This is the first installment in a new series featuring fellow studio craft artists who, through their studio practice, are engaging life in the early 21st century in a variety of inspiring ways.  This series is also borne of a desire to illuminate craft as a sublime and appropriate undertaking  in a time of social, political and economic complexity.  At its core though, this series is about the life and work of grounded artists sharing a passion for craft in all its nuanced glory.

I’d like to open this series with a little sketch of my long-time friend, Ana Vizurraga.  Ana is among the first of my friends to inspire me to pursue my own lines of craft work and inquiry.  She is a quiet but passionate ceramic artist, a committed educator, and “creative expeditionary” (to paraphrase Bob Dylan).   You probably won’t find much about her on the web – AV doesn’t have a “web presence,” per se.  That does not prevent her from being highly regarded by her creative colleagues and collectors, and much-loved by her students, who range in age from c. 5 to 65+.  She approaches her work with open heart and mind and I have always admired her deep spiritual connection to the medium, married with a practical and direct engagement with its essential qualities.  Symbols of earth, nature, and fecundity are fundamental to Ana’s work.  References to nature’s diversity abound, each piece representing a soulful reverence for all of life, often peppered with joy-affirming humor or ironic detail.   She dedicates most of her efforts to “non-functional” work, although her functional work, to the extent she makes any, often possesses similar qualities (I should note that in this instance I am defining functional as e.g., something you can serve food or beverages on/in, etc.).  In short, AV is a high-level artisan working in a very traditional craft medium.  I consider her first a fine-craft artist.  She finds her place along the continuum occupied by myriad artists of radically diverse perspectives who also work in broad range of traditional craft media.

I feel Ana’s work finds its source in a sort of elemental nature-mysticism.  Indeed this is what attracts me most to it.  We drink from the same well.  With clay, though, there is a direct, primordial suchness which is unmatched by other craft media (although perhaps traditional wet-felting runs a close second).  It is earth, and a little water.  One shapes this material with one’s hands.  It can be shaped into a dwelling, vessel or ritual implement, with few additional inputs.  It is transformed by air, heat, fire.  How much more elemental can it get than that?  Even though my primary media don’t “dance with fire” (in the literal sense anyway), I am particularly interested in fire as a transformative element in craft.  As long as I have known Ana I have usually only ever seen the hand-building process or her finished work.  The firing process is largely concealed in most kiln technologies.  Not so with raku.  Late last year, the stars aligned and I was invited to observe and “assist” in a raku firing.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see this process first-hand, and honored to have this creative flame burning so brightly in my life!

Atlanta, GA


I am in the early stages of fully reёvaluating and re-purposing my blog in the face of a fundamental shift in values underlying my studio practice.  What follows is the first of many posts focusing on what it means to me to be a designer/ maker in the early 21st century – a time when a recognition of the Earth’s limits necessitates redefining how we work, how we engage with each other, and how we preserve the planet’s finite resources (and honor its complex systems).

A point of beginning.  I am a one-person show, manufacturing on a micro scale.  Arguably, my scale of production has negligible environmental impact, as compared with industrial textile and apparel manufacturing.  However, as I do produce textiles and apparel, I participate in some aspects of that supply chain, and feel it necessary to look more closely at my own studio activities and choices.  Why now?  Why didn’t I just start out with sustainability in mind?  I will address that at length in some future post, but the short answer would be that for many years, I was held sway by the “psychology of prior investment;” i.e., that it is difficult to break away from something to which one has invested copious amounts of time, money and energy.  Alas, things are getting spooky on Planet Earth and I think it’s time for a thorough examination of my life, including my creative practice and output.  My ultimate hope, I suppose, is that through this process, I might join a positive and constructive sea-change in response to the likely environmental (as well as social and economic) crises ahead (in the event we are unlikely to avert them).  Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but better to start somewhere than to continue living with my head in the sand.  If not now, when?

Laying the groundwork.  I had been trying to write about this inner shift as it relates to my studio practice and work-product for a while.  With so many possible entry points though, I felt overwhelmed and muddled.  In turn, every attempt I made to put any of it into words was incoherent and disjointed.  Then, I recently ran across this Design Museum “Design Ventura Toolkit” short ( ) which offered the perfect starting point.  While the questions posed in this video (and listed below) are specifically concerned with evaluating sustainability in product design and development, I instantly recognized them as an ideal framework for my task, so I decided to adopt them as a working outline and a foundation for future inquiry.  My appreciation goes out to the creators of the film.

