable. I only hope it lasts forever.”
My understanding of what is possible during a craft school workshop is a based on the many ways I have participated and the many perspectives I have enjoyed. As a student through the years, I appreciated that my progress was ungraded, measured against my personal understanding of what was possible, more anticipation than expectation. Then, as a designer and studio owner, I realized that the skills and techniques I learned furthered my artistic career and my ability to support myself as an artist. Later, as a workshop instructor myself, I was always aware that I was learning as much as I was teaching, receiving as much as I was giving. And now, as the executive director of Arrowmont, I am encouraged when an 18 year old and an 83 year old student approach me separately, but with the same words, ““When I am here, I am with my tribe.”
It is exciting to work in a place where people seek to improve their skills and their understanding of materials and process. It is inspiring to work with instructors, staff, and students who want to share and learn from each other – to respect and communicate and care for each other in a creative community. The learning that takes place in this setting is active and profound. This learning allows one to know more about craft, more about others, and more about one’s self. The craft school experience enriches, even changes lives. I know it did mine.
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