“So, how many hours did it take you to create that?” I found myself consistently falling back on this question as I stood, awe-struck, in front of many local artists and their masterworks. The answers: 80 hours, 100, 200. The hours, time, love—all these intricately constructed pieces of furniture, wood carvings, tapestries, murals, automatons, clay vessels, papercuts, and embroideries had one common tie: they could relate back to artworks in Crystal Bridges’ first-ever folk art exhibition, American Made: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum.
This past winter, I was honored with the task of researching, visiting, and connecting with local artisans who practiced traditional and contemporary forms of folk art to provide guests with an innovative experience in the exhibition’s entryway: live artist demonstrations! I coordinate the adult studio classes at Crystal Bridges, but never have I been able to pull so many phenomenal artists together at once to demonstrate some of the techniques that go into creating many of the artworks you will see inside this new exhibition. When I reached out to one artist or historian, I would get three more referrals. My family of demonstrators begin to grow, and so did my understanding of the passion and dedication it takes to create something deemed truly folk art. Through many conversations with artists, makers, historians, and guilds, the summer is set with 68 days and counting of live demonstrations from artists passionate about their craft and workmanship!
Artist Michael Langford will demonstrate traditional woodcarving techniques that are inspired by a specific artwork in the exhibition. You may recognize his hands from the beautiful exhibition promotional video, which features Michael carving in his studio, a space I was able to visit in Fayetteville. His studio is laden with nineteenth-century bronze and cast-iron planes, traditional hand tools used in woodcarving. Michael states that “one can finesse better with hand tools, more so than machines.” While there is a certain convenience and preciseness of machines, as Langford points out “… sometimes when you move toward certainty, you lose the flexibility of design.”
Rounding out the week is a familiar face at Crystal Bridges, kinetic sculptor Eugene Sargent. Looking at one of the keystone works of the exhibition, the Uncle Sam Riding a Bicycle Whirligig, the possibilities for whimsy, discovery, and tinkering is apparent. Sargent will demonstrate his Whale and Boat automaton, which invites one to crank the handle on the side to see the sculpture come to life with Eugene’s homemade gears and LED lights.
You can also come meet members of the Peel Mansion Quilting Group: Alice McElwain, Kay Rhoads, and others, who will be demonstrating a variety of quilting and appliqué techniques; John Bundy of Bundy Ducks and his exquisite decoy carvings; Dani Ives, a local wool-fiber artist; and renowned tapestry weaving artist Eleanor Lux, who was just named a 2016 Living Treasure. The space is designed to engage you in conversation, wonder, and perhaps nostalgia as you watch these local artists at work. After all, as Michael Langford has carved in the beams of his studio: “The lyf so short the craft so long to lerne.”