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Interview with Holly Gore — 2019 Arrowmont Writer’s Grant Recipient

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A writer who focuses on craft, Holly Gore was the winner of The Furni­ture Society’s first Writing Resi­dency Educa­tional Grant at the Arrow­mont School of Arts and Crafts. Holly writes about modern and contem­po­rary art. with a focus on Amer­i­can craft and woodworking.

A writer who focuses on craft, Holly Gore was the winner of The Furni­ture Society’s first Writing Resi­dency Educa­tional Grant at the Arrow­mont School of Arts and Crafts. Holly writes about modern and contem­po­rary art with a focus on Amer­i­can craft and wood­work­ing. Here, she talks about wood­work­ing, writing and craft.

When did you become inter­ested in writing about craft?

I went to art school at the Cooper Union in the 1990s. After I grad­u­ated, I made a living at various jobs that involved working with wood — cabi­net­mak­ing, stair build­ing, and design­ing and fabri­cat­ing museum exhi­bi­tions. My begin­nings as a craft scholar came through those expe­ri­ences.

Art is such a wide field, how did you come to special­ize in Amer­i­can craft?

My inter­est in writing on wood­work­ing led me to a master’s program at Stan­ford Univer­sity, where I was also working at the campus art museum, the Cantor Arts Center. While I was research­ing my master’s thesis on the furni­ture of Wharton Esher­ick, I came into contact with the broader field of craft schol­ar­ship. I found that there was a lot of vital, excit­ing new craft research being done and that wood­work­ing had received rela­tively little schol­arly atten­tion.

What was the resi­dency expe­ri­ence like at Arrow­mont?

It was an ideal work situ­a­tion. I had long hours of quiet time to write and at the same time was situ­ated in a commu­nity of people who are devoted to craft in one way or another — educa­tors, admin­is­tra­tors, artists-in-resi­dence, crafts­peo­ple in varies stages of their careers, and dedi­cated amateurs who return year after year for work­shops. The school has wonder­ful exhi­bi­tion spaces and its library is exten­sive. I took several long writing breaks to browse the stacks and to look through the rare publi­ca­tions in the reserve cabinet. Also, the Arrow­mont campus is a beau­ti­ful place, tucked into a hill­side at the base of the Great Smoky Moun­tains.

Are your working on research/​writing that came out of the resi­dency?

During the resi­dency, I worked on an essay on Isamu Noguchi’s wood­work­ing endeav­ors of the 1930s and 1940s. These included stage sets for modern dance pioneer Martha Graham and the estab­lish­ment of a wood­work­ing shop at the Poston War Relo­ca­tion Center in Arizona, which was the largest site of Japan­ese-Amer­i­can intern­ment during World War II. This paper is part of a larger project, a doctoral disser­ta­tion that inves­ti­gates four modernist wood­work­ers who were active during the twen­ti­eth century: Molly Gregory, George Nakashima, and J. B. Blunk in addi­tion to Noguchi.

I read that your disser­ta­tion looks at wood­work­ing and citi­zen­ship, can you talk about this?

My disser­ta­tion is premised on the notion that modernist wood­work­ing was in many instances as much about shaping people as it was about shaping things. A big part of my work has been to unearth some of the popular notions concern­ing the value of wood­work­ing and other skilled manual labor that arose out of histor­i­cal moments such as the Great Depres­sion, World War II, and West Coast coun­ter­cul­ture. In case after case, Amer­i­can citi­zen­ship emerges as a concern of artists and design­ers — as one of the imma­te­r­ial prod­ucts of modernist wood.

When you write about recog­nized furni­ture makers/​sculptors such as Noguchi, how does putting their work in context of history and labor affect how someone appre­ci­ates their work?

My hope with this project is to chal­lenge any ideas that wood­work­ing was periph­eral to Amer­i­can modernism. On the contrary, I believe that it was central to a utopian strain of art and design that aimed to create a height­ened poten­tial for manual work as well as produc­ing extra­or­di­nary objects. In the case of Noguchi, who is someone who is very well known for his sculp­ture and indus­trial design, his accom­plish­ments as a wood­worker are not widely acknowl­edged — the fact that he was an adept wood­carver by the age of fifteen; that he inno­vated a mode of scenic design that initi­ated a new ABCs of set carpen­try; and that the only instance where he did formal­ized teach­ing during his seven-decade-long career was in wood­work­ing at Poston.

When you’re plan­ning on writing about a topic in craft, how do you start the process — e.g., look at a lot of actual pieces in person, try to find personal corre­spon­dences, etc…

Once I’ve iden­ti­fied a topic of inter­est I usually do some exploratory research to see if the project I’m envi­sion­ing is feasi­ble. Mate­ri­als I would look for could include artworks, historic build­ings, letters, project papers, photographs, personal writ­ings, audio and visual record­ings, news­pa­per clip­pings, and other printed ephemera. It varies from case to case. If I’m writing about a contem­po­rary artist, I might make a studio visit or do an interview.