Making with natural matter


Nanotechnology may develop through a fold of paper.

In the Berkshires this summer, craft and art will have an organic blend of traditions and a keen contemporary edge.

Here origami gives engineers a way to build machines too microscopic for machines to build. Here a potter takes a pot almost as tall as a man from a wood-heated kiln, to stand it in a garden. Here a woodworker sands a wooden dipper or a round table light enough to carry in one hand.

In May, Mark Hewitt will bring his human-sized ceramic pots to the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Hewitt blends glazes, shapes, colors and textures. He gets his clay from his home county in North Carolina, and a spangle of melted glass from the North Carolina mountains -- a smooth handle from Cornwall, a layering of earth-toned glazes from Japan, a salt glaze from New England.

At the Berkshire Museum in June, "PaperWorks" will explore the science, history and manifold art of paper. Contemporary artists will play with paper in many forms -- paper in two dimensions and in three -- paper accordioned, torqued, cut and sculpted.

And polished wood will show gleam and grain in two exhibits at Hancock Shaker Village. Shaker chairs will stand out in June, and in September, contemporary woodworkers will play with Shaker style.

As the Shakers made their chairs to lean back in, and sold their chairs from here to the Mississippi river, so Hewitt wants people to use his work.

When he makes a planter, he wants a plant to grow in it.

Using pots is a great pleasure, he said, like buying a book and reading it, not just leaving it on a shelf. He makes bowls and plates, mugs and pitchers and jars.

"But you get into different territory with larger pieces," he said. They give an opportunity for expression.

"Many people have an ancient memory of clay in a landscape," he said -- "a strawberry pot on a garden path with berries hanging from it in May, a planter on a deck, a statue in a plaza in a small town in Italy."

Big pots tap into that memory. Hewitt's larger work may stand four feet high or more, as tall as a child at least, and his pots also have human elements in their shapes.

"Curves are familiar, rooted in anthropomorphic terms -- bellies, shoulders, necks, feet," he said. "There's something generous about strong curves. As a potter, I respond to that fullness and the spirit contained within a lot with a beautifuly made, elegant, clean and vibrant curve."

So he makes pots that belong in a garden -- and that shake the soul.

Potters in southeastern United States, or in Bangaladesh or Japan will want to make objects to use, he said, and objects for religious and artistic expression.

In Aztec cut-paper figures and contemporary sacred ob-jects, Maria Mingalone will also explore religious and art-istic expression.

In "PaperWorks," she said, she will follow the art, history and science of paper and focus on creative ways to use and adapt it.

The ability to make paper quickly and easily has given people a tool that has changed civilizations.

"Paper changed the way we use language," she said.

Paper has recorded knowledge, has shaped the way people tell stories, and has held and transferred power. She will give a history of papermaking and its uses, she said, and emphasize paper's contemporary power as a medium in visual storytelling in contemporary art -- and science.

Today, Erik Demaine, a professor in computer science, and his father, Martin Emaine, artist-in-residence at MIT, use paper folding to explore protein folding for biomedical research. Paper engineer Matt Shalian works with engineers at the University of Michigan, using paper folds to understand microfolds, Minglaone said: using paper to model the workings of human cells and solar cells.

In Mingalone's show, book sculptures consider the future of words on the page, and frazzled newspapers become small, bright-eyed, shaggy creatures.

Origami crabs emerge from shells. And wall-sized swathes of paper-cuts show maps, sea creatures, and people taking baths in the houses of a coastal village.

Some works are playful, some are flabberghasting, and some are both.

Hewitt had a woman come to a kiln opening who had driven two hours to get there, and bought a mug.

He asked why she had come all that way for one mug, and she told him, "you make the Cadillac of mugs."

"I'll take that over a show at the Met any day," he said. "I've made a connection with her, and she will have reveries over that mug."

In "Wood works," at the Hancock Shaker Village, collections manager Lesley Herzberg also wants works small enough to take home.

She will gather 20 to 25 pieces, all from different woodworkers. She has spread the word through the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild and the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community, and woodworkers are making new pieces for the show.

Shaker style translates well to contemporary design, she said. She is looking for a new take on Shaker feeling, with new materials, in the Shaker vein of simple and streamlined craft.

Hewitt took wants to make fine work, and beautiful work, that people can use.

"You get to have it in your hands, he said. You can put it to your lips and into your sink."

He recalled a friend and colleague, Chris Benfey -- professor of English and Emily Dickinson scholar at Mount Holyoke, writer and contributor to the New York Times book review -- quoting a 19th-century philosopher: "he said a handle is a mediator between two worlds, the world of ideas and the world of practicality. It's a curve on a pot and a mechanism for picking it up."

Hewitt considered quietly.

"I like straddling those worlds," he said. "One keeps you grounded, and one allows you to dream."

Artists build community

A vibrant economy allows potters and artists to stretch the limits of what they can do, said North Carolina potter Mark Hewitt, who will bring his human-sized stoneware pots to the Berkshire Botanical Museum this summer.

It allows him to absorb outside influences and add to the traditions the state has developed through the centuries

In the 1950s and 1960s, North Carolina potters made small pots, candle holders and creamers. The economy has boomed in the last 30 years, and people -- and potters -- have migrated to the south. Hewitt himself moved there after working and studying around the globe, from his native England to Japan and South Korea.

His community has become a center for potters, and a center for people who like handmade ceramics. People come to North Carolina for pottery the way they come to Broadway for theater, he said. Potters develop relationships with each other and with with the people who come to their kiln openings and buy their mugs.

His community has generated of a cultural identity. Pottery has become "a vibrant cottage enterprise" there, he said, because of the local materials and preserved local skills, the talent of the potters, their tenacity and entrepreneural spirit, and advocacy -- people who have promoted and recognized that talent. The strength of that culture and community lets Hewitt do what he does. "It's a function of my ideosyncrasies and talent and expression, he said, "and of underlying structural elements."

Like recording studios in Nashville -- or antique shops in the southern Berkshires -- his community has become "a nucleus of artistic expression in one medium," he said.

There's a strength in numbers. The potters work together. They have formed community groups and collectives, and an art school in the mountains has become a nexus of creativity, bringing in innovators.

"There's one critic who says what art does is build community," he said. "Strength in numbers allows us to consolidate and coordinate our efforts."

Many different potters, from different backgrounds and generations, have strengthened the group. Hewitt enjoys and has learned from many kinds of ceramic art, as long as they are beautiful and well-made.

It's like hearing different kinds of music on NPR, he said -- classical, oldies, country -- the key isn't what kind of music it is, but whether it's good or bad.

The test is the quality of the work. Good work will pull people in and awe them, like a Winslow Homer painting, or oan Baez singing "Blue Sky," or a steeplechase jockey riding over a fence.

"We have a quest to express something that's ours, that people understand and gravitate towards," he said, "something that hits home. It's diffcult, and you have to make it look easy, as though it's meant to be that way."


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