Craft, from pottery and quilting to woodwork and basketry, has long been part of Western North Carolina’s history. And while those traditions are revered and preserved, Eric Baden, the director of craft programming and professor of photography at Warren Wilson College, offers another perspective. Those who come out of the education environment are “around a number of young people who borrow much more freely from different areas and disciplines,” says Baden. “It’s a really exciting thing to work with.” Out of that spirit of experimentation evolved the idea for photo+craft, a community arts event held in Asheville from Thursday, March 31, to Sunday, April 3.
As its name suggests, photo+craft examines the two disciplines individually and where they intersect. Among those junctions, Baden lists the issue of craft and craftsmanship in the production of material objects, and issues around craft and industry, or photography and industry. “The broad fields of photography and craft have been outliers to the field of fine art throughout the 20th century,” he says. “They’ve both fed fine art and have ultimately had incredible influence in what was considered fine art.”
Baden adds, “We’re not really pushing a point of view. It’s to hold up some things together and see what happens.”
The long weekend of photo+craft came about through a Windgate Fellowship that Warren Wilson College received. The purpose of the grant is to increase craft programming on campus as well as collaboration with the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design. While in discussion with the center about its current exhibit, Recorded Matter (which looks at the use of video in the ceramic art process), Baden was reminded of an idea he’d developed earlier around photography and craft. He quickly found others thinking along similar lines.
“We were really lucky to have a community right at this moment so interested on working on it,” Baden says. The festival’s schedule includes programming that evolved from the core group of artists involved with planning, as well as related exhibitions. The photo+craft roster also includes two keynote speakers who are highly regarded in each field.
Fred Ritchin, whose talk “Bending the Frame: Photography and Social Change” takes place Friday, is the dean of the School at the International Center of Photography in New York. Along with educational roles at the Tisch School of the Arts and the Photography & Human Rights program at the Magnum Foundation, Ritchin worked as a photo editor at The New York Times Magazine and Horizon, and as the executive editor of Camera Arts magazine. Namita Gupta Wiggers, who speaks on “Almost Touch + Virtual Communities: photo+craft” on Saturday, is currently on the board of the CCCD and is the former director of the Museum of Contemporary Craft on Portland, Ore. It was to that institution that she brought, among other programs, Ai Weiwei’s Dropping the Urn.
Alongside those experts, students will also show their work and take on other roles in the event. A Warren Wilson student has curated an exhibition at the college’s Holden Gallery that looks at craft fairs in Western North Carolina in the 1930s, ’50s and ’80s. The exhibit Keep Your Eyes Open: DIY Photography includes contributions from Warren Wilson’s campus craft crews. Among them, the fine woodworking crew has been making pinhole cameras and the fiber arts crew focused on photograms — cameraless images — which are then fashioned into photographic quilt patterns.
That combination of young artists, new views, experienced makers and traditional ideas augment Baden’s vision of furthering a conversation. The numerous exhibits and activities scattered over four days are each a piece of the dialogue, though Baden says it will be worthwhile to participate in any or all of photo+craft’s many facets.
“This region has long been looked to for craft,” he says. “In recent years I’ve heard people talk a lot about contemporary art here — what’s happening here that’s new. That questioning and energy is a way to look at moving forward.”