August 26, 2010

Outreach Artist Christina Carfora-Schmitz Shares a Sunny Lesson Plan

Christina Carfora-Schmitz is a sculptural ceramic artist and an outreach artist for HCCC. Under the Outreach Initiative at HCCC, artists go to schools and community organizations to teach a variety of craft disciplines. Below, Christina shares a recent lesson plan she conducted in the schools last spring. Outreach classes start August 30 in Houston-area schools. 

My role as an outreach artist last spring was to teach an after-school ceramics class at Harvard Elementary School. I had a group of six students that were in kindergarten through third grade. Our materials included natural clay, polymer clay and mixed media. From this we created a variety of projects including: tiles, coil bowls, jewelry, containers, masks, and creative creatures. Although we focused on technical skills in clay, I also shared my knowledge of art history, traveling, and life as an artist, in hopes that they will gain a lifelong appreciation of arts and crafts. 

The project I have chosen for this discussion features tiles that pay tribute to the sunflower paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. The lesson began with a brief summary of who the artist is, where he lived and what he liked to paint. We looked at a variety of his paintings and students volunteered their thoughts. I told the students that Vincent Van Gogh made some of his sunflower paintings for his friend and fellow artist, Paul Gauguin; this inspired the students to contemplate who to give their creation to. Then we got to work.

First, the students looked at images of real sunflowers and sketched a design on paper. Then, I helped the students roll out a slab of clay and cut a square out using a template. I also showed them how to roll coils and pinch the clay to get the right shape and texture of the flowers. We used rubber alphabet stamps to put their name at the bottom of the tile and holes at the top, so it can be hung on a wall. After the tiles were fired, students painted with watered-down under glazes to mimic the feeling of a Van Gogh painting (we could have also used watercolors). Finally, we sponged on a clear-coat glaze, fired the work a second time, and Voila! We had a masterpiece! I enjoyed their enthusiasm and my own work was influenced by their creative ideas.

Examples of the tiles made by Christina's students.
Van Gogh Photo: Stein, Susan Alyson (1986). Van Gogh A Retrospective. Printed in China: Beaux Arts Editions. Colorplate 61, page 173.

August 19, 2010

Jeff Forster, Helen Drutt Studio Fellow, Reflects on Year at HCCC

Forster in his studio
Former artist-in-residence and Helen Drutt Studio Fellow, Jeff Forster, recently completed his residency last month. Forster is a ceramic artist and often uses modern packing materials, such as Styrofoam, as molds. The resulting works are textured, handmade ceramic objects that reference the mass production of our current consumer culture. Below he shares more about his time at HCCC.

Soon after beginning my residency at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC), I realized it had more to offer than simply a space in which to work. In fact, HCCC is a hub for artists and other like-minded individuals working with craft mediums. During my time at HCCC, I’ve had the opportunity to meet artists from across the state of Texas and art enthusiasts from other parts of the country and abroad. These interactions have led to strong community contacts in addition to several invitations to exhibit outside of HCCC itself.

There are three galleries at HCCC that offer rotating exhibitions. Having multiple galleries provides high-caliber, accessible exhibitions on a regular basis. Often, as a working artist and educator, it is hard to find time to go out and see all the shows I want. Having these exhibitions "in house" made it easy to see the diversity of approaches within the field of contemporary craft.

From top to bottom:
Three stages of The Remediation of Empire,Images courtesy of the artists
One of the most unique, but unfortunately underutilized, features of HCCC is the Craft Garden. The garden boasts a wide variety of plants, all of which can be used in various craft processes. It is the only garden of its type that I know of. While I only found time to complete one project in the garden with fellow artist-in-residence, Gabriel Craig, I see the garden as a viable venue for future project proposals and would encourage others to do the same.

I think the most rewarding experience for me at HCCC was just the day-to-day interaction with the staff and other artists-in-residence. I have always enjoyed the synergy created in an environment of serious art professionals. While there were many times I was preoccupied with what I needed to get done, I believe even then I absorbed inspiration from the creative people around me. This attribute offers a continued dialogue of happenings within contemporary craft.

Through this interaction, not only has my knowledge of other craft mediums grown, but I had plentiful opportunities to work collaboratively with other artists. In addition to "The Remediation of Empire," the aforementioned installation with
Gabriel Craig, I also completed two collaborative sculptures with Kelley Eggert. I always enjoy working collaboratively as it forces one to work outside of his comfort zone, taking on new challenges. Whether successful or not, I see it as a means of individual growth.

Detail of "Object Reclamation" by Jeff Forster and Kelley Eggert.
Image courtesy of the artists.

August 12, 2010

We’ve Launched a Blog!

Home to NASA, Houston, Texas is associated with technology, space and the last frontier. Now, we at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) are entering the 21st Century and celebrating our 10th Anniversary Year with a blog. Around the office, it is affectionately known as the “birthday blog.” Our goal is to provide a forum for information and conversation on a broad range of topics, including contemporary craft, current trends in the field, and curator and artist commentaries. Although much of what we talk about is grounded in HCCC’s mission, we hope to reach out and converse with many of you about all things craft.

We intend for the blog to be a collaborative venture, and HCCC will ask guest authors to write many of the posts. Our Curatorial Fellow, Anna Walker, will coordinate the guest posts and write some of her own. In the coming months, we will introduce you to the different aspects of HCCC and branch out into other topics, but we want to finish this post with some information about who we are:

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) is a nonprofit arts organization founded to advance education about the process, product and history of craft. Since opening in September of 2001, HCCC has emerged as an important cultural and educational resource for Houston and the Southwest—one of the few venues in the country dedicated exclusively to craft at the highest level.  HCCC provides exhibition, retail and studio spaces to support the work of local and national artists.  HCCC also serves as a resource for art educators and offers educational programs in schools and underserved communities.  Visitors enjoy viewing innovative exhibitions, engaging with resident artists, creating their own craft object in a variety of workshops, and shopping for one-of-a-kind gifts and home décor in the Asher Gallery.

We will post on the blog at least once a week and hope you will join us to read and participate in this new endeavor!