This group project will be an opportunity for students with an interest in the practice and theory of handicrafts a) to learn and perfect basic greenwood carving techniques, b) to read and discuss relevant writing about craft, and c) to reflect on the place of craft in the history of aesthetics, as well as its fraught relationship with the non-anonymous art-forms traditionally studied in the Humanities.
Sloyd is the anglicized spelling of the Finnish word slöjd, which means handicraft or handiwork. Sloyd has been a part of the Finnish elementary school curriculum since the 19th century. In English, sloyd refers more narrowly to greenwood carving, which is to say carving wood that has not been dried and seasoned (as dimensioned lumber has). Sloyd traditionally has occupied a gray area between artisanal professions (such as chairmaking or bodging) and a house-holding skill. So there has been no trade guild to record and codify techniques and practices. As a result, only recently have efforts been made to describe sloyd as a distinct area within broader histories of material culture, and of the arts and crafts.
In this course, students will learn the elements of carving, from splitting the billet from the log using a tool called a froe, then shaping the billet using controlled, precise hatchet-strokes. From there we’ll move on to practicing safe knife strokes with straight-bladed sloyd knives, and with curved-blade knives for hollowing the bowl of the spoon.
Once basic techniques and precautions have been learned, the work will consist of the joyful, companionate work of carving together, each carver confronting the individual challenges their own project presents to them.
One of the central purposes of this project will be to investigate the category of phenomenon of Anonymous Art. We will ask whether there are arts that choose anonymity for themselves, arts for which the goal of the undertaking is to absorb or efface the name of the maker. Do we commit an interpretive error when we try to understand objects as the works of a single skilled or heroic maker? Might our interpretive framework change if we think of skills as held collectively by a group, or in state of constant evolution, always on the move from one local interpretation to another?
This Winter Term immersion in the practice of a craft will also be an opportunity to reflect on how we think and talk about work, jobs, and careers. If adopting a skill or technique such as woodworking is normally the domain of vocational or technical instruction, and therefore not an appropriate subject of the liberal arts, I would like for the group to question this assumption, and to think more closely about the idea of the vocation. Examined in the context of its religious associations, the questions of what work we are called to do, and who is doing the calling, are every bit as relevant to liberal arts studies as they are to more “practical” or “technical” curricula.
4 hours a day, carving, skill demonstrations, and discussion.
Number of students:
January 3rd - January 28th, 2020