“I believe craft is essentially a commitment to learning the past, living in the present, and dreaming the culture forward.”  said actor, playwright, performance artist, and singer-songwriter Taylor Mac. *   


By Barbara Tam

Our many hands make many things.  The craftsmen of early America shaped a new nation.  To craft- a verb denoting the strength and skill of the maker. And crafts- a noun referring to handmade objects and creative accomplishments.  Historic craft-making by master and apprentice may seem a strangely old-fashioned life to many folks these days.  Yet objects created by people shape culture.  What aspects of our subjective experience shape us, inform our making, dictate our choices?  Glancing around at the things in my home, I see that they tend to complement me, gesturing back with a reflection of who I am.  This initially surprises me, but why should it?  I make pots and have friends who make pots, so there are a lot of pots.  I read, so there are too many books [and not enough time!]. 

As I look at the ceramic bowls and teapots and mugs on my kitchen shelves, I reflect on their makers and their making.  Each tells a story of a person, a place, a moment in time.  Perhaps as we make something with our hands, we carry a bit of yesterday with us into today without consciously knowing it.  Is the essential object we make today somewhere previously recorded or embedded in the art of our collective past?  Do we make what we already know but have forgotten?  Our traditions must play a part whether consciously or not.

The process of creating something is an investigation of sorts.  And the most innovative can often be dialectically opposed to the established society and culture.  But that is no reason to stop the questioning, slow the inventing, or put down the tools.  It seems to me that it might even be a very good reason. 


I step carefully along the edge of the big wood-kiln and my heart feels that flurry of eagerness for the upcoming firing - that heady days-long dance with clay and friends and fire!  Passing the lower Studio, I see Emma and Cait setting out the kiln shelves and the pyrometric cone pats that will advise us as to the relative temperature inside the kiln as it heats.  Fire is transformative.  To the pots and to the people.  Every firing is unique to itself.  When the bricked doors are opened after 3 days of cooling, what we see inside is always a surprise.  And as we work together to hand-out the pieces one-at-a-time, there are always deep sighs for the unpredictable successes.  These objects are newly born, yet each hand-crafted, each containing elements of the past, and each bearing today’s culture into the future.  Touch and feeling and making is the crafting of our world.  

 [*I Believe from the Where I Stand Symposium at the Under the Radar Festival in 2013]


Barbara Tam has taught visual arts to students from kindergarten through high school in both private and public schools for more than 35 years.  She loves being with young artists dreaming big about their creative ideas and working to make those ideas real.  

The natural world and its mysteries and intrigues is the focus of Barbara’s own explorative work, primarily in clay, paper, and fiber.  She is the co-founder and board chair of Craigardan.