Welcome to Learning from Things

Conversation with Prof. Catherine Whalen....

posted on 24 Mar 2014 12:47 by Elena Pinto Simon

Assistant Professor Catherine Whalen includes in her areas of expertise American Craft and Design History. She teaches a number of courses in this area. Together with her students, she recently launched the Bard Graduate Center Craft,
Art and Design Oral History Project (http://www.bgccraftartdesign.org/). The Archive is a treasure trove of oral histories, compiled and conducted by her students with craftspeople, designers, and artists. It focuses on contemporary work. There are also photos, video, and a good deal of enormously useful reference materials on the site.

I had a chance to speak with her about this new repository recently.

EPS: Congratulations on the launch. Tell us about how you came to realize that this could be a very important project, and filled a real need.

CW: The project started out in 2007 as an in-class assignment for the seminar “Craft and Design in the U.S.A., 1945-present,” which I regularly teach at the BGC. Oral history is an important methodology for the study of contemporary makers, and one that I believe BGC graduate students should have at their disposal. Time after time, seminar members enthusiastically took on the assignment and came up with great results. I was so impressed with the quality of the interviews they conducted that I began thinking about ways to make them publicly available, and an online digital archive seemed like a very good solution. The fields of craft and design history are vibrant and expanding, and oral histories have been a key resource for new scholarship in these fields. So, the central goal of the Bard Graduate Center Craft, Art and Design Oral History Project document, preserve and make available the voices of contemporary makers for the purpose of research. What makes this archive especially valuable is its range and inclusivity. By highlighting individuals in diverse fields and at different points in their careers, it provides the opportunity to consider the distinctions, continuities, and fluidities among their practices and their work. Interviewees range from those using traditional craft media, such as Mira Nakashima in wood and Mary Barringer in clay, to designers and architects like Ignacio Ciocchini, developer of New York’s newly installed CityBench, and Malcolm Holzman, nationally recognized for his innovative performing arts centers and civic buildings. They also include emerging artists like Allyson Mitchell, who draws upon women’s hobby crafts with a feminist ethos. Our project has garnered praise for its breadth as well as its design, use of images, tagging, and links to resources. These features distinguish it from other oral history projects that may focus on a particular group of makers, don’t incorporate images, or lack ways of making linkages among interviews. Here I am very fortunate to have had the expertise of Kimon Keramidas, director of the Digital Media Lab, designers Laura Grey and Vanessa Rossi, and BGC librarian Erin Elzi.


EPS: How do you hope it continues to grow in the future?

CW: I plan to teach “Craft and Design in the U.S.A., 1945-present” yearly, in which seminar members will continue to conduct interviews for the project. Students undertaking interviews for other research endeavors are also welcome to contribute them. In addition to building the archive, I’d like to make more and more researchers aware of this resource.

EPS: What were some of the surprising things the students discovered as they worked on these projects?

CW: So many things! Interviewing is a revelatory research methodology. This assignment is often students’ initial foray into this mode of intellectual inquiry. It may also be the first time they speak to contemporary makers about their work. It’s impressive to see how much they bring to and get from this experience. Their first task is to select an interviewee, someone they really want to talk to about what they do. If needed, I’ll match them up with a practitioner, but almost always they make the choice on their own, often a person they know, or whose work they admire. Then they draft questions, which we review together. So at the outset, the process raises fundamental questions: Who is a maker? What is practice? What do you want to know? How are you going to find out? How can this material be best presented digitally? How can it be used for future research? The next stage is conducting the interview, which always produces unexpected insights, and that’s exciting. Then, we discuss the interviews as a group, noting their differences and similarities. At present there’s a lot of discussion going on about the convergence of art, craft and design. What do the interviewees have to say on this topic, implicitly or explicitly? Among the makers they’ve spoken with, students have found designers who describe their work as problem solving and craftspeople who stress self-expression, but all are passionate about the relationship between what they make and the people who encounter it.

EPS: Art, Craft and Design seems to be an area that is growing in interest. Why do you think it is historically important to document the ongoing work of these contemporary art and craft makers?

CW: Two reasons: to better understand what is going on now, and to build an archive for future scholars to draw upon. Especially in craft but also design, synthetic secondary literature is a recent and ongoing development. Good oral histories are an essential primary source for this work. In his interview for the project, Paul J. Smith, who assumed directorship of the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now the Museum of Arts and Design) in 1963, remarked that he wished there was more documentation of the field from that time, but no one was thinking of its historical importance. Now, he is repeatedly asked for this kind of information. I take this cautionary tale to heart. Through the Bard Graduate Center Craft, Art and Design Oral History Project, I believe we are creating a valuable resource for current and future scholarship.

