Experimental Form at Contemporary Craft


Student work from Mark Baskinger’s Experimental Form class is currently on display at Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, PA. These works were donated to the nonprofit, visual arts organization to support their annual Out of Hand auction. The funds generated from the auction go towards supporting Contemporary Craft’s annual operating budget  and allow them to continue their mission of “engaging the public in creative experiences,” free of charge.

Since 2017, students from the class have been designing and fabricating craft-based objects to support the event. In connection with a class project, each individual is required to execute three identical copies of an original design and choose one to donate. “These products seek high materiality and push students to build museum-quality artifacts that blur the line between decorative objects and functional art,” says Baskinger.

This year is especially notable as it marks the 50th anniversary of the auction. Kate Fitzgerald, Program Assistant at Contemporary Craft, is committed to “building the pipeline of talented craft artists and celebrating the emerging, next generation leaders in craft.”

"The works from CMU students will sit alongside a selection of objects created by past Raphael Founders Prize winners and finalists, whose work is among the highest level in the field," said Fitzgerald.

One of the student works featured this year is the chess set created by Janet Peng. Fitzgerald was impressed by the incredible craftsmanship and the thoughtful design of each element.

"It is clear that Janet considered the actual interaction between players and her chess set," said Fitzgerald. "For me, that interaction of human and object defines craft."

The materials Peng chose to work with were walnut and maple for the chess set and slate for the board. When asked about her process, she said that “the pieces were made by first assembling long extruded blocks of wood. Then these long extrusions were cut down to smaller individual pieces.”

Andrea Benatar, another student from the Experiential Forms class who donated an object, created a decanter using cedar and maple veneer. The execution of her design relied upon traditional woodworking practices paired with modern technology. “For the body, I created a solid block from seven boards of wood, which I then turned and hollowed out on the lathe,” said Benatar. “The handle, on the other hand, I made at home by steaming the layers of veneer and then pressing them into a 3D printed mold. I joined the two parts with visible mechanical fasteners, and finally applied an oil and wax finish to the piece.”

Yufei Wang was inspired by the organic materials present in ancient artifacts and chose to develop and execute a concrete knife with a basswood knife holder. Wang was “deeply influenced” by a design class during First Year at CMU that was focused on the origin of design. Wang utilized a combination of tactile time in the wood shop spent sanding and using the drill press along with mold design in SolidWorks to execute the blade.

Baskinger sees a tremendous value in complementing his class with the experience of working with Contemporary Craft.

“As a complement to the core Products studio courses, the Experimental Form project experiences offer students the opportunity to design and fabricate real products that will enter into the consumer world,
 said Baskinger. "Our colleagues at Contemporary Craft offer professional insights to help students to design with a healthy respect for material constraints and production and for scoping their work for the existing market. Frequent class visits for design reviews and a field trip to Contemporary Craft enable students to situate their work outside of the academic context, designing with real-world constraints toward achieving durability, longevity, and high aesthetic beauty.” 

The students echo similar enthusiasm for the course itself. There is a resounding appreciation for the opportunity this class provides to explore ideas, experiment, and discover. For Benatar, it challenged her to “push the boundaries with form and material” and Peng found value in the philosophical aspects of the curriculum. Wang just wishes it was possible to take the class every semester. Fitzgerald also shared her complementary perspective and seeing the works that come out of the partnership have proven to her “that technology and traditional craft are not only compatible, but often elevate one another.”

Additional particpating students included Elena Deng, Annalisa Pao, Eliza Pratt, Ian Shei, Emily Spooner, and Patricia Yu.

The Experimental Form Studio looks broadly at the discipline of industrial design with an emphasis on creating new paradigms for interactive objects. This course encourages an exploratory study of physical objects and artifacts and provides a creative and intellectual forum to re-imagine our relationship with objects.

More information about Contemporary Craft >>

More information on Product Design at Carnegie Mellon University >>

Photos courtesy of Kate Fitzgerald

Date Published: 
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
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