Contemporary Craft: An Odyssey

by Sarah Loch-Test on February 16, 2013

We recently had three consecutive weekends with ceramics workshops- taught by visiting artists Kevin Snipes and Sharif Bey (who grew up in Pittsburgh), and Yoko Sekino-Bove, (Japanese born and now resides in Washington, PA).  Some students from the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild were given scholarships to attend these various workshops, and so we met Nikki.  Nikki’s an inquisitive and imaginative young lady that MCG sent our way, who initially questioned the validity of ‘contemporary’ craft.  Our artists helped her to understand what contemporary is and can be.  Here you will read Nikki’s journey through the mystical land of contemporary.  (I’m starting to think our studios lead to Narnia or Oz.)

Nikki with finished piece
Great were the white stone walls that encased our city on all sides

And great were the efforts to recreate such perfection.

Beyond our realm was not known nor explored

For the inhabitants of our determined city

Had brought about a need for flawlessness in great confection.

Hours and hours upon end, we each sat at our wheels,

Robotic hands born of the wondrous place,

And tried, tried desperately, to bare the magic

That had come of these walls that reached into the sky,

As white and gallant as bridal lace.


And then one day, to my surprise,

People began to lift hands, to touch the sky.

Few, rare was the man that scaled the walls,

And looked onto the other side.

What could there be after perfection?

 Yoko's work

I had counted three people, who’d mastered the white walls,

Before deciding to see the heights for myself.

Several attempts before I could climb to the top,

And finally, I sat on the freezing ledge.

I first peered down upon the frantic and striving.

I then turned my back, and gaped in awe, at all the color.

I looked back one more time, before deciding,

I’d had enough perfection to last a lifetime.

Down I fell to the new grounds,

Unsettled, unstable, innovative, incredible.


The land was a desert. The word ‘Contemporary’

Had been scrawled in numerous hands among the sand.

What had it meant? Entirely lost, I’d seemed to be,

In a nonsense world, where everything was what it wasn’t.

‘Contemporary’ was beyond my realm. Certainly not perfect.


Sand became canvas as time wore on, someone taking the opportunity

In stride, gangly figures hanging in picturesque color,

Almost coming to life, reaching out for it.

Faces had not been proportional, and objects held no meaning.

There was no message for me here, no perfection.

 Kevin instructing

Inside a cave I met the man behind the figures.

Kevin Snipes, he’d introduced himself as.

“What do your pictures mean?” I dared to ask.

“Well, this one,” he said, pointing to a painting of a man

With limp arms and a woman looking the other way,

“Represents the tension between a man and a woman,

The awkwardness and misunderstanding between the sexes,

And how that affects themselves, each other, their world.”

And suddenly, ‘Contemporary’ had meaning, had reason.

Was not useless, but instead beautiful,

For his art had no function, but served purpose greater than that

Of a bowl or a plate. ‘Contemporary,’ now shared

Ideals and philosophies, observation in artistry.

I thanked Kevin for his insight,

And went about on my way.

 Piece by Kevin Snipes

Music seemed totwinkle in the wind,

And grew louder as it howled

And sand turned to snow.

But the musical inspiration drowned

In the wake of a hammer and a nail,

Residing in a nearby cabin,

No perfect walls.


I knocked on the door. Scratched in it was ‘Contemporary.’

Why was ‘Contemporary’ entirely present in the realm outside perfect?

I pondered the query as the door swung open.

A great bearded man answered, clay faced and hammer in hand.

Sharif Bey, he introduced himself as.


1,000 pinch pots lay strewn on the floor,

And nails protruded from ceramic heads.

“Why,” I dared to ask.

“Makes them more interesting,” he said in response.

“Why would I want to do the same thing as the guy next to me?

I want to be unique.”

Innovative. Conceptive. Interesting. Unique.

This was contemporary.

I thanked Sharif and went on my way,

Though not entirely sure of my way anymore.


The snow melted as my feet trudged on,

The crunch of ice replaced with that of leaves.

On the forest floor,

I met a woman, black hair, skin fair,

Attempting to place intricate leaves on a cup,

That was lovely, yet imperfect.

 Yoko Demo-ing

Yoko Sekino-Bove, she called herself.

“What are you doing,” I dared to ask.

“Well you see, curious child, that this cup is not perfect.

It is close, close enough, but the artistic design is what

Makes a ceramic piece interesting. Therefore I take

My love of color, and use it to make near perfection,

Perfect art.”

I saw now. I understood ‘Contemporary,’ everything it was, and it wasn’t.

I thanked Yoko for her insight, and went back from whence I came,

Entirely sure of my way.

My feet trudged once more in the direction of the snow,

Then sand, then magnificent white wall.

Looking at this strong, stable wall,

It seemed plain and meaningless,

A functional piece with no beautiful use

Seemed more worthless than the entirely

Glorious world of color that lay outside the realm

Of perfect.


Upon re-entering the boundaries of the wall,

I saw a sign. It read, “Society for Contemporary Craft.”

I had the benefactors of this place to thank

For teaching me that perfect was not everything,

That the great Contemporary artists who resided here

Had already mastered perfection, climbed the great

White walls of it, and dared to look beyond,

To use their understanding of flawless

In an incredibly bright and innovative way,

Shattering the white wall of perfection,

And bringing about a revolution in beauty itself.

Draw on Everything tile 

I re-entered the city, and shared what I’d learned.

I was at first rejected, just as all the enlightened had been before me.

But as I began to create tea bowls with the beauty of imperfection in mind,

People began to see. The wall was soon destroyed.


Each of our artists talked about their own journeys- in concept and geography, which Nikki clearly picked up on.  Nikki had been putting off writing her blog entry for us, and I’m glad she did because this is a very poetic representation of what we are able to accomplish through craft mediums.  Keep an eye out for this girl’s work, she’s going to be the next big name in narrative craft.

Sarah Loch-Test
I'm Sarah Loch-Test, an artist from Columbus, Ohio. I've been making jewelry for as long as I can remember! I like to have fun with my work and combine childhood obsessions (like Dinosaurs!) with elements of design and craft that inspire me. Art Nouveau, Islamic and Indian craft are my favorite sources of inspiration and I hope you can see that in my jewelry. My work can be found at the Mac Worthington Gallery, The Columbus Cultural Arts Center and on permanent display in Northland High School. I'm a graduate of the B.F.A. craft program at Kent State University, concentrating in Jewelry Metals and Enameling. I sometimes get distracted and work in other mediums such as felt or will do some sewing. I've been in shows and exhibitions at Kent State, the SNAG Conference and around the Columbus Area. You can view other work at Find my on Facebook: Twitter: @SarahLochTest Currently I'm in Pittsburgh, PA at the Society of Contemporary Craft, where I am the first ever Studio Apprentice. I'll soon be moving to North Carolina, to start grad school at East Carolina University.
Sarah Loch-Test

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