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Fresh blood
Meet the League of NH Craftsmen’s newest director

05/14/15
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Executive Director Susie Lowe-Stockwell has decided to retire at the end of June, and filling her shoes is 36-year-old Jane Oneail. 

The selection committee, Lowe-Stockwell said via phone, wanted someone with experience in management and arts education, but just as important was that the new director have an understanding of arts and crafts, past and present.
They were impressed with Oneail immediately. Oneail grew up in Manchester and recently served as Currier Museum of Art senior educator. Prior to that, she was at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. She’s got art, art history and arts in education degrees from Colgate, BU and Harvard, but she said during an interview with the Hippo last week that her real passion is people. 
 
Why did you want to accept this position?
Thinking about how people are engaged in the arts and living with art is very exciting for me. For me, it’s about people first, arts second. 
 
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in Manchester and went to public schools here. … I’ve been at the Currier for five and a half years. One of my primary responsibilities was working with their volunteers. There were about 100. … That was the real joy of the job for me, helping them to become better educators. … I also realized quickly I loved running committees. And I love hearing people’s stories. Once I know you and your personal story, I love connecting you with the things you may be interested in, or connecting you with something that involves your interests, strengths and passions.
 
Did you like the idea of working with artists who make functional art — art people use and live with?
[Crafts] are things you live with and touch. It’s interesting; at the Currier, you’re working so much with paintings and things from another time, another place, but you don’t really have a context. The biggest hurdle is making [the art] relatable, and helping people connect with it. But I always found that, when you walk through the Zimmerman House, it’s naturally more relatable. … I also think [people] get excited to meet the artist. … All of a sudden, you value something so much more when you meet the person and understand the talent that goes into creating something. 
 
The League is such an important part of the state’s cultural history as well.
People come up to me and say, “I’ve been going to the Craftsmen’s Fair with my family for the last 25 years!” There’s something so precious about those encounters. … [Crafts] tie into the notion of what New Hampshire is all about.
 
What do you see the League looking like in a few years?
I do feel like I need to get my feet wet before envisioning those changes, but I do think one thing the League will be wrestling with in decades ahead is how to be responsive to new technologies and changes in the field of craft. It’s part of the League’s mission to embrace contemporary craft, but it still has this kind of slippery definition. Obviously, when people think about craft, they think of something handmade. So how do you negotiate that with technology? I think it’s something the organization is open to, but they really want to honor the work and respect the work of the craftsmen and never undermine the things that have been made entirely by hand.
 
What specifically are ways people are using new technologies in the field of craft?
Let’s say an artist is carving something by hand right now. You could make it the same way using a 3D printer. … As an organization, we want to be responsive for this and honor it, and I think there are ways to honor it and not undercut the work people are doing by hand. But it’s a fine line. … The idea of online sales will be an interesting negotiation as well.
 
What are characteristics you think craftsmen (and perhaps other artists) need to have to be successful?
If you’re making things with your hand, you have to have the skills and background and education to make something, but then you also have to have persistence and passion. … It’s really hard to make a living as an artist. … Being business-savvy helps too.
 
Did Susie give you any tips? 
I will be overlapping with her for about six weeks. She did the nicest thing after I was hired — she sent me a card that said, “You’re getting the best job in the state of New Hampshire, and you have my support.”
 
As seen in the May 14, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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