The Real World

This vessel by Jennifer McCurdy looks beautiful in the context of a craft show… but even more so in nature.

“I can’t imagine spending this much time on anything,” the young man remarked as he trailed his fingers over the intricate, interlocking puzzle box.

Yesterday, we took 53 teenagers on two buses to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. A rewarding day, to say the least. It was the fifth round for this trip at my current school, and maybe the best the day has ever gone. It’s always a little nerve-wracking to load high school students on a bus and take them to the city, but this trip is a sure-thing – inspiring, hopeful, challenging for the students, and rewarding for all of us.

We took a day prior to the trip to do role plays, practicing what it might be like to talk to an artist. Here’s the assignment my students had to complete. I’ve used it for a few years now. We review the options in class before the trip. The image above is a vessel from Jennifer McCurdy’s website. She’s been at the craft show each year we’ve gone, and also happens to be the aunt of a couple of my students. She’s been incredibly generous with her time and talent, talking about her work with students and with me, and inspiring me each year. Yesterday, she got me thinking about a new way to work negative space and interactions between pieces… I need to carve out some time to play with the concept.

The next few days in the studio are some of my favorites of the year. The students start asking questions about technique, concept, and motivation that I can’t answer. Suddenly, craft is a real field. And although most of them won’t become practitioners of the field, they come back from this trip with a new respect and appreciation for it.

I managed to take a couple of hours for myself in the city after I made sure my students were safely tucked back into their bus seats. Enjoyed some ice cream with a former student for whom foundation year of art school is working wonders. When he took this Craft Show trip, his sophomore year of high school, it was the first time he started thinking seriously about his future. He joined our group for the day as our guest, and it was great to see the same spark in his eyes and the images of his college work on his phone. Afterwards, caught up with the mentor who inspired me to get into teaching in the first place. Now it’s Saturday, and I’m opening the studio for four hours this afternoon for us to start really diving into making Empty Bowls.

To the young man who was admiring the box, I replied, “Think about what it must be like to do what you truly love, every day, and make a living at it.” I guess that’s my wish for these students – that they find something in their lives like these artists have found craft – or like I have found teaching. The elusive work, hard work, that isn’t really work at all…

I’m very grateful to the PMA Craft Show and to all of the exhibiting artists for continuing to provide us with inspiration!


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