Stuart Kestenbaum, Former Director Haystack Mountain School of Craft
“Man, if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know.” Louis Armstrong, speaking about jazz
This morning I was getting something to eat before boarding a flight in Detroit. Airports don’t evoke a sense of the handmade, yet there in the cooler of the franchise sandwich shop was a “chicken Caesar handcrafted wrap” for sale. I know someone made it—in fact I may have just met the maker when she handed me change after I paid for my breakfast sandwich—but it didn’t feel to me that the word craft and that chicken wrap went together. It may be we define craft by what we know it isn’t. We use craft to connote both the highest human capacity for skill and or, in crafty, some sense of cunning or deceit. We often wonder how it compares to art—the sibling that Mom always liked better—and we distance ourselves from the potholder made from a kit—like the relative we don’t want to acknowledge.
So what do we mean by craft? It’s skill. It’s tradition and innovation. It’s learning to understand and know a material—clay, fiber, glass, metal, paper, plastic, wood—and being challenged by it at the same time. It’s a verb and a noun. It’s something that intuitively speaks to humankind—in the history and skill, and in the transformation of material. We feel a connection both to our deepest roots as makers and to our potential for ingenuity too.
What’s at the heart of the programs at Arrowmont, Haystack, Penland, Peters Valley and Pilchuck? It’s the opportunity to enter into a world where the studio is central. And in this studio you will find you have as much time as you need—to make discoveries, to try out ideas, to practice techniques. You can enter into a relationship with materials—where you and your hands are having a conversation. You will also enter into relationships with your studio mates, becoming a community of makers. Whether you have experience or are starting out, the rhythm and process are the same. It’s a story that is as old as humans as makers—understanding the materials of the world, transforming them and transforming yourself along the way as well. Sometimes we can predict what will happen. Other times we are completely surprised. It is both a practice and a journey. You can call it craft.
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