Five Questions American Craft Week Edition with Chris Shea

Five Questions American Craft Week Edition with Chris Shea

Chris Shea Oil Can

Chris Shea, Oil Can

Today's featured American Craft Week interview is with Chris Shea is a metal artist based in Brandywine, Maryland. His forged and fabricated furniture, sculpture, and architectural metalwork combine traditional techniques with graceful and sinuous forms.

What do you make?
I make functional metalwork and furniture, primarily in iron, bronze, copper and glass. My designs tend to be rooted in familiar historical styles, but filtered through my own fascination with certain natural forms and expressed in the language of the blacksmith.

What does craft mean to you?
Everything I've written so far in trying to address this question has made me uncomfortable, like pinning down something that shouldn't be pinned down. I sometimes get this way about my work. At one time I thought I would be a writer. Now as a blacksmith I tell myself, sometimes vehemently, that my work has nothing to do with language. The eye and the hand and the visceral senses are essential. I'm glad it's not my job to think about craft in the abstract. It's my job to be very, very specific about what I am making and how I am making it. Maybe that's what craft means to me.

How did you first become engaged with craft?
My earliest memory of being happy - of recognizing that I was happy - involves sitting at a picnic table in my backyard with a box of odds and ends from my grandparents' hat making business, with scissors and glue, making little creatures that the various shapes and textures suggested to my imagination. The drive to create with my hands went into a long dormancy from my teens to my late twenties as I struggled at becoming a writer and worked in theater education. The drive came back quite unexpectedly as I found myself one day making a puppet for my girlfriend (now my wife), Dana. It was like finding something precious that I had forgotten I'd lost. From there it was a matter of discovering what forms and materials and processes most suited my own hands and my own particular vision, with Dana's inspiration, support and encouragement every step of the way.

If you could master a new craft, what would it be?
After 17 years, I'm still far from satisfied with my command of my current media. However - though the word craft would be only partly appropriate here - I think I'd love to be able to play a musical instrument, perhaps the violin. But I don't think it's very likely. I take to craft intuitively; it makes perfect sense to me the way a personal vision makes progress, by way of hands and eyes, with tools and materials, to become an expressive object. How music comes out of a person is an absolute mystery to me. I don't think I have the organs for it. However, I do often find myself drawing parallels between the effects that music has on me and the effects I strive to create in my work.

What craft events, organizations or galleries in your region are you excited to share?
I'm lucky to live in the Washington, DC area which has a fantastic community of artists, museums, schools and collectors. The Renwick Gallery has been a special source of inspiration and encouragement for me as have the members of the James Renwick Alliance, the support organization for the museum. The Washington Glass School, created by Tim Tate, Michael Janis, and Erwin Timmers is a second creative home for me, and for many other people, too. It's a kind of energy bank where I go for a spark of comradeship, collaboration, competition - and to find that special luminescence that glass can bring to the darker, heavier tones of forged metalwork.

American Craft Week takes place October 5-14, 2012. Read more American Craft Week interviews. Five Questions is a brief Q&A about books and craft, with people who love and use the American Craft Council Library