Guest Series: The Future of Fine Crafts

July 5, 2010

Welcome to the Future of Fine Crafts Mondays! Peters Valley Craft Center (a Dodge grantee), getting set to celebrate its 40th anniversary, is a national center for fine craft education where people’s lives are enriched through the exploration and execution of fine craft.

Located in the Delaware Water Gap, Peters Valley offers 2- to 5-day workshops in blacksmithing, ceramics, fibers, fine metals, photography, wood and special topics including printmaking books & paper, drawing, and glass. The Center provides immersion experiences that appeal to anyone who wants to be a part of a creative, learning, and solutions-seeking community. We will follow four artist-students during the month of July as they reflect on their experience, art medium, skill development and works of art created during recent classes at Peters Valley Craft Center.

Our first story comes from Kristin Muller, Executive Director at the Center who is an artist in her own right and was drawn to Pat Hickman’s workshop on Tensile Translucence.

Pat Hickman

Pat Hickman

On Friday evenings at 7:30, visiting instructors and students convene in the Bevan’s Church for an evening slide presentation. It is my favorite time of the week because I get to introduce our summer studio assistants who, in turn, introduce our visiting instructors with a brief bio. Each instructor presents images of their work and a ten minute lecture. Depending on the week, we have anywhere from 4 to 8 instructors presenting what they make and why they make.

Time seems to fly as you listen and see art history in the making. Our fabulous instructors come from all walks of life. They are teachers, makers, inventors, and innovators who work in mediums such as clay, fine metals, wood, fiber, photography, glass, encaustic, polymer, basketry, found objects and more. It is a treat to hear people speak about what has inspired a specific direction in their work.

Pat Hickman’s presentation of her knotted and stretched work simply blew my mind and here is why. She ventured to Alaska, curious about how the native people live and work and the materials they use. She shared what she discovered, a raincoat on display that was translucent, light weight and totally water proof made of walrus gut. Yes—walrus gut. The raincoat was very elegant and had an ephemeral quality about it. During her time in Alaska, Pat managed to learn more about how gut is processed and what it required to be worked.

Pat Hickman Sample

Pat Hickman’s work with hog gut

Upon her return from the Alaskan adventure, she proceeded to investigate hog gut (common sausage casing) to see how it could be worked. Pat has developed an impressive body of work from wall installations to sculptural vessels, to architectural installations made of hog gut. I admit to feeling a bit squeamish about the subject but I was so taken by the delicate translucency that I approached Pat after the presentations and told her about a series of ceramic sculptures I had made two years ago. It was a breakthrough series for me. They are ceramic shapes that are very organic, almost cocoon like, that I call my ‘Papoose Series’. I had hoped to incorporate mixed media into them and was looking for a proper material to lace or close up the space left open in the forming process. I shared with Pat this spark of curiosity about the hog gut. She kindly invited me to join her class the following day.

I joined the group on Saturday afternoon and then again on Sunday because during the night I was seeing sculptures in my dreams. Pat set me up with a needle and a section of clean gut and showed me how to sew with it and how to stretch it. Students were using basketry materials to make shapes and incorporate knotted gut and stretched gut to the forms. In addition people were making pages for books, coloring the gut and making things such as jewelry to abstract sculptures. The group seemed entranced with the material. They had raided the metal scrap pile outside the blacksmithing studio and were redefining objects as they transformed into dancing tools with gut, and lace and paper.

What fascinated me the most was the simplicity of the membrane and it’s responsiveness. Most craft mediums are defined by a tradition. In clay for example there is a linear process through which one learns to manipulate clay on the potter’s wheel. There is a rich history to support certain aspects of the learning, but with hog gut, aside from the Native Alaskan traditions, there really isn’t an art tradition. Pat Hickman has been an innovator of sorts. Therefore the investigation took on a very free and abstract exploration.


Papoose by Kristin Muller

On the last day of class, during the final critique, I was simply stunned. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Six women had each made at least three significant, interesting, profound works.

Student sculpture

student Sculpture2

Peters Valley students’ work

Every student seemed to have found new directions to continue investigating on their own. I for one have had dreams in which I see new work that incorporated the hog gut, and I was so grateful for the generosity from the instructor and the students who shared their materials, their support and their feedback with me.

As the Executive Director I spend most of my time in the office, on the phone, the computer or meeting with people. Sharing in this experience was a gift and an affirmation that Peters Valley Craft Center is a very special place. It is a place where you may be surprised at what will inspire you.