January 27, 2011

Jenine Bressner on Houston Visit

Mixed-media artist, Jenine Bressner, opens up and writes about her experiences while visiting Houston to install her first solo show at a major institution.  Inverted Harmony: A Handmande Environment by Jenine Bressner, is on view in our Small Gallery through March 13, 2011.

Detail of Jenine Bressner’s current installation at HCCC.
Handmade glass and lasercut, hand-sewn fabrics.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Houston, Texas has surpassed my expectations by light years. I worked all week to install Inverted Harmony: A Handmande Environment by Jenine Bressner at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. In my mind, the working title is, “Why Are We Fighting When We're on the Same Team?” This installation is the biggest thing that I have ever made, aside from building rooms in warehouses.

The support from HCCC has been so incredibly thorough and generous. I have to especially thank Anna Walker, curatorial fellow at HCCC, for EVERYTHING! I am ineffably grateful to Anna, Randall Dorn, and Ashley Powell for their invaluable help and to Kerry Inman and Nyala Wright for their generous hospitality.

Jenine Bressner during installation – “As I hung plant forms,
I rearranged
the platforms of the scaffold to allow the pieces
to hang fully extended.”
Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Here, Anna Walker (r) and Ashley Powell (l) prepare strands of
glass rain
before I hang them.” – Jenine Bressner. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“I spent months lampworking Pyrex to make lots of glass rain drops.
 It felt like it took
forever to tie them all!  Thanks to Dave Olsen for 
teaching me how to make a fisherman's
knot, and for being so helpful to me.” 
– Jenine Bressner. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This is the text that accompanies my installation:
The idea of "Man versus Nature" fails to acknowledge that humans are animals. Though we exist in the context of nature, we are distinct from other fauna in many obvious ways. We try to control nearly every other type of living thing around us, from pests to pets. In relating to everything only as something we can manipulate, we fail to view and understand the rest of life with true empathy.

Our impact on the natural world is currently disruptive and unbalancing in unprecedented ways. We are turning the world upside-down, but I believe in the resiliency of nature--sans humans. If plants can grow through from underneath pavement, nature can eventually resolve much of the damage for which we have been responsible.

The most inspiring works I've witnessed have all been naturally occurring ones. I aim to make things that reflect my respect and awe for the natural world, my quiet sadness for our uncertain future, and the paradox of humans trying to control and recreate nature itself in artwork that can only strive to be as beautiful as authentic life.
The screening of Handmade Nation at Lawndale Art Center last weekend was packed beyond capacity, with people lining the walls and sitting on the floors.  225 people attended the film, and 100 came to my artist talk! It was a lot of fun to meet everybody and talk with folks, so thank you if you were able to be there!  Also, the band What Cheer Brigade from Providence (the band in the bookbinding scene in Handmade Nation) will be playing at Super Happy Fun Land on March 10th!

Jenine Bressner while teaching the Ruffled Accessories workshop at

Sew Crafty Houston.  Photo courtesy of Sew Crafty Houston.

Thanks also to Sarah Gabbart and Sew Crafty Houston for hosting my workshop on sewing ruffled textile forms and accessories, and thanks to everyone in the class!  Sarah, you're a gem!

--Jenine Bressner

For more information, visit Jenine’s…

January 20, 2011

Faythe Levine on Handmade Nation: Now & Then

Director, author, artist and curator Faythe Levine traveled to 15 cities and covered more than 19,000 miles to interview artists, crafters, makers, curators and community members for her feature film debut, Handmade Nation. Below, she shares her thoughts on her amazing journey in creating the documentary, which explores the new wave of art, craft and design.

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft has partnered with Aurora Picture Show, Lawndale Art Center and others to present a free reception and screening of the film at Lawndale Art Center on Saturday, January 22. Click here for more details on the event. 

Faythe Levine, Handmade Nation author & director.

The Handmade Nation screening in Houston is the perfect place to start with my story. The plan was to come to Texas for the screening of my film, but as I keep learning, when it rains, it pours. A previously booked trip to Alaska for educational programming was too close for travel to make sense. One of my most challenging lessons in the past few years is realizing I can’t be everywhere at once, and when I try, because I have, it just results in mental and physical exhaustion.

This Texas-Alaska conundrum does a great job of summing up my last two years’ experience with programming. I never expected the audience to be so far and wide for the film, lectures, and now educational workshops. What I have found is that people are excited and interested in learning more about the current state of handmade, and my film is a great launching board for discussion, and, for many, provides inspiration to take the first step in their lives to do something new.

The project itself started in 2006, taking three full years to complete. I was interested in capturing the positive energy the DIY craft community is known for, sharing work, methods and the forward-thinking ethos of those involved with what was going on. The film was shot by my friend and collaborator Micaela O’Herlihy, who traveled with me during the production. I selected featured makers from people I had worked with or was interested in getting to know, traveling to cities where we could multi-task and shoot craft fairs, studio visits and additional footage.

