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