Here’s the list:

  • Overarching/Environmental Sustainability: Will my product harm the environment?
  • Overarching/Ethical Sustainability: Will my product be designed in a fair way?
  • Will my product disadvantage or hurt any people?
  • Can I source materials that are recycled or repurposed?
  • Can I use natural materials rather than highly processed ones?
  • Are my materials from an ethical or renewable source?
  • Is my product going to stand the test of time?
  • Is it built to last?
  • Can it be reused, repaired or recycled when it comes to the end of its life?
  • Can my product modify the way a user behaves? i.e.:
  • Can it help them carry out an activity or live in a more sustainable way?
  • What kind of waste does my manufacturing process generate and how can I reduce this?
  • If I am making my product from a sheet material, for example, have I used a cutting method that will minimize left over material?
  • Have I considered the cost of labor in my budget?
  • Is the person making the product being paid fairly?
  • Is my packaging environmentally friendly?
  • How much packaging do I need?
  • Can I keep packaging to a minimum?
  • How far have the elements of my product traveled to get to the consumer?
  • Once it’s been made my product will have to be transported to the shop. How can I reduce the carbon footprint of my product?
  • Can I make it lighter or flat-pack it so it can be transported more efficiently?

Going Forward:  There are a number of practitioners who have dedicated their resources to addressing these concerns and I am grateful for their continued work and inspiration.  There are also many individuals looking at these interlocking ideas and issues from a variety of perspectives and I will necessarily rely on their research and analysis as I undertake this process.  In addition to my own experience, I will be drawing on the work and practices of craft/artists, craftivists, designers, makers, sustainability experts and commentators in industry, institutions and incubation centers, as well as academicians who are working at the intersection of textile/apparel design/ manufacture and social, economic and environmental sustainability.  Along the way, topics as diverse as technology, labor, economics, craft, fashion, personal expression, spirituality, doing “good” and living truly sustainably in the early 21st century will find their way onto these “pages”.  I hope you will join me!

Visit the Design Museum’s Website:

The High Museum of Art in Atlanta recently hosted a collection of works by the Dutch designer, Iris Van Herpen (“IVH”) (Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion).  The show was diverse and complex and I am grateful I was able to make it to the museum before it closed earlier this month.  I was immediately inspired to write about it.  Interestingly, the process of writing opened up a whole new way of looking at my own work.  Before I returned to my modest exertions in the studio though, I recorded these thoughts and observations about the exhibition.


Point of beginning:  I am rapidly drawn in by the unconventional, diverse and harmonious use of materials and form.  The pieces, all presented on the female figure, are vibrant, innovative, and impeccably crafted.*  The human form as an armature sets the sculptural limits of each piece, but within their respective envelopes, there is room to explore a variety of 3-dimensional ideas.  With chain, leather, polymers, film and other materials, through hand, laser, and 3-d print technologies, a coherent vision emerges.  This work exemplifies the holistic nature of design: a fusion of artistic sensibility, utility, and high craftsmanship.  My designer-mind turns at fever pitch to process all of the surface nuances and architectural splendor of the pieces.  At times, I feel I am practically hyperventilating from excitement.  A fresh encounter like this is potentially life-altering.  I am having an IVH “moment”, and I recognize this kind of experience as one of the hallmarks of my growth as an artist/designer/maker – the very best of creative cross-fertilization.

There are conceptual underpinnings to Iris Van Herpen’s work, to be sure. Technology is a strong driver but at its core is the notion of chaos.  This one idea, chaos, has so thoroughly captured my imagination that I am sure I will never look at anything the same again.  This is not the “chaos” of common parlance (as in disorder or break-down), or the formless, primordial reality posited by the ancient Greeks; but rather, the mathematical concept relating to non-linear systems dynamics.**  While I certainly have an incomplete understanding of the concept (and intend to apply myself further to the task of improving that understanding), I begin to appreciate this notion of chaos as a core dictate of process embodied in the exhibited works.  Via bundled and recursive layers, each piece is a composite of complex inputs.  Each suggests a semi-permeable system, one of feedback loops, altering vectors, potentialities, of scaled iterations, re-curving, reorganizing, and unfolding to infinity…except that they are all neatly arrested in space and time as discrete finished works.  There is a sense that this designer/artist/visionary has, in the completion of each piece, dialogued with chaos and deepened the scope of her dance with it.  One aspires to the level of individual and collaborative creative freedom, technical prowess, and innovation on display at this extraordinary exhibition.

There are a lot of other ideas that might be explored in connection with this exhibition, and I ran the gamut as I refined this post:  fashion and sustainability, the promises and limits of technology in the face of environmental degradation, holistic creative practice, to name a few….but these topics are for other posts.  For now, I am content to rest in the strange, paradoxical comfort represented by chaos.  Maybe that is the seduction of the exhibition and of Iris Van Herpen’s work – the hope, light, and magic in these pieces are reminders that we are each manifestations of pure, unfolding process, modified at points in space and time by myriad influences, each exerting forces with varying degrees of potential or predictable outcome.  We are indeed, living, breathing chaos, emergent processes of vectors known and unknown.  We might as well relax and enjoy the ride!

*Throughout this article, I make a distinction between the sculptural, exploratory pieces and the more “accessible/market-friendly” couture (as seen, e.g., in the runway footage looped in conjunction with the exhibition).

** Apparently the term “chaos” belies the true nature of the dynamical systems it signifies although it continues to be used.  See James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science, Viking Press, 1987.

K.C. May, 2016