I'm pleased to announce that as of May 6, 2016, CraftsPeople In Their Own Words is finally live on Amazon.com.
The book features 82 stories written by 75 craftspeople, plus a Preface written by esteemed curator and longtime craft advocate Michael W. Monroe. All aspects of the professional craftsperson's way of life are covered, beginning in the 1960s with Harvey Greenwald's tale of selling his handmade leather work at Woodstock - yes, that Woodstock. Other stories tell of surviving a microburst at an outdoor show in Denver with help from a few Good Samaritans; conversing with a homeless person in Washington, DC; enduring the theft of months of work; remembering a cherished colleague; or giving birth to a child just after set-up. Together the stories provide an intimate look at the experiences and philosophies of highly creative artists in clay, fiber, glass, jewelry, metal, mosaics, and other media, whose studios are located in diverse urban and rural settings. Seventy-four of the story contributors are American; one (Marlaine Verhelst) is European.
Al; proceeds from sales of the book benefit CERF (Craft Emergency Relief Fund), a non-profit organization based in Montpelier, VT which in numerous ways promotes the well-being of American craftspeople. I benefited from CERF's generosity after all of my jewelry was stolen in West Palm Beach, FL on March 5, 2014, a day I will never forget. Without the grant from CERF that I received a few days later, and the community-wide support it represented, I would have quit being a maker, and sought a more secure 9-to-5 job. Many others, struck by different crises, would say the same.
To me personally, Craftspeople In Their Own Words represents hundreds of hours of effort, spent partly in reading and editing stories, but also in reading and writing the emails I traded with our 75 story contributors and with my Co-Editors David Bacharach, Ken Girardini, and Susan Levi-Goerlich, all of whom worked as hard as I did. On busy days, so many emails piled up that we couldn't get through them all. A few may have gone missing or unread. But we always caught up sooner or later. There were also days when it seemed like we would never finish. Glitches kept surfacing, and - novices that we were and are - we kept scrambling to find the right fix.
More importantly, the book represents the lives of 75 living craftspeople who entrusted us with stories from their lives and careers. I hope we have done them justice, and created a lasting legacy for our field. A list of all story contributors appears at the end of this post.
We plan to release a print version of the book this summer, maybe with a hard cover, if we can raise enough funds to cover production costs. Please visit our fundraising campaign page, hosted by Generosity.com, and consider supporting us as your resources allow. Click here to be taken to Generosity.
I include two of my many favorite stories from the book, below. The first was written by Alan Goldfarb (below, left) about his career as a a glassblower and his deep friendship with craft show luminary Carol Sedestrom Ross. The second was written by mixed media artist Graceann Warn (below, right) about her chance encounter in Washington, DC with a major collector of Joseph Cornell boxes. To view the stories as they appear in the book, with more photos of Alan and Graceann and their work, please purchase the book for $9.95 on Amazon.com.
Alan Goldfarb - "Hurrying to Make a Tight Connection"
I am remembering my friend Carol Sedestrom Ross. Carol was a towering figure in the contemporary American Craft movement. Over the last 30 years, beginning with her tenure at the American Crafts Council, she advocated for artists and developed markets for craft work that put bread on the tables of thousands.
I first met Carol in 1977. It was the year I graduated from high school. I was an emotionally tormented teenaged pot-head who found solace making clay vessels on a potter's wheel. The Grateful Dead were touring the "Blues For Allah" album and playing a week-long run of shows down at the old Palladium in New York City.
I left my parent's home in Westchester county, and got an apprentice job up near Candlewood Lake in New Milford, Connecticut, with a hippy glassblower named Julie Pierot. Julie got accepted into the Rhinebeck Crafts Fair and I was one of two young apprentices who accompanied her to the event. Michael Benzer was the other, who went on to found Hudson Beach Glass in Beacon, NY. We helped Julie set-up and break-down her display booth, and ran errands for her during the show.
This didn't occupy too much of the day, so we had ample time to wander the fairgrounds and take in the scene. Of particular note, I remember Josh Simpson with his long ponytail and big beard. He had a mobile furnace-rig set up on a boat trailer and was doing an outdoor glassblowing demonstration for the crowd.
Carol was the point person at the check-in desk, handing out exhibitor badges. My first impression of her was that she was a cross between a butterfly and a bulldozer. A hot little pixie with short brown hair, sharply chiseled brunette eyebrows, and piercing blue eyes. Capable, organized, and efficient.
