William Carson House in Eureka, California
Visiting a college or university is an exhilarating experience for me. Meeting all the students -- wondering what the future will bring for these students. How will their academic education prepare them? Graduation time is when many begin to realize the magnitude of the jump they are making into the rest of their lives.
I was recently invited to Humboldt State University in Arcata (Northern California), which will be discussed later in this post. But the trip also allowed me to spend a couple hours in the delightful historic town of Eureka.
While roaming around I discovered "Just My Type" letterpress print shop and paperie.
Lynn Jones, owner of this print shop was a graduate of Humboldt State University. She has found her niche business creating prints and cards, including a thriving business niche printing the packaging for a local premium chocolatier Dick-Taylor Craft Chocolate.
The photo below shows the beautiful packaging for each Dick-Taylor Craft Chocolate.
Just My Type prints the paper wrapper for each and every Dick-Taylor Craft Chocolate bar. The artisan chocolate is wrapped in paper that is like an artwork in itself.
The printed packaging even had an embossed texture of the image from the vintage printing process.
The high-end craft food and the craft of printing meld with artistic and entrepreneurial visions. It is wonderful to see these success stories. Dick-Taylor ships their chocolate all over the world. Premium craft has a market.
The Dick-Taylor chocolate factory was only a few blocks away from the historic Eureka shopping area and Just My Type. I wish that I could have participated in the Dick-Taylor factory tour, but they weren't open that Sunday morning.
Still, it was a thrill to see that Eureka provided a lively community of small businesses in the historic area. A great example that craft in different mediums can be successful with a niche business focus.
Why did I go to Eureka?
Now some details about visiting Humboldt State University. Emily Cobb (left), professor and head of the Jewelry Metal Arts Program was instrumental in inviting me to HSU as a Visiting Artist. Talk about taking months to bring an idea to fruition, the visiting artist gig was six months in gestation.
Life's adventures can be hard to appreciate or even absorb at the moment. Traveling can be information overload. A Visiting Artist gig can be both rewarding and at the same time fill me with self-doubt. Will I provide the information and content to meet the expectations of the students and the teacher? Two days at Humboldt State University with Emily Cobb and her students was jam-packed.
It started with a torrentially wet, six-hour drive to Northern California which has a reputation for a lot of rain. Housing was provided at the very cute and cozy Rose Court Cottage.
Locally, the initials of Humboldt State University - "HSU" also stand for "hills, stairs and umbrellas" and that was definitely part of the experience.
The first part of Day One was an informal conversation with the students prompted solely by their questions. I responded to those prompts directly. It is a challenge to channel a lifetime of experience into the smaller funnel of what students want to know at this moment in their careers.
For example, . . . . .
"How much do you plan before you begin making a piece? What is your planning process? Do you sketch? Make models? Mock-ups?"
Good questions. There's no one set answer. I always ponder how best to begin when I start a new piece. I shared lots of samples of works in progress (shown above and below), along with Powerpoint images of drawings, cardboard models, to high tech CAD drawings.
"Your work has transformed and developed a lot over the years... Did you ever feel stuck in a certain series of work or style? How did you push yourself to try something new? Was your transition from one body of work to another gradual or sudden? Do you work on multiple bodies of work at a time or one at a time?"
More good questions. As long as I keep challenging myself into new territory, both technically, visually, and conceptually, I figure, one way or another, I will make progress. I've come to realize that if making new work is super hard to do... which for me it always is, there is no doubt that I am in new territory.
The final group of questions was purely technical.
Quote: "How do you "sand" things? In other words... how do you make your components so perfect? Is it in the making process or in the clean-up?"
My response to this question, I think, was pretty clear. Practice. Experiment. And practice some more. At the beginning of every piece, I expect to learn or develop a technique, refining the skills over and over to obtain the effect I want. Consequently, I get tons of practice. This is where having a job doing jewelry repair and silver repair for years and years (40+ years to be more exact), really develops skills to make almost anything. Even if I don't know how at first, I believe that I can figure it out with practice. With all those years of experience along with a huge measure of frustration and patience, I usually find a path.
For my work, there is very little clean-up when working with tin cans. It has to be close to perfect, or the best possible, from the very beginning. My advice to metalworking students and everyone still learning; instead of spending so much time on clean-up, learn to work clean from the start. It is a real time saver.
This mess of grass was cut from my backyard and used as models to fabricate my grass from tin cans.
I often hear a common expectation among students and the general public that making art or craft should be easy or fun. This is a myth that I do not entertain. For example, I recalled spending a week studying the shapes of the blades of grass from my yard and comparing hours of trial and error (so many errors) trying to make cuttings from tin cans resemble blades of grass.
Weeks to months of discouraging, exhausting, and sometimes exhilarating experimentation is par for the course. I really try to shut down the measuring of time when exploring new ideas.
Following a suggestion from Emily Cobb, my public lecture focused on the political, environmental and social commentary in my work. Turns out these topics resonated well with the communities of Arcata, Eureka, Humboldt State University and the surrounding area. HSU has a strong focus on environmental science being surrounded by redwood forests and right next to the Pacific Ocean. Imagine, students majoring in Environmental Science came to an art lecture!
I've never been to a place that so naturally focuses on being eco-friendly. The entire community cared about organic, reducing waste, and a holistic awareness of nature and the environment. So close to the Pacific Ocean, a 150-year-old lumber industry, and the center of marijuana cultivation -- the taking care of the earth vibe was everywhere.
Instead of towers of disposable cups and plastic lids, the local community brings their own Mason Jar for a cup of coffee, and then refill it. Both the town and the university shared an eco-focus that was refreshing and inspiring for a recycling evangelist like me.
The second day was a workshop for "Riveting, Tap, and Die" in a condensed version of these essential skills for metal fabrication. If you aren't putting your work together with rivets and screws, this is a huge mistake. Years of fixing brass and silver objects, I see that even the most precious objects are often screwed together. There is a real art to concealing the assembly. It doesn't have to look mechanical.
Quick project by KK to practice with screws
One day isn't a lot of time to allow for instruction and practice, but KK (one of the students) shared this project (left.)
I also spent some time reviewing student work and end of the school year exhibitions. Initially, I felt a vague sense or vibe recurring in much of the work that seemed to include a bit of new age, hippie tendencies, meditation, and spirituality. I didn't quite understand that impression until I walked around the town square and looked at the stores and shops. There seemed to be a lot of mystical rock shops, beaded jewelry, statues of Buddha, and "discover yourself" merchandise from India. It all seemed like a "Summer of Love" time warp, a teleported bubble from Haight Ashbury. But I think that Emily Cobb will introduce more contemporary and artistic rigor to the metal arts curriculum as she develops the metal arts program.
I marvel at the journey that awaits the students and look forward to seeing how their work develops.