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Mar 7, 2019

Collaborating from the Ground Up

In January, graduate students from Warren Wilson College’s MA in Critical and Historical Craft Studies program were in residence at the Center for Craft in downtown Asheville, NC. Housed in the Center for Craft’s lower level “Ideation Lab,” the winter residency inspired productive conversations that reflected the students’ physical surroundings; ideas were built collaboratively starting at a ground-level.

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In January, graduate students from Warren Wilson College’s MA in Critical and Historical Craft Studies program were in residence at the Center for Craft in downtown Asheville, NC. Housed in the Center for Craft’s lower level “Ideation Lab,” the winter residency inspired productive conversations that reflected the students’ physical surroundings; ideas were built collaboratively starting at a ground-level.

As part of this winter residency, students worked with Center for Craft Assistant Director and Curator Marilyn Zapf to consider the history and context of collecting, object libraries, and teaching collections. The discussions were inspired by the goal of creating an object library for Warren Wilson College (WWC) that will build a knowledge base between the undergraduate and graduate programs at the university, utilizing objects to practice research skills, connect multiple disciplines on campus, and teach exhibition strategies at both educational levels.

“19th Century collecting and exhibition practices were often based on the idea that objects held an inherent truth, and were amassed as a way to structure knowledge. It’s very exciting to reimagine how an object library can inform interdisciplinary teaching when we assume objects to have many truths in them,” said MA Faculty and Center for Craft Assistant Director and Curator Marilyn Zapf. “That was one of the starting points for class discussion.”

The class considered a variety of elements that make up a teaching collection, including the scope of objects that might be included in the library, collection focus, potential user groups, benefits and challenges involved in creating the library, and anticipated financial and human resources for ongoing care and management.

“Equally as important as making a working collection is the students’ experience working through a collaborative design process,” explains Namita Gupta Wiggers, Director of the MA in Critical and Historical Craft Studies at Warren Wilson College. “Marilyn demonstrated how to move from concept to a draft of a plan by connecting coursework, visits to the Asheville Art Museum and archives, and research projects shared by faculty teaching in the program. Applying critical thinking, history and theory to creating an actual system for study – an Object Library – put the program’s educational aims into action.”

At the conclusion of the January residency, students made recommendations on collecting policies, plans, strategies, and procedures for a future object library. Their recommendations will be further developed with key stakeholders, such as the WWC Vice President of Academic Affairs, Art Department Faculty and Staff, Craft Crew Staff and Students, and Undergraduate representatives, among others.

The MA in Critical and Historical Craft Studies program was originally conceived in partnership with the Center for Craft during a June 2016 Think Tank. It is the first program in the U.S. to focus its curriculum on craft history and theory and brings together a rotating faculty from multiple disciplines and varied cultural and global locations to broaden understanding of craft as a field of study. 

The graduate program follows a low-residency model. Students begin each semester in intensive on-site residencies alternating between July on the Warren Wilson College campus and January in downtown Asheville at the Center for Craft. The recent residency at the Center for Craft and Object Library course exemplified the kind of collaborations and cross-pollination that can result from this partnership.  

For more information, visit www.warren-wilson.edu/craft and @macraftstudieswwc. Applications for the next cohort of the MA in in Critical and Historical Craft Studies program has been extended until March 1.