What's the Best-Crafted Element of Nature?

What's the Best-Crafted Element of Nature?

Published on Monday, January 31, 2011. This article appears in the February/March 2011 issue of American Craft Magazine.

Besides the tree, with its ancient trunk and expansive limbs, the element in nature that most captivates my interest is the ocean. Is the ocean crafted? I don't know. With transparency and depth, color, and reflection, the ocean seems to craft itself. The way the sea carves out the shore, or the way ocean and sky meld at the horizon evince elements of craft - a keen sense for putting things together. When I see and feel the porous surface of the ocean's chameleon skin, I remember the infinite potential within my own evolving self.
~Michelle Joan Wilkinson, director of collections and exhibitions, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture, Baltimore

Entropy, the tendency of nature to distribute our molecules and energy randomly across the universe, is probably the most dependable element of nature. As creators of objects, we employ craft to launch our creations into time against the forces of gravity, wind, fire, water, and the waves of fashion that conspire to reduce our art to atoms. My ex­perience with CERF+ [Craft Emergency Relief Fund] has underscored that those same forces are capable of reducing our studios and our careers to dust. We need to apply our creativity to crafting more disaster-­resistant careers. CERF+'s emergency readiness toolkit for artists (studioprotector.org) will help us get started.
~Craig Nutt, furniture maker and CERF+ director of programs, Kingston Springs, TN

To me, the best-crafted elements of nature are the patterns and textures formed in nature: They're perfectly irregular. It sounds like a contrasting description, but nothing is as regular and predictable, yet totally one of a kind, as items found in nature. The layers and rings of agate, the shapes of stones, the stripes of a zebra or the spots of a giraffe, the arcs and points of leaves. I find myself so inspired by this patterning that it often inspires my work.
~Joy Cho, graphic designer and Oh Joy! blogger, Los Angeles

A favorite plant in my own garden is the passion­flower, a brazen perennial that always strikes me as a well-crafted form in nature. Year after year, I find the transition - from the broad petals to the delicate crown to the more sculptural anthers and goofy pistil - surprising and exciting. Each element also brings in a fresh and playful use of color, which is inspiring for me in my own sculptural work.
~Hilary Pfeifer, craft-influenced sculptor, Portland, OR

My answer is a snowflake: It is nature's perfect design. Each one is unique, yet can't exist without the help of others. It is exactly what art is all about. A snowflake has structure and mobility. When its life is over it becomes the source of life for others. With­out this perfect little crystal, life would not come alive in the spring. Snowflakes honor the very fragility of our lives as well as the necessity of com­munity and family.
~Doug Casebeer, artist; chairman of artist residency program and artistic director, ceramics, sculpture, and wood at Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass Village, CO

Water makes up over 70 percent of the world and 70 percent of us. It is the only substance found naturally on the earth in three ever-changing forms: liquid, solid, and vapor - all of which I've explored in my work. In its liquid form, water is in constant motion, crafting rock and nurturing living creatures. In its solidified, frozen form, only one-ninth of its massive, stoic shapes are in view, floating in the far north or distant south. As a vapor, water creates the bulbous and wispy gestures that drift gracefully overhead. All nature is defined at least in part by its engagement with water.
~Jeffrey Mongrain, professor of art, Hunter College, New York