Crafts: Many of a Kind

Handmade crafts designed to be used also sweeten your life everyday.

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In recognition of the thousands of artist/craftsmen who live and work in New Mexico, we asked three individuals to comment on their craft, their art and their "production" work.


Nancy Berg, Ceramist

Production forms the backbone of the business of most artist/craftsmen who make a living from their work. In fact, whether consciously or not, most consumers think of production work when they think of craft; much of what is found in galleries or craft fairs are pieces created by the artist in multiples. Generally the craftsperson makes each piece one at a time but with the intention of making many similar items.

This approach makes sense for a number of reasons. One of the most advantageous aspects of production both for the artist and the patron is that the design of the piece is manipulated until every aspect "works" both aesthetically and functionally. It also permits efficient working methods that allow each piece to be sold at a reasonable price.

Porcelain Tableware
Nancy Berg
Porcelain tableware

I'm on both sides of the fence, creating production as well as one-of-a-kind and limited-edition pieces.

I find that doing both has advantages and disadvantages. I use production work to do problem solving. Skills, honed through repetition, allow the creative ideas to be brought to fruition. For just such reasons, I started my line of tableware.

As artists we are caught between the desire to express ourselves creatively and the need to make a living. When we are very lucky, these aspects converge and both needs are met. When it is not working, we can become the "starving artist." Another possibility is to become manufacturers of mass-produced, machine-made work. While this is a direction many craftspeople choose to take, it seems a loss to me. High quality production work, made efficiently with a caring, artistic hand and eye, provides the bridge that meets the needs of the artist to make a living, and of the individual to own handmade objects that sweeten life.


Rachel Brown, Weaver

Hand-woven Blankets

Rachel Brown
Hand-woven blankets, pillows and rugs

Since I started weaving 35 years ago, I have had to make a living at my craft and have managed to do so by combining my tapestry weaving with production weaving. Early on I learned the tapestry techniques which enabled me to weave "art" pieces, but I have always used a certain amount of tapestry technique in many of the "production" pieces. From the moment I first saw Hispanic Rio Grande blankets and old classic Navajo weavings, I was under a spell. I became obsessed, and I prayed that I would live long enough to become a good weaver. I realized that very simple designs could be extremely effective, and could be woven with much less time than the tedious tapestry work. Simple but strong designs can be produced and sold at a reasonable cost. Even though I consider this "production" weaving, I have never repeated the same weaving, so each weaving is a one-of-a-kind piece.

By setting up long warps on my looms, I offer certain standard sizes, making the production efficient. By weaving the same type of piece over and over again, one becomes familiar with possibilities of design and can progress artistically at a fast rate . . . coming up with color combinations and forms that wouldn't have been thought of in the making of just one weaving. Also, one sees faults in types of wefts and warps and can constantly improve on these. The aim always is to produce the perfect rug, blanket or pillow.

From the beginning, I have trained apprentices to help me with the production weaving. I usually do the warping of the looms or at least supervise it. While I work with the weaver in the design of the piece, I leave a certain amount of freedom to the weaver. Rarely do I draw out the design to the last detail; I feel a better weaving is produced if the weaver can make changes as the yarns and colors are woven in place and can see the effect.

To ensure quality in my production pieces, I always use the best materials and my top quality hand-dyed yarns. The quality of a production piece can be as excellent as the most expensive tapestry.


Marc Coan, Woodworker

I can remember attending crafts fairs as a teenager, seeing the furniture and woodworking booths, and thinking "what a wonderful way to make a living." I fantasized that one day I would be able to do the same; in 1981, I returned to Albuquerque to open my own woodworking studio and pursue that dream. Furniture making can be a roller coaster ride. While working on an exciting custom piece, the highs were great; the times between could be pretty depressing. I quickly learned that furniture is a very individual thing. People loved my work but seldom bought what I was displaying at the shows because they would want a different size, wood, color or a site-specific piece. I then experienced the reverse in the wholesale market: people wanted exactly the piece they saw in my exhibition booth with no "creative" variations. In 1988 I tried the wholesale business again with a new approach, deciding what products I want to make and setting a price range before starting the design. This simple change helps me avoid "overworking" a piece to the point of being too expensive for the wholesale market.

Collapsible Mosaic Accent Tables
Marc Coan
Collapsible
mosaic accent tables

Another rewarding aspect of production work is the opportunity to develop products and processes that can be repeated consistently by others. Most of my one-of-a-kind pieces involve complicated production development and construction.

After the piece is completed, often this process is not used again, making it inefficient. With production pieces, I can determine specifications and make templates which facilitate the construction by my assistants . . . and the process becomes more efficient.

I have been working in production crafts for four years now and I still find developing new products and processes very challenging. With the stability that production work brings to my business, I am much freer to pursue an occasional unique art piece without the pressure of survival weighing on it. This has not only been great for my artistic side, but often an idea created with an art piece will be utilized later in my production work.


Thanks to Nancy Berg, Rachel Brown and Marc Coan for their thoughts and their photographs.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos - Volume 7


Related Pages

The Art of Craft article
Textiles as Art
article

Fine Craft in New Mexico article
Tile as Art — Art as Tile
article


Collector’s Resources

Albuquerque

Patrician Design | 505-242-7646
Sumner & Dene | 505-842-1400
Weems Galleries | 505-293-6133
Weyrich Gallery | 505-883-7410

Elsewhere in New Mexico

Corrales Bosque Gallery | 505-898-7203

Santa Fe

Liquid Light Glass 926 Baca St #3 | 505-820-2222
Nausika Richardson rem County Road 0064 #30, Dixon | 505-579-4612

RESOURCE LISTS UPDATED WHEN VIEWED | ARTICLE CONTENT REVISED September 24, 2007

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