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Furniture Society Seminar...

posted on 05 Feb 2014 15:37 by Elena Pinto Simon

Professor Jeffrey Collins shared his thoughts with me about the recent Research Seminar on British and Continental Furniture and Interiors, 1600-1930,held at the MMA this past week. He notes that four present and former BGC students addressed a packed room at the day-long session, sponsored by the Furniture History Society and hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art on February 3.


( Tilles, Rabie, D'Amato)

“They were among the eleven young museum and academic professionals to share their findings in this prestigious forum, which included multiple BGC faculty, senior Met curators, collectors, and current BGC students. Martina D’Amato (M.A. 2013, now in the BGC’s doctoral program) presented aspects of her ongoing work on “The Chabrière-Arlès Collection and Renaissance Furniture in France and America, 1875-1935”; Haneen Rabie (M.A. 2009, now in the doctoral program in art and archeology at Princeton) spoke about “Dazzling Pastiche: Decorative Art and Design in Second Empire Paris”; and Rebecca Tilles (M.A. 2007, now curatorial research fellow for decorative arts and sculpture at the the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) gave a talk entitled “Historicism or Modernism? Re-evaluating the Regency Revival, 1917-1930.” A fourth former BGC student, Leslie Klingner (now curator of interpretation at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.) spoke about “Vanderbilt at Biltmore: Building on British Traditions.” This very successful event was the first of what the FHS hopes will be further opportunities to encourage and showcase the work of emerging scholars on both sides of the Atlantic.” Congratulations to the students and alums who participated!

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recent alum activity...

posted on 24 Jan 2014 15:12 by Elena Pinto Simon

What are the alums from classes that graduated in 2012 and 2013 up to?

Well, I thought a good way to start the New Year, and the new term, would be to ask them, and then share that with all of you. If there is interest, I’ll turn it into a series, so that we can all catch up, re-connect, and stay connected.

Sara Spink wrote to say she started as a Curatorial Associate at the Museum of the City of New York last November. She notes “I'm definitely pulling on my BGC experience here, acting as project manager on exhibitions and publications, assisting with rights and repro, editing texts, budget management, research, and web content management (yay, DML!). I'm also, as of last July or so, a regular contributor to MODERN Magazine's Form + Function section, an opportunity that emerged because of the relationships I forged through my summer internship with MODERN and The Magazine ANTIQUES while at the BGC. Some of my coverage is also included (in somewhat truncated form) on MODERN'sTumblr page. I'm also attempting to maintain my own blog on exhibitions and their designs: http://spinkdesignblog.wikidot.com (though I'm afraid I haven't had time to update it lately).

Not to worry, Sara. I’ve been a little tardy with this BLOG of late, myself.

From sunny Southern California, Andrew Goodhouse writes that he is a Graduate Intern in Publications at the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, and is working on editorial projects and the recently launched Getty Publications Virtual Library. Here in New York City, Colin Fanning and Katrina London are both curatorial assistants at the American Federation of Arts.

Meanwhile, from Texas, Einav Zamir tells me “I spent last year as the executive director of ArtWatch International, an organization that deals with issues in art conservation, and I'm currently in the first year of my PhD at the University of Texas at Austin. An article of mine on ethical concerns in the conservation of looted artifacts will appear in the next issue of the ArtWatch Journal.”

Across the pond, in London, Roisin Inglesby is an Assistant Curator of Design at the V& A, and will be the next New York Silver Society speaker here at the BGC in October. Also on that side of the Atlantic, two other recent alums, Sophie Pitman and Katie Tycz have started work on their PhD’s at Cambridge University.

The news from Amber Winick was doubly joyful: “It's official! I'll be heading to Budapest in March for a Fulbright grant, where I'll be researching designs created for Hungarian children, including schools, illustrated books, toys and other objects. Of course, I'm most proud of my baby daughter, Alice Esarosa, who will be joining me in Budapest.”

Shoshana Greenwald’s update also had news about a new job. She writes that “ I am working as the Collections Manager at an as yet unopened museum, Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center that seeks to study the Holocaust from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. My background in Material Culture is perfect training for the job because I handle all types of archives and artifacts, from prewar books to baby clothes that were hand-sewn in the DP camps to an extensive anti-Semitic postcard collection. “

Nicole Pulichene writes from Harvard, where she has begun work on a PhD in medieval art. I visited with Nicole, and fellow alum Meredyth Winter, when I was last in Cambridge. Meredyth is also at the start of her second semester at Harvard.

