Updated: Mar 11
I've been covering the many benefits to be gained from integrating place-based considerations to the art or core curriculum. One that I am most interested in is the possibility that students who are engaged with their communities will be encouraged to do their part in developing their local creative economy. The space between school and community holds so much possibility for the enrichment of both, yet they too often remain stubbornly separate. Bridging this gap may be a key in allowing both to fully thrive in many rural communities. Throughout my time in Scotland I have been looking at how schools can enrich their arts to make these connections and improve both schools and communities. As I near the end of my fellowship, I look to synthesize the results of my experiences and reach conclusions and practical trajectories to further this work.
One avenue my research increasingly steered me towards is the inclusion of craft and folk art into both the art and academic curricula.
Folk art is widely viewed as art that is rooted in traditions that come from community and culture – expressing cultural identity by conveying shared community values and aesthetics.
The International Museum of Folk Art describes it as such:
"There are many different ways to think about folk art. In fact, there is no one definition of folk art. In collecting and displaying folk art, the museum considers various concepts.
Generally, folk art is ART that:
may be decorative or utilitarian
may be used every day or reserved for high ceremonies
is handmade; it may include handmade elements, as well as new, synthetic, or recycled components
may be made for use within a community of practice or it may be produced for sale as a form of income and empowerment
may be learned formally or informally; folk art may also be self-taught
may include intangible forms of expressive culture like dance, song, poetry, and food
is traditional; it reflects shared cultural aesthetics and social issues.
is recognized that, as traditions are dynamic, traditional folk art may change over time and may include innovations in tradition.
is of, by, and for the people; all people, inclusive of class, status, culture, community, ethnicity, gender, and religion"
Students who are lucky enough to live in places defined by rich cultural heritage might naturally be exposed to folk art, while others with less distinctive history draw from broader influences. Ceilidh dances, for example, are taught in primary schools in Scotland as part of physical education courses – a great example of incorporating folk art as place-based integration. The students learn and practice a skill which has been handed down from generation to generation. This skill exposes them to cultural nuances and deeply connects them to their heritage. Teaching folk art provides a natural bridge to the cultural significance and history of a place; be it a student's home or far beyond.
The etymology of the term "craft" is a discussion point in itself and one that brings with it varying viewpoints and perspectives. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the Renaissance saw a distinction between art and craft as the status of painters and sculptors (who were previously regarded as craftsmen) was upgraded to "artist". Complicated further, distinctive meanings of terms like decorative and applied arts adds to the confusion. While the discussion of art vs. craft interests me, I will leave this distinction to those who simply know more about it than I do. (see video above) For my purposes here, I understand the term craft to be an activity involving skill in making things by hand.
For most of our history, making things by hand was the norm and the techniques were passed from one generation to the next. Many of these skills are in real danger of dying out as technical knowledge is possessed by craftspeople who are becoming older and retiring from their work. In an age where screens devour the hours in a day, there are fewer people rising up to take their place in the chain of folk artists and craftspeople. The UK Heritage Craft Association even has a list of roughly 100 endangered and extinct crafts, including clock making, chair caning, and surprisingly, letterpress printing.
Teaching craft offers many of the same benefits of any visual art method, however, I wonder if it might speak to students in an alternative way than traditional gallery-exhibition art. Craft involves practice and the goal of a formal product. It lacks social status and the perceived intellectual component that accompanies many art forms. Craft exists outside of the artist and connects each maker with a larger community of makers.
”Craft is a way of doing things involving deliberateness and attention to detail and representing the accumulation of skill over time. Craft invites a life in which the objects that surround us speak to us of what is important.” ~ Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, president, North Bennet Street School, Boston
Just as design offers an integral set of skills which are necessary for a robust art curriculum, craft offers many of the same skills, often more aligned with environmental causes. Craft encourages students to return to basics, to practice techniques that their ancestors were practicing from all over the world. Craft invites students to use their hands to make something and be proud of that object when they are finished. Further development of these skills can open economic doors for the students that pursue their craft as a business, thereby strengthening the creative economy and
providing additional incentive to carry on their local traditions.
When I return to Massachusetts, I intend to incorporate craft into the studio arts as often as I can, but it will involve a lot of preparation since I have not been exposed to many of these techniques in the past. To get me started, my sons and I learned some basic whittling skills from Alan of Alienspoons in Edinburgh. We learned carving methods as well as knife safety and left with some great projects to bring back home.
Craft Resources for the classroom
Beeswax tutorial from Countryside Classroom
Countryside Classroom partners are organisations that are committed to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to learn about and experience food, farming and the natural environment.
Members of the Consortium are able to exchange knowledge, expertise and networks, to collaborate in new ways and to address shared challenges.
Heritage Crafts - step by step guides
FACE and the Heritage Crafts Association have come together to provide teachers with free downloadable resources with tested craft projects which are easy to deliver, accessible, fun for pupils and tailored to the National Curriculum.
Here you will find background information about six countryside crafts and the talented people who are working with them. Then you will be introduced to activities for pupils with a step by step guide to each heritage craft accompanied by detailed photos.