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Peters Valley School of Craft: Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft


By Chris Lillja, JerseyArts.com

originally published: 05/11/2023

Peters Valley School of Craft: Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft

Katherine Maloney, “Leaping Fox Teapot.” Porcelain, Oxides, Flashing Slip; 9.25" x 8.25" x 6.25". Maia Leppo, “Trumpet Flower Lei.” Steel, 24 Gold Plated Steel, Silicone & Monofilament; 1" around, 16" chain (Photo by Jocelyn Negron)

Nestled in the hills of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, among the sounds of birds, bees, woodpeckers and the breeze in the pine trees, the Peters Valley School of Craft was founded in 1970 in the former town of Bevans, NJ. The town had been purchased by the federal government in 1965 for a flood control project on the upper Delaware, but the project fell through and the lands were transferred to the National Park Service which established the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The school is a wonderful example of adaptive reuse of historic buildings in a modern context.

“Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft” is an annual exhibition showcasing the work of the season’s visiting artist instructors and summer artistic staff. The variety of media, styles and techniques included reflect the diversity in the programming offered at Peters Valley.

Peters Valley School of Craft: Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft

“Currently we have 43 pieces by our artistic staff and visiting instructors that are teaching classes this summer,” said Gallery Director Erika Hewston. “We ask them to bring work that represents the kind of workshop they are teaching. Many of the pieces are examples of what is being made in the class. We have stools for woodworking, socks for machine knitting, tools for tool-making class, digital photography and people are going to make axes this year.”

Peters Valley School of Craft: Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft

Douglas Finkel, “Fidget Spinner Stool.” Beech, Walnut; 10" x 10" x 13" (Photo by Vivian Deering)

Beyond the exhibition itself, the Peters Valley Annual Showcase has a profound impact on the artistic community it serves. For participating artists, the exhibition offers constructive criticism, exposure and networking opportunities, allowing them to forge new connections with fellow craftsmen. Many artists hope their participation in the exhibition will serve as a catalyst for their professional growth and recognition in the art world.

Peters Valley School of Craft: Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft

Megan Kelly, “Scairf Stocola.” Eco-Cotton, Wool; 60" x 6"



 
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Wyatt Nestor-Pasicznyk (Wyatt NP) is a metalsmith, jeweler and enamelist currently living and working out of rural New Jersey. “I didn’t expect to be a jewelry major,” says NP. “I was a painting major, originally. I focused on illustration. Then I took a jewelry course. It took me to different places.”

NP creates much of his work in the form of enameled belt buckles; they are created by a process known as champlevé. They are influenced by the large buckles sometimes worn by championship rodeo riders.

“I really like old western comics. I like the imagery. Bold, bright colors – but with a limited palette,” said NP. “I typically stay within a rodeo, farm, western theme, fishing. I go to the Cowtown Rodeo (in Pilesgrove, New Jersey) – the longest running Rodeo in the country.”

Peters Valley School of Craft: Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft

Wyatt Nestor-Pasicznyk, belt buckle. Enamel.

According to his website, “The buckles can be seen as a type of body adornment tied to both rural identity and masculine normativity.” He is passionate about farmers and farm life. He understands their challenges as the land, climate and people change over generations. He also hopes to provide visibility for LGBT farmers, metalsmiths and craftspeople.

“It’s great to see others in my field doing enamel belt buckles – most that you see being worn in the equestrian world are simple engraved metal,” he says, “but enamel is a lot more durable than you might think.”

“One of my metalsmithing professors, Maureen Duffy — she’s actually teaching here this summer — said I should apply here at Peters Valley. I applied in 2021 it didn’t work out then, but I did a residency in the fall. Oh my, I loved being here and it’s great to be back with a fellowship.”

Additionally, the exhibition fosters a sense of camaraderie and collaboration among the artists associated with Peters Valley. It serves as a meeting ground for individuals with shared interests, encouraging the exchange of ideas, techniques and experiences. This vibrant community not only supports individual artists but also contributes to the evolution and enrichment of craft as a whole.

Peters Valley School of Craft: Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft



 
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“Peters Valley is one of the most rewarding places I’ve ever taught” says artist Steven R. Carty. “It’s an amazing place. One of the things I love is that the students, teachers and staff all eat together. It’s a great way for creativity to flow. Everyone starts talking with each other and exchanging ideas — it’s really nice."

Carty, who has taught classes at the school since 2015, is known for his utilization of wild-gathered materials in his weaving. He strives to teach others how to create usable art from natural materials, and in a way that is sustainable.

“I had my first whole-gallery show (at Peters Valley) this past spring. This summer I’ll be teaching a class in July in bark and vine work” says Steven. “I use wisteria runners a lot—more than any other vine. It’s the best of both worlds since it is both vine and root. The ‘runner’ propagates from tree to tree underground—it’s considered invasive so people are glad for me to pull it out!”

Peters Valley School of Craft: Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft

Steven R. Carty

“We’ve had an audience that has been with us participating for 50 years,” said Peters Valley Executive Director Kristin Muller. “We are really trying to engage and broaden our appeal to younger people and people of diverse backgrounds. The arts are for everyone, and New Jersey is such a culturally rich place. We are always seeking to reach more people with programs that are relevant. Maybe shorter programs for people who are working five days a week. We are reaching out to do programs in schools, and we are bringing students out here – through partnerships, we are able to expand.

“Also, we did a lot of virtual programming during the pandemic. It was very difficult, but it was a moment of great learning, too. We serve a mission, we receive public and private money for that mission, so, how are we going to do it? We went digital, and we went virtual. It was a great way to see that there was an interest out there (beyond our existing audience). Now, it’s ‘full speed ahead’ with our in-person programming, but the fact that we can meet virtually with our board, our staff and our audience—that’s a good thing we learned. Now the virtual is in complement with the ‘hands on.’  Our membership meetings, instead of just giving an update, we can have a conversation. Tune in for an hour and ask us questions and we’ll be happy to answer.”

The show kicks off the May and June workshop season, the busiest time of year at the school. At this time, there are 126 sessions are planned in ceramics, blacksmithing, fibers and textiles, jewelry and fine metals, photography, printmaking, glass and woodworking. Classes are offered for beginner, intermediate and advanced skill levels. Eleven of the sessions are specifically dedicated to youthful creators. The skill levels and youth classes are clearly marked in the online catalog. Lodging and meals are available on site.

Peters Valley School of Craft: Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft

Peters Valley honors and acknowledge that the school exists on the lands of the Munsee Lenni Lenape people, whose ancestors were the first craftspeople and makers in the area.




About the author: I have devoted my career to education, art and photography. The love of art, compassion, and the expression of human dignity drives my work. I am a mechanic, reader, maker, and sometimes baker in my spare time. My formative years were spent on the farms of Ringoes and working in the family machine shop on Pennsylvania Avenue in Trenton. I left the area for a few years to get a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in theater. When I returned to New Jersey, I found it had become a wildly diverse cultural and culinary wonderland, just minutes from Philly and New York City. I dig these roots; things are just getting really interesting.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.




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