At the other end of the Boston-to-Washington corridor is Craig Lee, with lots of news on his own progress. His note is brimming with activities: “I’m in my third-year in the doctoral program in the Department of Art History at the University of Delaware. I’ve completed my coursework, passed my comprehensive exams, and beginning to work on the dissertation. This past summer I was an intern at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in the Department of Architecture and Engineering. Also, in the past year, I received an Ailsa Mellon Bruce Predoctoral Fellowship for Historians of American Art to Travel Abroad from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art for a five-week research trip to study the history of architecture, with a focus on modernism, in South Africa. Lastly, in addition to making progress towards candidacy, for the 2013-2014 academic year I am a McCrindle Intern at the Princeton University Art Museum in the Photography Department working on an exhibition about photography and urbanism in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles from 1960-1980.”

Earlier today, Nynne Just Christoffersen sent me a note saying she had just heard from the Humboldt University in Berlin, and has been accepted to start a PhD program there. Her note indicates that she has been “ accepted as a doctoral research fellow for the research project "Networks: Textile Arts and Textility in a Transcultural Perspective (4th-17th Centuries)". The research project is directed by
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Wolf from Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (where she will enroll) and is part of a joint research project with the University of Zurich, “An Iconology of the Textile in Art and Architecture”, directed by Prof. Dr. Tristan Weddigen.” Brava!

From Chicago, Alyssa Greenberg sent news that she is in her third year “as a University Fellowship doctoral student at UIC, studying for preliminary exam and writing her dissertation proposal concurrently. She writes, “ My exam areas are Museum Studies (with a focus on art museum education) and 20th and 21st Century Art and Activism (with a focus on socially-engaged art practices and their museum manifestations). My dissertation will trace the history of social reform and community engagement in American art museums from the Progressive Era to the contemporary. I expect to attain my candidacy in May 2014. As the Education Assistant at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, I am the second-in-command in the Education Department. My responsibilities include facilitating tours and dialogues, writing curriculum and interpretive materials, grantwriting, and supporting projects including the Summer Teacher Institute and the Community Docent program. I recently published an article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Curriculum Theorizing. I have presented my work at several conferences, and won small grants for conference expenses and professional development. Last but not least Rebecca Mir and I are currently partners in the 2013-2014 Art21 Educators program.” Rebecca Mir herself notes that she was “ …recently hired by the Guggenheim as the Associate Manager, Digital Media and Online Learning. I'm based in the Education Department here and will be working mostly on a global collaboration with UBS called the MAP Global Art Initiate: www.guggenheim.org/map . She also still serves on the NYCMER Board as their Web Resources and Social Media Coordinator.

Also in Chicago, Sarah Rogers Morris writes to say she is working as the Program and Communications Associate at the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. She has also been doing some freelance writing, and has several forthcoming articles, including her QP, which will be published in Future Anterior, a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the critical examination and the study of historic preservation.

Meanwhile, here in NYC, Sharan Twickler tells me that she is a Researcher at A La Vieille Russie. She very kindly notes “ I am very content with how my role has evolved since starting with admission and catalogue sales for the Sandoz exhibition back in the fall of 2011. I will always be grateful for that email you sent out about their needing help. I am proof that it never hurts to gain a little experience from what, at first, seems like a short-term opportunity. You never know what can become of it! In addition to updating the website and researching the collection, I am pleased to have a role in expanding the gallery's social media presence. I am particularly excited about the blog, where I aim to give context to our collection, exploring everything from the history of cufflinks to the folklore of opals. I recall in my application essay saying I hoped to bridge the gap between academia and the public. I definitely feel like I am doing just that.” Many paths to the goal!

And on the doctoral front, Amy Sande-Friedman (PhD, Graduating Class of 2012) recently launched an art advisory practice, helping people buy and sell works of Contemporary art. She's excited to help both new and seasoned collectors find pieces that will bring them joy every day. amysandefriedman.com . Congratulations on your new venture, Amy.

And in Chicago, Jon Tavares (PhD, Graduating Class of 2013) is postdoctoral fellow at the Art Institute in Chicago (Arms and Armor). I visited with Jon last October and had a wonderful tour of the storerooms of the department, and saw some of Jon’s first recommendations for purchases for the department.

Keep those notes coming!

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