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Five Questions with Jordan McDonald

Jordan McDonald, education coordinator at the American Craft Council
Marsden Hartley and Nova Scotia edited by Gerald Ferguson, with essays by Ronald Paulson and Gail R. Scott
China Diary by Stephen Spender and David Hockney
Jordan McDonald, education coordinator at the American Craft Council
Photo gallery (3 images)

Today's interview is with Jordan McDonald, education coordinator for the American Craft Council.

What is your favorite/most-read art or craft book in your personal collection?
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully retire my copy of Marsden Hartley and Nova Scotia. The book is a collection of Hartley’s paintings, poems, letters and postludes from two summers he spent living with the Masons, a family of fishermen in Eastern Points, Nova Scotia.

What he found in the Mason family was a kind of warmth and archaic charm he had never encountered, and realized he was searching for since his youth. That discovery precipitated a bold shift in his paintings. Two of my favorite portraits from this period are at the Weisman Art Museum here in Minneapolis.

What book or magazine would you like to sneak out of the ACC Library?
I would be lying if I picked just one book. I think this library is an incredible place to browse. I like to pick a spot and scan the stacks and discover how many ways a material can become a subject. Seeing how many ways it has been used to express ideas and to solve problems. Some books talk about process and others talk about theory and the meaning of things. The exhibition catalogs can show you one specific moment in time and the artist files allow you to go deeper into one artist’s career.

What book(s) are you currently reading? Any kind of book is fine!
Right now it’s China Diary, by Stephen Spender and David Hockney. As you probably guessed from the title, the book is an account of Spender and Hockney’s trip to China in the 1980’s. They mostly stay away from the usual tourist spots and meet with students who are studying painting and poetry.

What’s so interesting is that Spender tells stories about individuals, he doesn’t try to depict a culture. I think that’s sort of unexpected, he connects with people, despite language barriers and some forced/prepared answers to his questions. Hockney’s drawings and photographs do the same, they go deeper and reveal something unexpected, whether about a person, a tree, a rock formation or a stack of towels in a shop window.

What hooked you on craft? What's the first craft you remember seriously catching your eye?
I started college on a track to become an illustrator. Back then, on my way from one drawing class to another, I walked through the crafts building. There I saw people, their clothes covered in saw dust and clay, drinking coffee out of really beautiful cups and eating out of huge wonky bowls. The whole scene was sort of hilarious to me. I had never seen anything quite like it. These people, just standing around and casually using pots that looked like the things at home I wouldn’t dare use every day.

I was curious about all this, so I bought some pots at a student sale and started eating lunch in that building. Few months later I enrolled in a ceramics class and eventually started studying Ceramics full-time. That initial experience of seeing people use their art really taught me that although some objects are precious, valuable and fragile, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used. Some of my favorite pots are the most impractical, fragile things you’ll ever see. It’s fun to use them, so I use them often.

If you could master a new craft, what would it be?
I have a Master’s degree in Ceramics, but there’s still a lot to learn about the material. In school, I took a class called Ceramic Science for the Artist. It was taught by Dr. Bill Carty, a professor in the Material Science and Engineering department. The class was to work with an engineer to help solve common technical issues, like cracking and warping, that ceramic artists encounter in the studio.

As an artist, I start by thinking about process when trying to solve technical problems. I try to change the process to correct the problem. For Dr. Carty, he started with questions about materials. He was thinking about chemistry. He was thinking about the same problems on a completely different level. I would like to learn more about the chemistry of clay –I think that knowledge can unlock a lot of potential.

Five Questions is a brief Q&A about books and craft, with people who love and use the American Craft Council Library.

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