Making it While Making it

Making it While Making it


Wendell Castle, at work in his studio in Scottsville, New York. Castle's constantly evolving work has garnered a permanent place in the pantheon of the art furniture movement.

Ben Hoffmann

Every kid I knew growing up wanted to be some type of artist. Whether as a painter, weaver, writer, filmmaker, sculptor or musician, everyone wanted to make something. But as they got older, people slowly dropped their creative pursuits, not for lack of interest or talent but because they couldn't figure out how they might actually make a living doing what they loved.

In college, I was always excited about my various artistic heroes and the lives they led. I'd attend their talks whenever I could, go to their exhibitions or openings and revel vicariously in the worlds these people had created for themselves. But I was always a bit puzzled about the realities of their careers. Sure, maybe an art collective like Ant Farm could half-bury 10 Cadillacs in the Texas desert, creating an instant landmark loved the world over, but how exactly did they pay the bills? As I watched friend after friend drop out of fledgling art careers and settle into supposedly more stable endeavors, this question of "making it" (and a host of others, all variations on the theme) continued to intrigue me.

With this issue, American Craft wanted to explore the elusive career question from different angles. The first name that came to mind was Wendell Castle ("Shifting Shapes and Breaking the Rules," page 58), a furniture maker who clearly has "made it." Castle's work has been breaking new ground for four decades and in the last 10 years has been garnering extraordinary attention around the world. While you won't derive a "10 Ways to Become a Maker" checklist from Castle, a walk down his varied career path provides an arresting glimpse into the life of a working artist at the top of his game.

We also wanted to provide insight into artists currently in the process of "making it," and Christa Assad, a mid-career studio potter, seemed the perfect candidate ("Christa Assad: A Life Made from Mud," page 68). Assad has been developing her career for the last 14 years and is settling comfortably into her line of work. Her good humor and clear joy in doing what she does offer some clues to her success, but in our wide-ranging interview, she reveals less obvious clues to the ins and outs of life as a maker. (Also check online at americancraft for interviews with three other ceramists-Ayumi Horie, Jeanne Quinn and Sanam Emami. Each provides a behind-the-scenes look at complex career trajectories.)

And finally, we wanted to give you a view from the craft/design marketplace. We talked with Polly Dickens, creative director of the Conran Shop, about her love of craft and how handwork has helped the shop, founded in 1973 by Sir Terence Conran, distinguish itself from other retail outlets ("Polly Dickens: Craft and Culture at the Conran Shop," page 78). Dickens's engrossing story sheds much-needed light on how this international company has remained true to its roots, continuing to work with makers at every level of the process.

All these perspectives provide a look at the lives of modern makers, or those who promote them, and the methods they've used to sustain themselves and their craft. While you won't necessarily find out what color your parachute is, you'll find inspiration and, we hope, a few ideas you can apply to your life as well. I know I did.