She gave me my badge. It said "Munchkin #2."
Six years later, in 1984, at the age of 25, I had opened my own glassblowing studio in Burlington, Vermont. Shortly thereafter, I participated in the American Craft Enterprises Northeast Crafts Fair, that Carol had moved from Rhinebeck, New York to the "Big E" exposition center in West Springfield, Massachusetts.
I was an unstructured young Neanderthal and Carol was the closest thing that I had to a boss. I had to comply with the show schedule, check-in and set up on time, have a professional-looking display, and exhibit the same work that was shown in the slides that I’d sent to the jury. I also had to behave with a semblance of decorum towards the gallery owners and buying public who attended the show.
I participated in Carol’s shows nationally for the next decade and every time I checked into a fair, despite the fact that she was always upbeat, gracious, flexible, accommodating, and solution oriented, I felt like I was getting busted by the cops. I thought then that Carol must hate me, because I was grandiose, immature, short-tempered, rebellious, inefficient, disorganized, and chronically late.
It continued like that for some time but inevitably things changed. Carol went on to work with different organizations, all of which made significant contributions to the growth and prosperity of the decorative arts.
I had difficulty managing my studio in a way that was practical and profitable. I found myself increasingly resorting to what are clinically referred to as "maladaptive coping mechanisms." I finally hit bottom. An awful combination of career burnout, bi-polar depression, alcoholism and drug addiction left me homeless, jobless, penniless, divorced, and emotionally unstable. A compassionate uncle threw a net over me and I was institutionalized for six months.
After experiencing this free-fall out of the tail-end of the middle class, I completely embraced the lifestyle of long-term recovery. Through the vagaries of fate, I moved down to San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico to make a new start. I was open to whatever the future had in store for me.
The first time I attended a big art opening at the Aurora Centro de Arte y Diseño in San Miguel, I bumped into Carol and her husband Adrian by the big fountain in the courtyard. I was stunned to see them down in Mexico. They were handing out information for one of the charities in town and looked active, healthy, and wonderful. I asked them what they were doing here and Carol said, "Well, we live here, how about you?"
"Yes", I said, "I'm still on a tourist visa, but I'm applying for my residency."
Carol was so happy to see me that I was taken aback. I asked her why she was so glad to see me, given that I was always kind of a fuck-up at her shows.
"A fuck-up?” she asked, "Why, I never thought that. We were always happy to have you. You should have seen some of the fuck-ups that we had to work with! And besides, you make the finest blown glass that I have ever seen. Do you know how many glass artists I have seen?" Then she repeated herself, "You are the finest glass blower I have ever seen. Do you realize what I'm saying to you?"
She asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was flat broke, living on sunshine and tamales. Practicing yoga, going to the hot springs, writing, and photographing street dogs. She asked me if I would be interested in blowing glass here in San Miguel. I said, “Thanks but no thanks.” I was just starting to think it might really be okay if I never blew glass again. She said, "Well if you have a change of heart, let's talk. I've got something in the works."
A year later I changed my mind. I got a hold of Carol and we talked. I told her that I had had some problems. She said, "Yes, I realize that. You've got five missing years. I don't care what happened and I don't need to know about it. What I do know is that it's time for you to get back to work!"
She introduced me to the board of directors of an art school project, and they informally hired me to start working with a project manager and designing a studio for blowing glass. It was a miraculous turn of events.
Carol was my champion. Amongst the board of El Centro, we were known by some as “The Momma Bear and the Baby Bear." They said, "Don't fuck with Alan, he walks on water, ‘cause Carol's looking out for him. You cross Carol, it's like getting between the momma bear and her cub. Don't make that mistake."
Before long, we were neighbors, living in adjacent houses in the same colonia. Carol often hired me to bring her and Adrian back and forth to the airport. One time, a few days before I was supposed to take them for a flight to Vancouver, I walked down to their house before supper. Carol and I went into her office and scheduled out their travel plans for the next month or so.
"The only one I'm worried about is this first return flight on Monday from Vancouver. When we get into Houston, we're going to have a really tight connection. It's only about a half hour between our 6:00 PM arrival and the 6:30 PM departure for our flight into Mexico. We're going to be in a hurry, so why don't you stay near the phone and check your email at around that time? We'll contact you if we don't make the connection. That way you won't have to make an unnecessary trip out to the airport."
