CIA’s ThinkCraft Takes 360 Look at Glass, Ceramics, Metals and More

As changes in technology and social movements have taken hold in craft disciplines, what is the role of professional education? How does “traditional” craft evolve? What does it mean for makers, collectors and critics?

Such questions go to the core of Cleveland Institute of Art’s ThinkCraft biennial, a yearlong exploration of contemporary craft that starts with a three-day symposium this fall. CIA faculty, students and a distinguished series of guests will gather for presentations from the perspective of making, collecting and educating in a contemporary craft environment.

As part of the biennial, CIA also will host an exhibition celebrating the legacy of craft alumni, from November 1 through December 14. Artists will be Jessica Calderwood, Lisa Clague, Chris Gentner, Demi Thomloudis, Pamela Argentieri, Leana Quade, Thaddeus Wolfe, Kirk Lang, Nate Cotterman, and Kari Russell-Pool.

An exhibition of work by jewelry artist William Harper ’67 will be on view April 4 through June 14, 2019. In addition, a robust calendar of visiting artists and a high school teacher residency in craft are also on deck.

Matthew Hollern and Seth Nagelberg, faculty members in CIA Jewelry + Metals and Ceramics (respectively), are among a group planning events for ThinkCraft. The two are deeply interested in what’s changing in the world of craft. Careers are at the top of the list.

“When we talk about all the career paths that students can pursue, entrepreneurship is probably the most frequent and the biggest assumption they make—that they’re going to start a studio, make work, and start a business and sell that work,” Hollern says.

The classic studio-to-gallery model isn’t over, but CIA craft faculty want their students to consider a wider range of possibilities, including production work and design.

“There aren’t as many students who say they want to be designers, but our students from China and Taiwan want to be designers, and they want to be business people,” Hollern says. “Four of them are planning to have a business together already. It’s pretty exciting.”

Nagelberg says he likes to get students thinking of themselves as future entrepreneurs.

“I don’t know if the gallery is the contemporary framework for them to work within,” he says. “‘Entrepreneur’ kind of covers a few more bases.”

The digital era gives emerging artists tools that can also make the business of art easier. Marketing, for instance, is faster and in many ways less expensive than it used to be.

On the other hand, simply having a website and Facebook page doesn’t guarantee success. “It doesn’t get you entrée and connections with the people that real gallery directors can get you,” Hollern says. “It would be naive to think that you can just go out there and create your own career and represent yourself and get connected to all the people that you want. You can’t. There are people who know people, and it’s still a real thing.”

Technology is influencing the work itself, too. Hollern has been using computer-aided design (CAD) for 30 years, mixing traditional materials with the new. Last year, CIA acquired a 3D printer for ceramics; it is now one of seven 3D-output devices at the college. Nagelberg has most recently used a CNC router for creating textures for a series of plates and bowls.

Three-D printing comes to ceramics at the Cleveland Institute of Art. CIA glass studios let students make work using flame, furnace and casting techniques. Metals students at CIA can experiment with organic and machine-made elements in a single piece of work. Photo: Robert Muller/CIA

“My favorite is a mix of hand and digital work,” Nagelberg says, “going from a hand drawing to a computer to do a digital output like making a mold, and then resolving it by using my hands to press the clay into a mold and then do an assembly myself. To me, it’s really rich and it makes the work kind of confusing to look at.”

Hollern takes a slightly different approach. “The thing that I find really interesting about this moment is the idea of the hybrid, where you have established and traditional techniques and materials colliding with new materials and new techniques and technology all in one piece,” Hollern says.

Socially, the maker movement and DIY culture both intersect with craft, while heightened political sensibilities are fueling “craftivism” (cue the couple who knitted a replica of a Volkswagen van to make a point about transportation in Brazil).

In terms of craft education, the professors believe that some high schools are giving renewed attention to art programs, which have generally suffered in the era of the standardized test.

“High schools are realizing that some of their students want a serious art program,” Hollern says. “Many of the private schools around Cleveland have really strong art programs. Laurel certainly does. Beaumont certainly does. And Cleveland Heights just built a new high school and has a very nice art department, and I know they have their own jewelry lab. Shaker Heights has a very nice art program. That is some serious teaching going on there, and the students are serious about their work.”

Nagelberg points out that this is part of a cultural shift toward making and “reintroducing things like working with your hands again. It comes back either in craft and art, or in things like shop classes. I think there’s going to be a return, and it makes great sense to me.”

The Tom Joyce image goes with this part:

Mark Your Calendar for September Craft Symposium

The Cleveland Institute of Art will host three days of lectures and presentations around the making, collecting and education of craft, from September 20 through 22. Visit for details and registration. Following are the guest artists and writers presenting at the symposium.


Formally trained as a blacksmith, Joyce works from studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Brussels, Belgium, on forged sculptures, drawings, photographs, videos, and mixed media installations. Joyce was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2003.


Schaechter, whose groundbreaking work in stained glass serves as a narrative for social and political commentary, has lived and worked in Philadelphia since graduating in 1983 with a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design glass program. Her work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Hermitage in Russia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Corning Museum of Glass, and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.


Stuart Kestenbaum is poet laureate of Maine and the author of four collections of poems. He has also written The View from Here (Brynmorgen Press), a book of brief essays on craft and community. He was the director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts for over 25 years.


Koplos has been writing about art since 1976. She is the author of Contemporary Japanese Sculpture (1991), Gyöngy Laky (2003), and co-author of Makers: A History of American Studio Craft (2010). Koplos was senior editor at Art in America.


Glenn Adamson is a senior scholar at the Yale Center for British Art, and the editor-at-large of The Magazine Antiques. He is a curator and theorist in design, craft, and contemporary art. He is the former director of the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, and has published widely on craft.


Elisabeth Agro is the Nancy M. McNeil Associate Curator of American Modern and Contemporary Crafts and Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the foremost collections of craft in America.


Calderwood works primarily in metal, enamel, and esoteric crafts. She combines traditional and industrial metalworking processes to make statements about contemporary life. She received her BFA in 2001 from the Cleveland Institute of Art and her MFA from Arizona State University. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally.


Gentner earned a BFA in metalsmithing in 1989 from the Cleveland Institute of Art and held apprenticeships under sculptors and jewelers. He has his own line of furniture, lighting and objects. Among his achievements is the re-creation and fabrication of the gates of the Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House.


Yusko has worked as a studio artist for over twenty years, making forged and fabricated steel vessels, furniture and sculpture. Yusko lives in Cleveland and is artist-in-residence at Rose Iron Works. He has taught at Haystack School of Crafts, Penland School of Crafts, and Webster University, and is a member of the board of trustees for the Haystack School of Crafts.



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