PBS Distribution teaches us another valuable lesson by releasing the eighth season of Craft in America: Teachers, the Peabody Award-winning series. This time ’round, the program delves into artists committed to sharing the skills and passion for craft with students of all ages.
Craft in America: Teachers takes an inclusive approach to education and craft, emphasizing that it is never too early–or too late–to acquire skills and appreciation for craft. The education covered in this episode starts with kindergarten exploration and discovery; goes through high school and university where the curriculum becomes simultaneously more liberating and challenging; and develops into the curiosity and enthusiasm of lifelong learning.
These artists/teachers are a special breed. They are found in classrooms and workshops ensuring that their hard-earned wisdom and practical skills are passed on. Across the country these craft artists are dedicated to education–inspiring, evaluating, critiquing and praising their students’ achievements.
The program begins with the artistry of Navajo weavers Barbara Teller Ornelas and her sister Lynda Teller Pete, both of whom learned the craft of weaving the time-honored way–through family. Often this method of teaching begins with observation, when skills are absorbed. This legacy of learning is essential to Navajo weavers. The Teller sisters spent summers with their grandparents in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, ancestral home of the Navajo people, in an environment where weaving “is a way of life.”
In early childhood they were introduced to weaving by their mother, Ruth Teller, who instilled the belief that beauty and harmony should be woven into every rug. We film as they teach outdoors amidst the extraordinary natural beauty of the Canyon. They recount the story of Spider Woman who, as ancient legend has it, taught the Navajos to weave. Our cameras then move with them to the Idyllwild Arts Native American Arts Program, where in the summer, they teach the practice of Navajo weaving atop a mountain overlooking Palm Springs, California.
The program travels to Honolulu, Hawaii, where artist Mark Mitsuda introduces professional glass forming techniques to his students at Punahou School. In 1972, his mentor Hugh Jenkins started the high school glass program at Punahou, using recycled milk and mayonnaise bottles as raw materials. Mitsuda took charge of the program after Jenkins’ retirement in 1998. Since its inception, participation in the program has doubled. Underscoring the inter-generational mission of teaching, Mitsuda says that what he learned from Jenkins, he now passes on to his own students.
“I feel fortunate to be teaching something that I feel passionate about and being able to inspire other people in the place that inspired me to first go into glassblowing.” Mitsuda’s early work was a balance between conceptual and functional, slowly he was drawn back to making objects of utility which he finds in his teaching especially, carry tremendous meaning for the student in the process of learning.
The program next travels to Omaha, Nebraska, where Therman Statom, a major figure of the Studio Glass Movement, decided to start programs for underserved inner city students and economically challenged youth.
“I think teaching is the highest form of advocacy in terms of influencing the world or having the chance to be a part of something that you can change,” he explains. Cameras capture Statom at work in his studio and the excitement of his class at the Hot Shops Art Center, witnessing how art and glass blowing inspires youth.
Alfred, New York is home to Alfred University, School of Art and Design. Here, students perfect their craft and learn to become professional artists. The College of Ceramics includes a graduate program where conceptual thinking elevates the approach to clay. Professor Linda Sikoradescribes the program: “We teach many disciplines alongside what might be more strictly categorized as craft. This is deliberate and allows our students to become broad thinking in terms of visual and material culture regardless of how they specialize. It is also, I believe, what keeps our program vital and contemporary.”