That next Wednesday afternoon when I took them to the airport for their departure, we stopped at the Pemex for gas. While the attendant was filling our tank, Adrian ran into the Oxxo for some snacks. Carol and I were sitting in the front seat, talking.
She said, "I had some kind of incident last night. Something came over me, and I was in a lot of pain. Terrible pain. I could barely breathe."
“What do you think it was?” I asked.
She said, "Well I had gone to the gym and then the chiropractor, so I thought it might be some kind of muscular reaction to the adjustment or something I had done. It was like an intense band of spasm across my upper chest and shoulder. I almost couldn't move my shoulder - but it was all concentrated on the right side. If it had been on the left side, I wouldn't be traveling today, I would be at the doctor's office."
I put my face up to hers and looked in her eyes. I said, half joking but dead serious, "Listen, Carol, I'm going to need ten more good years out of you, do you hear me? She said, "I know! I know! I'm going to need ten more good years out of me, too!" Then Adrian came back with the snacks, and we got going.
While they were in Vancouver, Carol contacted me expressing uncharacteristic confusion. She said, "It seems to me I gave you the wrong time for our return. Maybe you aren't going to get ten more years out of me, or at least not with a functioning brain."
I checked the schedule and replied. “You did give me the correct info, and as far as I can tell your mind is still sharp as a steel trap. Have fun in Vancouver and I'll be at the airport when you get back."
Monday night I stayed near the phone all the way up to 6:59 pm, and then jumped in the car and drove out to the Guanajuato airport in Leon to pick them up. It had been a sunny morning followed by a rainy afternoon, and the skies were more than half cleared towards sunset.
At 7:30 pm, about an hour before sundown, I was driving between Juventino Rosas and La Sauceda. The road traverses some spectacular scenery along the rift of two ecosystems. This is a beautiful place where the dry brown cactus of the high desert ends abruptly against a rolling ridge of lush, green, oak covered mountains. With rays of low sun beaming out beneath high storm clouds, the long twin arcs of an incredible double rainbow appeared over the mountains to the southwest. The left legs were densely saturated. The right legs were more washed out, flickering in and out of focus. It was so amazing that I rolled down the car windows and pointed it out to my dog, Leon. He looked at it and sniffed, working his nostrils to ascertain the nature of the phenomenon.
When I arrived at the airport, I checked the board to see that the arrivals were on time, and then sat down and began writing in my journal. “Amazing double rainbow." My cellphone rang and it was Reverend Michael from AA.
He said, "Alan, I am glad that I was able to reach you. I have some news, terrible news. Carol won't be coming in. Carol passed away at the airport in Houston while they were hurrying to make a tight connection."
At 6:15 pm, Carol and Adrian had jumped onto one of those big golf carts that zip between terminals. Adrian was seated in front of Carol. He turned around to talk to her and she was gone. They called paramedics, who worked on her for an hour and fifteen minutes. Her heart started again - she briefly flickered back to life - but then faded and they couldn't bring her back. They declared her dead at 7:30 PM.
That Tuesday I spent the day thinking of Carol and writing this remembrance. Wednesday I continued to focus on her and met with the Mexican Buddhist nun, Gen Kelsang Wangchog. She led a small group of us through a practice called Powa, or "transference of consciousness," to ease the transition of the recently deceased. When we finished, the nun said, "It was indeed a tight connection, but we can rejoice. Carol has reached her destination. She caught a different ‘plane,’ but it has Pure Land-ed safely.”
I'm originally from New York, from a tribe of people famous for retiring to south Florida. Some are known to spend twenty years in a low-grade depression, kvetching about their declining health and imminent demise. But not Carol, she was a hard charger. She lived full-tilt, committed to helping others. She devoted exactly an hour and a half of her life to the purpose of dying and scheduled it between appointments. What better way to go than with your boots on, doing what you're passionate about?
What a powerful teaching and a tremendous gift. I loved Carol and will always consider her a friend and mentor.
Carol Sedestrom Ross (1935-2010), a former potter, organized the first professional wholesale show of American craft in Rhinebeck, NY in 1973, going on to become “the grand dame” of the American studio craft movement.
“Pure Land” is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, whose practitioners believe that after death, the soul makes it way to a heavenly place known as the “Pure Land.”
Graceann Warn - "Wonderful Things"
A life in art has given me unique access to places and people. One of my fondest memories comes from 1999, when I was exhibiting at the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, DC.
