How Does Heritage Influence Your Work?

How Does Heritage Influence Your Work?

Published on Monday, May 23, 2011. This article appears in the June/July 2011 issue of American Craft Magazine.

A lifetime of video games, pop culture, and computers has left its mark on Arthur Hash's work, such as his witty and trenchant War and Peace brooches. Photo: Arthur Hash

My family roots are in southern Appalachia. I love past folk pottery from North Carolina, where potters worked intuitively with readily available materials. You gathered your clay from the nearby creek and you crushed up recycled glass to make an alkaline glaze. Robust pots were made for daily use by the local community. The result was simple beauty that is discovered through use. That has had a huge influence on my own approach to materials and process.
~Kent Harris, potter and co-owner of Blue Sage Pottery & Art Gallery, Amarillo, TX

My "heritage" is probably the typical young Army-brat experience. I spent a lot of time moving around and found comfort in things like Nintendo, comic books, and art. I fondly remember, at an early age, my father's Texas Instruments PHP2700 Program Recorder tape deck screaming at me while I patiently waited for my Tunnels of Doom video game to boot up. Over the years, this almost umbilical-cord connection to a computer has given me the opportunity to combine traditional metalsmithing hand-skills with digital fabrication to produce jewelry and other fine art objects. To this day I still act like a kid: I sit too close to the TV, spend countless hours on the computer, and cannot pass up a good video game or two. Whatever age I act or appear to be, technology and jewelry are always at mind.
~Arthur Hash, jewelry artist and lecturer, SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, NY

The heritage that most influences my work is based on my parents' attitudes toward work and life, so it is a psychological heritage. I admired my father's intense work ethic and devotion to his career - he clearly worked in a field he loved - and so I made sure to, also! Thinking and doing things "outside of the box" was exemplified by my mother. While she was not an artist, she was unconventional (I'm talking the 1960s-80s here), and so the unconventional became "normal" to me growing up and shaped how I approach both life and my artwork.
~Sally prangley, wire artist, Seattle

I never saw my work as influenced by my heritage until someone remarked that my furniture looked Spanish. I dismissed the comment at first, but it has given me a new perspective on why I have always been drawn to certain types of furniture. They must be in my DNA. Now that I am at North Bennet Street School, I understand that there is institutional as well as individual DNA. The school's 130-year history serves as a great institutional rudder and provides the deepening experience of being a part of a much larger whole.
~Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, president, North Bennet Street School, Boston

I find a special joy in researching and writing about African-American quilters, particularly 19th-century ones. Maybe it's because I'm a quilter. I don't believe the harmful myth that black slaves stitched maps or encoded messages into quilts along the Underground Railroad. I've not (yet) seen 19th-century documentation that supports the existence of such quilts. My dad also shared his love of heritage with me. Yes, heritage does drive me to celebrate true stories of black quilters.
~Kyra E. Hicks, author of This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt and Other Pieces and other books, Arlington, VA

My family heritage is predominantly Scandinavian - my mother's kin are Norwegian and my father's are Swedish, plus a smattering from the British Isles. (Some would call this Norwegian/Swedish mix "fighting blood.") My passion for weaving seems to have come with the territory, especially through my mother's influence. I've been drawn in part to work with textiles and handwork because of Scandinavia's traditionally strong aesthetic sensibilities. As a baby boomer and an Army brat (my other "heritages"), however, I didn't grow up near Scandinavian kin and customs. Instead, living in many places, exposed to different peoples, brought me to cultural anthropology and my work with Native American weavers and artists. Lacking close contact with our family's heritage, I've focused on appreciating and sharing that of others. Still, I've always hoped to apply those skills someday to digging around among my own family roots.
~Ann Lane Hedlund, curator of ethnology, Arizona State Museum, Tucson, AZ