Q&A: "Craft in America" creator and executive producer Carol Sauvion

October 5, 2009

The second season of the Emmy-nominated and Peabody Award-winning series Craft in America , a filmed journey of the history, artists and techniques of the nation’s rich craft culture, continues the excursion into the diverse and ever-evolving world of American craft. Season two premiere on THIRTEEN on Wednesday, October 7 at 8 pm with “Origins” and “Process.” Inside THIRTEEN spoke with Carol Sauvion, the creator and co-executive producer of Craft in America, and a potter in her own right.

Q. Many of the crafts that you explore – pottery, beadworking, blacksmithing – are rooted in hundreds of years of American history. What are some ways that these craft traditions are passed down from generation to generation?

As potter Mark Hewitt says in the “Origins” episode of the new Craft in America series, the best way to pass craft traditions down is through family. He is referring to Jugtown Pottery on Seagrove, North Carolina, where Travis Owens, a fourth generation potter receives information from his father. Through working with his parents and being surrounded with early North Carolina pots, Travis will learn methods of making pots and firing the kiln that are the product of generations of experimentation and knowledge.

This method of passing down information exists in many craft practices, from bead working to quilt making to woodworking.

Q. You do you own craft, in a way, by creating the “Craft in America” series; but is there a craft you’ve come across during your production work that you wished you could do?

After producing two seasons of Craft in America, I know that filmmaking is definitely a craft and I have enjoyed learning it. Filmmaking reminds me of craft production because several people – the producer, director, director of photography, assistant cameraman, sound recordist, gaffer, grip, and editor – collaborate on a film, each bringing skills and artistry to the project. The collaboration and dedication to the final product are reminiscent of the processes craft workshops have used for thousands of years.

I have made pottery since 1969, when I learned to throw on the wheel and fell in love with clay. However, producing the Craft in America series has brought me into the studios of many artists working in the other craft mediums of wood, glass, metal and fiber. I have felt a strong attraction to weaving after visiting the studio of Jim Bassler, who is featured in the “Origins” episode. Jim pares weaving down to its most simple form. I would love to learn discontinuous weave, the technique he is now using, which, as he says, only requires two sticks and thread. It is quite different from the complicated, and I think, difficult process of setting up a loom. If I could learn to weave, I would also want to learn wedge weave, anther technique Jim uses that allows for diagonal weaving. Jim learned this technique from studying Navajo rugs.

Q. We live in an age where most of the everyday objects around us are produced quickly and cheaply. Do you think that the traditional ways of handmade crafting are in danger of dying out?

“Kiowa Princess Beaded Shoes” by Teri Greeves
Rather than dying out, I think there are several reasons why traditional crafting techniques are experiencing a rebirth now, at the beginning of the 21st century.

The first and most important reason is the universal urge to create that seems stronger than ever in this time of political and financial uncertainty. People, and especially young people, are turning to handwork for emotional and economic reasons.

Making something by hand gives one a sense of accomplishment and individuality that buying something does not. As Scott, the violin maker in the “Process” episode says, it is amazing to start with a piece of wood and end up with a violin.

In this time of disconnection with the sources of the objects we use, it is wonderful to make something by hand and incorporate that personal expression into our lives.

Q. So what inspires people in this day and age to pursue a career in craft? Is there a particularly inspiring story from your series that comes to mind?

There are several factors that inspire people to pursue a career in the crafts. A person who decides to work with their hands has the satisfaction of being able to express their creativity in a life that offers independence. In the “Process” episode of the new Craft in America series, Miguel Gomez Ibanez at the North Bennet Street School says it is quite different to finish a workday having made something as opposed to finishing the day having returned any number of phone calls.

Craft objects, the physical manifestations of the artist’s creativity, stand as a positive force that enriches the lives of the people who acquire them. If the objects are functional, the owners interact with them in a way that changes and humanizes their lives. The sense of touch is important to both the maker and the user of these objects. Touch is the one of our seven senses that is all but missing from contemporary experience.

Additionally, artists making craft objects are a part of the continuum that started with the first humans who learned to use tools to make things to improve their daily lives. This continuum, which is present in the pots, quilts, glass vessels, jewelry, ironwork, furniture, books and clothing being produced by craft artists today, is a vital part of who we are as a culture. In addition, the traditions of ornamentation and embellishment that accompanied the earliest crafts also exist today in objects that may not have a functional purpose but are created to inspire or satisfy emotional needs.

Eudorah Moore, who was instrumental in presenting the crafts in California in the last decades of the 20th century, commissioned a book entitled Craftsman’s Lifestyle: The Gentle Revolution. The last thing I’d like to mention is the importance of the lifestyle that accompanies a career in the crafts. Independence and an environment filled with beauty are essential elements of the craft artist’s world. The relationships a craft artist has with friends and family are the cornerstones of a community that thrives on creativity and independence. That means a lot nowadays.