Is a formal arts education still important?
Over the past several years, many people have spent time getting in touch with their creative side. As a result, an exploration, and revival, of craft—think pottery, woodworking and painting—has led to a renewed interest in arts educational programs. Several highly acclaimed schools across the country offer dynamic workshops and degrees, allowing students to spend years honing in on a specialized area of study or simply attend classes to become better acquainted with a new interest. Who better to weigh in on the merits of a formal education than three celebrated alums: glass artist Dale Chihuly on Haystack Mountain School of Crafts; industrial designer Jay Sae Jung Oh on Cranbrook Academy of Art; and glass artist and painter Corey Pemberton on Penland School of Craft. Their success stories not only bolster the legacies of these unique institutions but serve as inspiration for the next generation of makers.
Regarded as one of the founding fathers of contemporary American craft, Chihuly studied glass making at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Upon graduating, he enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design where he received an MFA and taught for many years. Throughout his tenure, Chihuly spent summers teaching at Haystack in Deer Isle, Maine, during which time he realized “artists teaching artists is vital to helping students find their own path.” Founded in 1950, the school was considered experimental because it had no permanent faculty, nor did it offer degrees. Remaining true to its roots, Haystack’s workshops and residencies are still taught by visiting faculty and remain sought-after programs today. Chihuly credits Haystack with influencing him to cofound Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, and, while no longer teaching, he continues to encourage “students to surround themselves with other artists. Watch how they live, not just how they work.”
For Oh, Cranbrook’s broad-thinking approach lured her from Seoul to the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, campus. “Their industrial design program lets you focus on your interests,” she explains. “The historical buildings, the environment—students from other majors like architecture, engineering, even anthropology—was fascinating to me.” This influx of varying viewpoints intensified her creativity, and she quickly garnered the attention of design pioneer Gaetano Pesce, who offered her an internship and job opportunity after graduation. While now focused on her successful eponymous firm, Oh finds guest-lecturing at her alma mater a symbiotic relationship. “I like the engagement,” she says. “I get to see what students are interested in, and who they think the rock stars of design are today.”
While studying graphic design at Virginia Commonwealth University, Los Angeles- based Pemberton developed an interest
in glassmaking that led him to a summer program at Penland in North Carolina. “My hand skills improved so much that the instructor offered me a job,” he recalls. Pemberton went on to assistantships and residencies, returning to Penland for a coveted two-year fellowship where he augmented glassmaking with painting and other artforms. Today, Pemberton continues to remain busy, dividing his time between glassmaking and painting practices; an upcoming teaching stint at Haystack this summer; and serving as Director of Crafting the Future, a program creating more equitable opportunities for BIPOC students interested in the arts. “Craft schools are immersive and less formal than the collegiate route,” he says. “I’m a huge advocate [of them] and know how much you can learn.”
PHOTO: Scott Mitchell Leen