Sometimes the most meaningful items aren’t the perfect, mass-produced ones found in every home and design store or showroom, but are instead the ones that show the individual marks of care and thought that go into true craft. Handmade items are often cherished for generations and can be among the most intriguing décor additions, especially if made by you or someone you know personally. For St. Louisans seeking a place to express themselves through decorative arts and crafts, the Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design offers classes on ceramics, metals, glass, fiber and more. Ladue News recently spoke with Malaika Tolford, a ceramic artist and instructor, to find out what’s new at the Craft Alliance in 2016.
Tell us about your personal area of expertise or interest and how you became an instructor.
I fell in love with clay back in high school and have been working with it off and on ever since. I started teaching wheel throwing to kids at a beloved clay studio in my hometown called The Pot Shop. I studied anthropology and art history as an undergrad, which didn't leave a lot of time for playing around in a clay studio. So when I graduated and moved to St. Louis, it didn't take me long to find Craft Alliance, where I started taking classes and then teaching summer camp and later adult classes.
How does craft differ from art?
You could write a thesis on this topic! For many, the difference would be between, for example, a piece of art for art’s sake – maybe a painting – and a crafted object, like a chair or a pitcher. The distinction really only exists in the Western art world, coming about in the Renaissance when artists as individuals gained a notoriety that the journeymen and masters of previous centuries didn’t have.
I'm sure our definitions of these terms will continue to change as the art world does. When people separate craft from art these days, I worry they associate the term with failed Pinterest projects and macaroni glued onto cigar boxes. Craft is the art of making things well.
What are the most popular classes offering craft techniques for decorative or useful items for the home?
Well, I’m completely biased, but I say that pottery is always useful, and it’s really fun to learn. There’s a great satisfaction in being able to make an object that you can use every day. If you wear lots of jewelry every day, you might get the same satisfaction from taking a metal class and making your own. If you sign up for a 3-D printing class, you can make just about anything!
How intensive are these classes?
We teach all ages starting at 4 years old. Some people come to us with zero experience, and some have been working on their craft for their entire lives. Once you start, you're never done learning, and everyone is capable of learning. I have students say, “Oh, I’m not really good at art,” or “I’m not the most creative,” and they always surprise themselves.
Most of our classes are six weeks with two- to three-hour sessions each week. (It’s) not a huge commitment, but if you’re worried you might not love what you’re signing up for, come do a one-time evening or afternoon workshop to get your feet wet. Most workshops (look for “Crafternoons” or “Craft Uncorked” in our catalog) are on the weekends, but our classes are all throughout the weekdays, evenings and weekends, fitting into a lot of different kinds of personal schedules.
What are some examples of projects students create and walk away with?
Some examples include a hand-felted dress, wedding bands, a screen-printed porcelain dinnerware set and a memory quilt using imagery from your family photos.
What’s the most important thing you'd like our readers to know about incorporating craft into their homes?
We try to make handmade accessible at many levels. You can come learn how to make functional and decorative objects with us, but you can also enjoy the work of local and regional artists by doing your holiday shopping in our Gallery Shop. Next time you’re about to run to (a national chain) for a serving bowl or throw rug, think about supporting your local community of makers first. Or take it one step further, and learn how to make these items at Craft Alliance! I promise there’s nothing quite like doing it yourself.
Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design, multiple locations, craftalliance.org