The Language of Craft Conference
In the News and Notes section of our November/December
2008 issue, Editor Marci Rae McDade writes about her
experiences at The Language of Craft conference held
at the Haystack
Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle, Maine.
In the article, she shares a conversation with Janet
Koplos, senior editor at Art in America,
about the conference and Koplos’s favorite experiences.
Here, Marci shares her favorite experiences and additional
images from the conference.
From July 13–17 I attended The Language of
Craft, a five-day conference of panel discussions,
visiting artist lectures, and hands-on workshops,
held at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer
Isle, Maine. The premise of this event, hosted by
Haystack’s Director, Stuart Kestenbaum, focused
on how language is used to inspire the creation of
art work, describe its process, evaluate its aesthetic
values, and promote critical writing in the fields
The award-winning Haystack Mountain School of Craft campus, designed by Edward
Larrabee Barnes, was added to the National Historic Register in February 2006.
Photo: Amanda Kowalski.
John McQueen, Margot Mensing, Paulus Berensohn,
and Sonya Clark at The Language of Craft.
I had two exceptional experiences during the Language
of Craft conference. The first was the opportunity
to spend an entire afternoon with Margo Mensing, an
artist whose work and writing I have greatly admired
and followed for many years in the pages of Fiberarts.
I attended the “Tools” seminar led by
Margo and John McQueen; a thought-provoking workshop
(held in the Haystack woodshop) in which all of us
were invited to invent a new tool. We also discussed
the nature of tools throughout history and how tools
have the power to inspire and facilitate creative
projects. My “invention” was a portable
doorknocker, which seemed a necessary item at the
time as I was traveling around the country for several
weeks this summer conducting my state-of-craft research.
To form this goofy tool, I selected a piece of wood
from the recycle bin, laced some wire through a drill
hole, and attached a strange red metal object to make
the knocking noise against the wooden surface. John
told me the red thing had been a farm implement in
an earlier incarnation, but none of us could figure
out its original intention. The session was pure fun
as each member of the group revealed their tools and
related their motivations, from the practical to the
John McQueen, Marci Rae McDade,
and Margot Mensing at the “Tools” seminar.
Marci’s portable doorknocker.
My second exceptional experience was a group activity
held the final afternoon of the conference (July 16),
when all participants were asked to take a piece of
paper from a bowl that had a word printed on it and
make something inspired by that word. This exercise
helped me truly connect with the theme of the conference
in a very direct way as I made my piece. In an ironic
twist, however, my word “carbuncle” was
misspelled as “carbuncke” and I spent
a few fretful minutes poring over the dictionary to
find this elusive term before eventually deciding
to make something about its absence and mystery instead!
The group of over fifty people worked in silence for
about an hour with various materials like paper and
clay, paint and pencils, wire and wood, until it was
time to lay out all of our finished creations. None
of our names were on these pieces so it was uniquely
exciting to walk around and simply respond to the
work of by “unknown maker.”
My favorite pieces were both, surprisingly, based
on the same word—crumple. The first was a very
conceptual and minimal interpretation of the concept
with the small strip of paper simply crumpled up and
set atop a large piece of white paper, a pedestal
of sorts for the weight of this tiny sculpture. I
later found out that it was made by Janet Koplos.
My other favorite explored the aesthetic allure of craft and love of process
in a series of three pieces of paper delicately folded in different patterns,
made by Sonya Clark,
well-known artist and chair and professor of Craft/Material Studies at Virginia
Commonwealth University (Fine Art Industry).
These two examples beautifully capture the many aspects
of craft that I admire in the work of others and pursue
in my own studio practice.
For my own contribution, I decided to work with
two objects I brought with me on a whim: a thick hard
cover book and an Exacto knife. In pursuit of the
meaning of my mysterious term, I carefully dug out
the inside of each page to create an empty space,
then used the cut pages to make one long continuous
strip of paper that seemed to roll out of the book
like a tongue. It was my attempt to communicate the
futility of my search as well as the fun of the quest.
I gave the book, my cherished memento of The Language
of Craft, to my teenage son to keep his own petite
Marci and her Carbuncke. Photo: Wendy Wahl.