This fall, Artsville Collective will be exploring the programs and institutions in WNC that are growing and educating creators in our community. Our first feature is on Haywood Community College’s (HCC) Professional Crafts Program.
Haywood Community College’s Professional Crafts program has a 46-year history of producing craftspeople in the areas of clay, fiber, jewelry, and wood. Western North Carolina has a vibrant craft community, and this program, with both its teachers and students, is a prominent part of that population. Many of its graduates go on to be studio artists, curators, gallery workers, teachers, and more.
While the emphasis on learning their chosen craft is key, the program also incorporates a strong education on marketing and small business operations. Brian Wurst, Professional Crafts wood instructor, says, “The emphasis on craftsmanship and design ensures that students are working towards the same standards as professionals with years under their belts.” HCC offers well-rounded instruction that is rarely seen included in many arts curricula, much less incorporated in a relatively affordable two-year program.
Their thoroughness in the curriculum offers a whole semester on marketing which focuses on branding, target market research, venue research, and more. This is done in tandem with teaching students how to photograph their own work or direct a photographer to get the shots they want. Business classes that focus on how to make a business plan specific to the arts and crafts industry or additional classes geared specifically towards online marketing and graphic design are also options.
As a testimonial to this learning experience, at one point more than one hundred members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild were alumni of the program. HCC has a booth at the Guild’s annual October show where second-year students can participate and learn more about pricing, labeling, and selling their goods. This provides them with an opportunity to see the strengths in the marketability of their work and assess changes they might need to take to make their goods more consumer ready. It is of little wonder why so many local WNC creatives choose this intensive program.
Amy Putansu, a fiber instructor, has graduated 60 students in her 15 years of teaching at Haywood. The teachers are also active independent artists which she says allows the students, “to witness [their] creative endeavors first hand.” This approach bonds HCC students with working craftspeople in their field, providing networks and access to opportunities to jumpstart their careers.
Alix Johnson, a recent graduate of the program, turned to the arts during Covid and decided to attend HCC daily under the tutelage of Amy. She shares, ”The immersive nature and breadth of information given to the students is absolutely transformative.”
At the beginning of the program, she had never studied art or touched a loom before. Two years later, she is proud of her craftsmanship. Her final piece, Aegean Waves, on display at the program’s Graduate Exhibition 2023 at the Folk Art Center through September 6th, was eagerly sought after by multiple collectors. One lucky private collector walked away with the prize.
Her passion and talent for weaving is clear. Alix has embraced weaving, compelled by the structure and process of the loom, the fiber structure, and the application of colors through patterns. She speaks about planning something all the way through, but once she starts things can change, and playing with the elements while working within the constraints of weaving feels powerful.
Alix plans to continue the rhythm that Amy helped her learn during the courses, allowing herself time to develop an idea, make things in a series, and flesh out her ideas and design enhancements as she creates. She shares that her direction now is to learn and experiment through the commitment to practice and grow. “HCC was a really amazing experience to discover my own aesthetic; learning and confirming that my artistic voice counts.”
While HCC’s Professional Crafts program does a phenomenal job of preparing graduates, there are still gaps that many face as they take the leap into the field after graduation. A need for studio space, aid in finding gallery representation, and a community hub are a few examples. In the coming months as Artsville Collective grows, we are excited to help foster new opportunities to all within the vital and vivacious arts and crafts community here in WNC.