During the opening, a well-dressed man came into my booth and looked intently for quite some time, before choosing an assemblage to purchase. He was with a friend who teased him as he deducted the amount of his purchase in his check register. I thought it was odd but didn’t think too much more about it until much later. As we were finishing up the transaction, my customer said that he would like to commission me to make a piece for his landscape architect and then added, “You must really like Joseph Cornell.” When I answered, “Of course,” he said, “Then you must come to my home here in DC to see my Cornells.”
“What?” I thought silently. Turns out that this man, at that time, owned the second largest collection of Cornell’s works in the world, including many of the most iconic pieces, like An Image for Two Emilies and Naples (one of my all-time favorites), to name just two.
It was arranged that my mother and aunt (who were visiting me during the show) and I would meet at the collector’s home on Sunday morning before the show opened for the day. When we arrived, he greeted us and gave us a quick tour of the entry area of his house. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that he had some contemporary art by Susan Rothenberg (one of my favorite artists), and I felt my heart skip a beat. Or two.
It was clear that my mom and her sister were much more interested in the gardens surrounding the house, so he led them there to explore. When he returned to me, he pointed to the door to his study, and said that I was welcome to go in and spend some time there, as that was where many of the Cornells were.
He opened the pocket doors and switched on the light. Slowly, dozens of niches lit up in the dark wood room to reveal incredible gems that I had only before seen in books. In remembering this later, I was reminded of the famous quote by archaeologist Howard Carter who, upon peering into Tutankhamun's tomb, was asked, "Can you see anything?" He replied with the famous words: "Yes, wonderful things!" To a lover of the work of Joseph Cornell, it was nothing short of spectacular. I’m sure I gasped.
Before leaving me alone, the collection mentioned that there was a powder room off the end of the study that I was welcome to use. Because I had been so nervous ahead of our arrival, I drank had drunk too much coffee and didn’t hadn’t eaten, so I did need to use the restroom. As soon as I felt comfortable, I made my way to the bathroom, opened the door and was greeted by maybe a dozen Man Rays on the wall. It was stunning! That was the most memorable pee of my life.
After I had spent time looking (and I mean LOOKING) at the dozens of works in the study, I emerged only to have one of the Cornell sand pieces placed in my hands. To be able to touch one of his works was astonishing. These pieces were meant to be handled and it was a rare treat to do just that.
I will never forget this experience. To converse with a serious collector about his deep passion for art embedded in me a respect for and understanding of “collectors.” They area unique breed and an important part of the art equation. Later, when recounting this story to colleagues at the show, I learned that mine was not a unique experience. A few other lucky artists had received a similar generous invitation to see either the Cornell collection or the myriad art works in this incredible house.
A List of All Contributors to Craftspeople In Their Own Words:
James Aarons, Frann Addison, Emanuela Aureli, David Bacharach, Michael & Maureen Banner, Joyce Barker-Schwartz, Curtis Benzle, Jeanne Bisson, Meb Boden, Myra Burg, Patricia Burling, Kathleen Caid, Jack Charney, Michael & Harriet Cohen, Candiss Cole, Donna D’Aquino, Jaclyn Davidson, Victor Di Novi, Glenn Elvig, Ken & Julie Girardini, Alan Goldfarb, Harvey Greenwald, Peter Handler, Valerie Hector, Joe Henderson, Suzanne Herbert-Forton, Jane Herzenberg, Karen Hill, Mary Hughes, Marianne Hunter, Reiko Ishiyama, Lorraine Jackson & Paul Friedman, Madeline Friedman, Stacey Jarit, Sally Jones, Laura Kandel, Linda Kaye-Moses, Po Shun Leong, Susan Levi-Goerlich, Dawn Lombard, Sergio Lub, Thomas Mann, Kelly Marshall, Jan Mayer, Jennifer McCurdy, Randy McDaniel, Jennifer McGuire, Pay McVay, Seymour Mondshein, Judy Neugebauer, Mary Lynn O’Shea, Robert Pillers, Peter Petrochko, Jeanne Petroskey, Gary Picariello, Jim Rosenau, Marne Ryan, Alice Scherer, Eric Serritella, Rob Sieminski, Jonathan Simons, Josh Simpson, Marlaine Verhelst, Graceann Warn, Marilyn Webster, Candone Wharton, Charles (C.T.) Whitehouse, Pamela Whitlock, Joanne Williams, Dave & Roberta Williamson, Helga Winter, Elise Winters, Jeff & Susan Wise.