The Hippo


Jul 21, 2019








Necklace by Kathleen Dustin. Courtesy photo.

See “Technology in a Handmade World”

Where: Craft Center Gallery, 49 S. Main St., Concord
When: On view through March 18; exhibition hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday during exhibitions 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

21st-century crafts
League show explores technology in art

By Kelly Sennott

The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen is at a technological crossroads, with laser cutters, 3-D printers, CNC scanners and plasma cutters.

It’s becoming harder and harder for members to ignore these new tools that speed up the process and allow for new possibilities, and many have dipped their toes in. It’s evident in the new show at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen gallery, “Technology in a Handmade World,” featuring pieces by James Cook, Kathleen Dustin, Greg Gorman, Adam Nudd-Homeyer, Joy Raskin, Wen Redmond and Sam Wild. All have used a variety of 21st-century devices to make their art on display. 
It’s been a topic of discussion in the group, whose members must go through a jurying process in order to get the League stamp of approval. The use of 21st-century devices allows for more opportunities for artists, but it also begs the question, does it make a piece less handmade? What are the rules?
“It’s ultimately a tool for you to use. That’s primarily how we’re thinking right now, but this could change, especially with 3-D printing,” Catherine Green, League gallery and standards manager, said at the gallery.
She said the goal of the show was to alert people about what’s out there, what’s possible and how the League is moving into a new age of making.
The show is tucked in alongside a larger enamel exhibition, occupying a small hallway. It contains pieces, plus artist statements and process documentation. 
Dustin actually had a number of identical necklaces on display, one made with polymer clay, the rest with a 3-D printer. It’s difficult to discern the difference. Her first piece was via clay, and its design had the natural aesthetic of something 3-D printed — and many early onlookers assumed it was. 
“I made [the 3-D versions] because it was more appropriate for the design,” Dustin said. “I thought, if people were thinking it was 3-D printed, then why am I making this all by hand?”
Dustin developed the 3-D print design with the help of a computer program, Rhinoceros 3D, and a college student, before sending it to to be printed. She said it was a one-time thing.
“Unless I come up with a design that would also be better done if 3-D printed, I don’t actually have much interest in it because I like working with my hands. Even those necklaces there, they were 3-D printed, but some of them I dyed by hand,” Dustin said.
Wen Redmond’s pieces are mixed media wall art featuring textured photos and digital collage, which meld her love of photography and fiber arts. Back in the ’80s, when she’d wanted to get photos printed on quilts, she had to do it at a copy shop. 
“When computers and printers were able to communicate, and digital cameras came into being, that’s when I was able to move forward, essentially printing photos on material,” Redmond said. “There are so many creative things you can do. … For me, this is an exploratory process.”
Jewelry artist James Cook said he invested in a 3-D printer two years ago so he would no longer have to hand-carve certain jewelry components. You really can’t do everything as a jewelry artist by hand and keep prices low, anyway, he said. Lots of jewelers outsource mass-produced materials or components, but this way, Cook can do it all in house. 
“And I can give people more unique products by not having to buy the same components as every other jeweler in America,” Cook said.
One of Cook’s pieces in the show is a necklace featuring a stone found in Westmoreland. It sits in an eight-pronged frame designed on a 3-D printer, which was then cast in silver and finished with a laser welder. Another necklace features a gold snowflake, something really hard, if not impossible, to carve by hand. 
Using these tools allows local jewelry makers to keep prices low, and Cook also hopes it encourages more people to explore the art. But it also puts ethics of hand craftsmanship on the line.
“The whole goldsmith, silversmith, metalsmith [profession] is a dying trade. I think there aren’t as many of us out there anymore. So you’re seeing a younger generation now coming in through the ranks. … If [the League] doesn’t allow it, they’re going to be missing out on a lot of unique artists, but it also opens up a huge can of worms about who’s honest and who’s actually making the jewelry, not just designing it. The biggest question mark is, how do they control it?”
Dustin echoed this idea.
“I feel like we have to talk about it. I feel like it’s yet another tool for us. We can’t just throw it out. Having said that, I do like to see evidence of the hand,” Dustin said. “I think the League should start figuring out how best to accept these, maybe not as a medium itself, but as a tool within mixed media. … The public, they’ve heard of 3-D printing, but they don’t know how it might fit into a craftsman’s work.”
Green said it’s something the standards committee is still talking about, and probably will continue to talk about on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re not mass-producers. This is a league of hand-crafted work. But there are tools available. You just always want your hand in the process,” Green said. “We’re formulating some guidelines to discuss advanced technologies. … Right now, our overriding standard is that there should be clear decision-making at every step of the way so that a machine does not do that for you.” 

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