Over the course of the production, a lot happened within the DIY craft community. Print magazines started and folded, Etsy.com was only a year old when we began shooting and quickly changed the way makers could market and sell their work, and social media took over. The ways in which we began to exchange information and share projects and ideas were moving forward faster than most of us even realized.

I treated the documentary like any project I had ever worked on and shared the process by blogging. When we released a clip of the film about a year into production, people outside of the crafting circle started to take notice. A lot of media attention was already being directed at the trend of “crafting,” and Handmade Nation was a way to explain what was going on. By the time the film was released, I had a large following of people waiting to see the film. I am very thankful and still shell shocked from the amount of attention the documentary has received. It may be a surprise to some of you to know that the film was turned down for every major film festival I applied to, so I set out to book screenings in a non-traditional DIY method, which ended up working maybe better than I could have hoped for.

Handmade Nation is still just me. I manage all the emails, booking, press, and marketing and still often travel to screenings and to do educational lectures. The popularity of the film is a true testament to how important craft, making and creating is to our culture. Craft never left and will never go away; we just have the ability to share things much quicker and connect, regardless of our locations, unlike past generations.

As I move forward in my own career as a director and curator, my DIY ethos will stand by my side like it has since I was a 15-year-old punk kid making zines. The idea that there are no rules appealed to me then and is still the reason I promote what I do. The empowerment of craft changes lives, and inspiration is contagious. I am sorry I can’t make it to Houston, especially to see Jenine Bressner’s exhibit, but I’m going to be there in spirit on my way to Alaska to spread some DIY love elsewhere.

--Faythe Levine

For more information, visit:

January 13, 2011

Meet Sarah from Sew Crafty

For some of our upcoming events, we have developed exciting partnerships with several Houston arts organizations, such as Lawndale Art Center, Aurora Picture Show and Sew Crafty Houston. On Saturday, January 22, Sew Crafty Houston will host our special workshop, “Ruffled Accessories with Jenine Bressner.” (Spots are still available—click here to learn more and register.)  So, this week, we’ve invited Sarah Gabbart, owner of Sew Crafty Houston, to tell us a bit more about her sewing lounge in the Heights.

Sarah Gabbart at Sew Crafty’s December craft fair. Photo by Ellen Chen.

Crafters, makers, DIYers and indie artists have flocked to Houston in the last few years, presumably for our low cost of living, and have found a city that’s ready to be part of what other places like Austin and Chicago have already experienced: a DIY community.

How do I know? I started a sewing lounge called Sew Crafty in 2008. For the past three years, I have found tons of folks who were ready to meet other people that enjoyed crafting as much as they did! There they were, yarn or fabric in hand, just waiting for someone to say, “Hey you guys! This is where you can craft.” That’s why I started Sew Crafty—so people could have fun and make stuff together.

At this point you might be asking, “What the heck is a sewing lounge?” Good question! In a sewing lounge, like Sew Crafty, you can take classes, buy supplies or rent space to work on your projects—but that’s not the whole story. You can meet other folks who like sewing, knitting, crochet, craft, DIY and fun stuff like that. You can be part of a craft community!

Many folks have found this kind of camaraderie online, through sites like Craftster.org and Etsy.com, but not in their own backyard. In the past, we have worked with groups like Etsy Houston (a group of makers who band together to fight evil… err… rather, create craft fairs, promote their wares and enjoy cupcakes) to help bring awareness to all of the cool stuff people are making in our very own city.

Sound like fun to you? It’s easy to get involved—visit a craft fair, join a meet up group or take a workshop with us or HCCC! I promise it’s a whole lot of fun, and there are usually cupcakes.

January 6, 2011

Preparation for a New Year – New Exhibits!

At HCCC, we are beginning our New Year with two exciting new exhibitions!  Lisa Gralnick: The Gold Standard and Inverted Harmony: A Handmade Environment by Jenine Bressner  open on Friday, January 21, from 5:30 – 8:00 PM.  If you visit our galleries before the opening reception, you will be greeted by a small sign asking you to “excuse our mess,” as we are in between exhibitions.  This doesn’t mean there isn’t anything happening in the galleries; our staff is busy behind closed doors getting the space ready for the new exhibits.

Two of our favorite staff members de-installing
Marianne McGrath’s piece, Yours, Mine & Ours…,
from the CraftTexas 2010 exhibition that just ended.

What happens behind those doors, you ask? At a larger institution, such as the MFAH, there is a preparation and installation department, often shortened to “prep department.” The department works tirelessly prior to exhibitions—painting gallery walls, installing complicated sculptures and making sure all the artwork is lit and ready to go.  Here at HCCC, we don’t have a separate prep department.  Instead, multiple members of our small staff pitch in to help take down and put up new shows. This means that one week, we could be researching and writing text panels, and the next week, we could be painting pedestals.

In the upcoming weeks, we will have posts about these two new exhibits, but for now, we are in the galleries getting the space ready for the opening reception—we hope to see you there!