Before you get to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine, you get to the end of the road—a gravel road ending in a parking area surrounded by spruce and fir trees. This might not seem remarkable, but I have worked for many years at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, which is almost as isolated as Haystack except that a two-lane, public road runs through the middle of campus. So getting to the end of the road before I could see the school was a good indication that while Haystack and Penland may be sisters, they are not twins.
I was there in September 2015 to spend a few days taking pictures for the CraftSchools.us consortium, the group that facilitates joint marketing and other collaborative work by five craft workshop schools with similar programs: Peters Valley (New Jersey), Arrowmont (Tennessee), Pilchuck (Washington State), Penland, and Haystack. I had long admired Haystack from afar, and I was happy to finally be there.
I walked through the parking lot and came to the Gateway building, which houses the school store and library on one side and a gathering space on the other. Passing between them I followed a path, some wooden steps, and a boardwalk and landed on the large, open deck that is seen in every Haystack catalog. This deck is connected by wooden stairs and walkways with almost all of Haystack’s buildings, which share a uniform design with gray wooden siding and distinctive, modernist rooflines. Forming the spine of the campus is a dramatic stairway that plunges down the hill to a small platform above Jericho Bay. All of this infrastructure is punctuated by tall evergreens that reach up between the buildings and walkways. I stood on the deck for a few minutes looking around and wondered—as I’m sure thousands of others have—if I was dreaming.
My Haystack visit fell during a significant time of transition. Poet Stuart Kestenbaum, Haystack’s director of twenty-seven years, had stepped down in May, and his successor, ceramic sculptor Paul Sacaridiz, was not arriving until late September. The staff ran the school during the 2015 season with the help of visiting artists who served as hosts for each session. My tour guide was Session Six host Tim McCreight, a jeweler and long-time Haystack instructor. As we walked from studio to studio meeting instructors and students, I was struck by many things that distinguish Haystack and Penland from each other, but also by how familiar it all seemed.
The tools and equipment used to teach clay or blacksmithing don’t vary much from one well-equipped studio to another, so there were many similarities in that regard. But more important were the people. While each workshop skewed a little differently (as they do at Penland), every studio group was a mix of ages, genders, and skill levels united by an intense interest in the subject matter, an often giddy appreciation for being able to do this particular thing in this amazing place, and the camaraderie that results from working together and sharing lovingly prepared meals in a communal dining hall. Any of these groups could have been plucked from a Penland workshop and dropped off at Haystack. And, in fact, I did see some familiar faces.
This brings me to what I admire most about Haystack. Like a good artist, this institution has used its limitations as a creative catalyst.
Selection of photos from Robin Dreyer's trip to Haystack in 2015
Michael Strand is a potter, an activist, and an optimist. A lifelong Dakotan, he is an Associate Professor and head of the Department of Visual Arts at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota. Michael trained at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in ceramics, and he's a skilled artist who makes beautiful cups and bowls.
As his career progressed, though, he realized that he wanted to make art that engaged people in dynamic ways. He crafts innovative projects that connect the handmade to the community, and that lead participants and the artist to new understandings of themselves and of the world.
Make/Time shares conversations about craft, inspiration, and the creative process. Listen to leading makers and thinkers talk about where they came from, what they're making, and where they're going.
See more at: http://www.craftschools.us/podcast.html
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