Interview with Craft artist and teacher Pat Flynn
By Jesse Bacon, Catalyst Director at Social Impact Studios.
As someone who has never done a Craft art, I regard those who do with great admiration. It's important for me to understand what goes into their work. I do understand communities and education because of my on background on organizing, so I want to talk to artists about what makes the Craft School Experience special and how it is passed on. How does it connect to broader ideas of teaching, learning, and place? What is the specific texture, shape, and sound of Craft?
I want to learn this so I can in turn better spread the message of how important and vital these communities are and help the schools themselves connect to what is authentically special about what they provide. That is what we offer at Social Impact Studios, an enlightened outside perspective of someone deeply invested and learning from our client's work. That way we can help spread the word to people who have never before blown glass or worked a potter's wheel.
First up, I spoke to Pat Flynn. Pat has taught at Arrowmont, Haystack, Penland, and Peters Valley, an amazing 80% super majority of schools in the Craft School Experience. We met him at SOFA Chicago, and he seemed like just the person to talk as a passionate advocate of craft with decades of broad experience as a student and a teacher. He ended up providing the perfect description of the simple, tiny steps that go into making something unique and beautiful. "A lot of little steps done perfectly."
Pat graciously took some time away from his workbench to talk to his about his education in Craft and his educating others.
Per his website bio, "Pat Flynn is a goldsmith who lives and works in High Falls, New York... Pat is known for both his elegant bracelets and necklaces that combine blackened steel with 22k, 18k, platinum, diamonds and pearls; and, for his meticulous hinges and latches. His work has been featured in “metalsmith” magazine and, most recently included in the Penland Book of Jewelry. His work can also be found in the collections of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Art & Design in New York. His work has most recently been acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC."
What media do you work in?
I'm kind of a jeweler. The work that I’m doing is steel, gold, and other gemstones. I look at the contrast between raw and refined, precious and ungracious, light and dark.
The roots of my work started when I had gotten out of school at SUNY-New Paltz, and I was working on old Dutch houses and found wrought iron nails. They were really beautiful and made there way to my workbench. My art grew from there, branched out, and developed. The year after I got out of school, after that, I got jobs working in factories and learned more techniques.
I was working with old discarded piano keys and scraps of steel, rusted scraps of steel, slate, always on the lookout for particularly interesting pieces. I did a whole series where I was drawing on slate and prismacolors. Whenever, I felt I had done what I had wanted to do, I moved onto other things.
I learned a good basic set of fabrication skills from my teachers and, just set myself in situations where he could practice.
You have a hot piece of a steel and you have to know where to hit it. You learn the eye-hand coordination and geometry that you need, keep steel square and work accurately and fast enough. After spending 1000 hours with a hammer in hand, you can do it.
My whole career doing skills comes from a basic jewelry class.
I grew up in a rural Pennsylvania school, you could do a painting or a ceramic thing and the old teacher sat me down with a block and a jeweler’s saw and gave it a try. I like the speed and the scale. I just found it very comforting and a good fit.
What does craft mean to you?
I worked in a fine jewelry store, where I repaired everything that came in the door, I learned how important jewelry was, even the simplest wedding band that needed repair. People were really concerned that I repair it carefully and in a timely fashion, cause they felt uncomfortable not wearing it. Some wouldn’t leave it with me, they would just wait until I finished. It's really interesting to me how jewelry becomes vessel for memories , nostalgia, and longing.
It's sad to me that actors and writers talk about learn craft, people are craftspeople never talk about it. I've always been interested in learning my craft.
In other professions, it’s ok to use language but craftspeople use that language they worry about dumbing things down or make the work less important , less about art.
Bakers know the dough, have a sense of feeling, knowing that language what you are working with. It's disregarded in the Arts.
For craftspeople, maybe it’s just synonymous with doing the work.
I lost a burnishing tool that I had when I was 16, really troubled me. It was part of my first kit that I saved up money for in high school. I still have a lot of tools from that kit. I know how long I’ve had them, how they feel. Some I bought in Germany, some I made. they’re like old friends.
Where do you learn and teach?
I have taught at all of the Craft School Experience schools except Pilchuck: Arrowmont, Haystack, Penland, and Peters Valley. The main place I teach is at Metalwerks in Waltham, MA.
Twice a year I teach goldsmithing out of studio, provide all materials, cook all the food.
It’s a unique experience doing in my own studio. I’m happiest working in my studio and creating work.
For certain techniques, craft schools can be invaluable. I take classes too, I just took an engraving class that was very useful.
How do you teach craft?
These techniques aren't that complicated. Sometimes people don't believe me, but I can teach you soldering in 5 min. Forging, soldering, fabrication, fusing are techniques to learn in 5 min. To be proficient you just need a bit more time.
I think some of the things that I teach are not easy to do, a beautiful hinge that actually works or a box lock, and students find them rather daunting. ‘I couldn’t imagine being able to do that.’ I’ve been in same boat, so I‘ve broken it down in to simple steps in my own mind, we need to make this perfectly square, straight , and flat. Solder this onto this, perfectly. When you’re done you have this amazing complicated thing, that you would be overwhelmed by when you started.
Most of my students are really shocked that they can do the level of work that they are doing.
A lot of little steps done perfectly. Hopefully it’s something that they can take home and apply it to their own work and it seems like a good way to approach things.
What do you want to change?
I would be careful as a teacher and as a student and present techniques that their work ends up being their teacher's work. What's really important is making make work that’s authentic. Ask yourself "What quality of this thing am I seeing that I can reflect in an authentic way?"
Being at different trade shows, sometimes I get frustrated cause I feel everyone is copying everyone else, no one is doing the hard work, it’s so important to not fall into temptation. The hardest thing for artists and people to do in general is to be really honest with yourselves. It’s so easy to convince yourself when you’re being honest than you’re not. That’s something that I keep working at, try to get a little better every day.
One of the hardest things to do. about inspiration and just work. There's no good luck, you
make your own good luck. Good work begets good work and good luck.I agree with Chuck Close, "“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. ... “
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