Craftspeak: The Bard Graduate Center Craft Oral History Project

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By Patrick Sisson
While history and tradition inform so much of contemporary craft, the history of makers themselves isn’t always a priority. It’s a realization that struck Bard Assistant Professor Catherine Whalen and inspired her to create the BGC Craft, Art, and Design Oral History Project, a massive oral history project of tagged and transcribed interviews seeking to document experiences and make connections across disciplines.

"There aren’t a lot of resources out there for contemporary makers," says Whalen. "We realized these were valuable resources, and the logical answer seemed to be to put it online."

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Creative Casting exhibition catalogue cover, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, 1963. Photo courtesy American Craft Council.

Launched last December, the database of design thought grew out of research and interviews Whalen’s student conducted for her class "Craft and Design in the USA, 1940–Present." Some of interviews already posted include furniture designer Mira Nakashima talking about working with her father and continuing his and her own practice, a conversation with Paul J. Smith, Director Emeritus, Museum of Arts and Design, industrial designer Ignacio Ciocchini talking about the creation of the CityBench in New York, and Parisian graphic designer Philippe Apeloig recounting the inspiration behind his famous posters. The inclusion of photos and tagging make the site more accessible, and help with the goals of capturing the voices of contemporary makers and chronicling the fluid boundaries between different practices.

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Philippe Apeloig, Wole Soyinka: La maison et le monde, Fête du livre, Aix-en-Provence, 2007. Poster, 118 x 175 cm. © Design Philippe Apeloig. Read the interview.

"A lot of the craftspeople talk about self-expression and problem solving," says Whalen. "What brings this together is the way they look at the relationship between people and objects."

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Ignacio Ciocchini CityBench (2011) manufactured by Landscape Forms/Studio 431. Read the interview.

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Vertical slabs under consideration for a project by Nakashima, among the horizontal wood-piles of the Pole Barn. Photo courtesy of Mira Nakashima, George Nakashima Woodworker, S.A. Read the interview.

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Paul J. Smith, Director Emeritus, Museum of Arts and Design, with his wood turnings and sculpture, 1958. Photos courtesy Paul J. Smith. Read the interview.

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Noodle Bowls (2011), handbuilt stoneware with slips and glazes, electric-fired or oxidation-fired, by Mary Barringer. Photo: Wayne Fleming. Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, Massachusetts, 2013. Read the interview.

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Mary Sheppard Burton, The Secret Place/ Alice Phipps, Tell Me ‘Bout Series, 1994. Wool and twelve-thread-count linen, 43.75 x 52.25 in. Mary Sheppard Burton Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Zamora. Read the interview.

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