By Tajudeen Sowole
Founder, Harmattan Workshop, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya; Director, Haystack Mountain School of Craft, Paul Sacaridiz; and Harmattan Director, Mr. Sam Ovraiti at Haystack Summer 2016 conference
Stressing these factors, for example, was a recent venture of master printmaker, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, who took his 18-years experience of organising local art workshops to a conference in the U.S. The event themed ‘Craft Thinking: Ideas on Making, Materials, and Creative Process,’ was held at Haystak’s Summer Conference 2016, a convergence of professionals for exchange of ideas.
Onobrakpeya, founder of Nigeria's oldest informal art gathering, Harmattan Workshop, is currently back home and steering the 18th edition's second section, which holds at Agbarha-Otor, Delta State. The workshop is a reference point in informal art education, within Nigeria and abroad.
On his return from Haystack Mountain Summer Conference, in Maine, U.S, with the director of Harmattan Workshop, Sam Ovraiti, the octogenarian disclosed the mission of their visit and shared his experience. The 2016 edition of Haystack Summer Conference, he recalled, was not the first time for him, having experienced it in 1975. In fact, Haystack, Dr. Onobrakpeya explained, added to the factors that inspired his founding of Harmattan Workshop.
The goals of revisiting Haystack, he stated, were "to get more ideas about informal art education as well as to boost the prospects of Harmattan Workshop." Informal gatherings, across cultures, are not without some issues to contend with. For Haystack, "apprenticeship and internship," as well as the incursion of "digital technology into art" according to the master printmaker, were two crucial areas focused by the workshop.
If anyone was still in doubt of the blurring lines between art and craft, courtesy of contemporary contents, Haystack appeared to have confirmed such. Mr. Ovraiti, who has been directing activities at Harmattan Workshop since 2011 could not hide his excitement about what he described as merging of art and craft. "For example, painting and sculpture were no longer the traditional way; lot of exciting changes." He noted that the resource persons at the Haystack event "are artists who came to share the craft in their art," particularly enphasising the state of craft currently and in the future.
More importantly, the gains of the Haystack experience for Ovraiti, is the community value that informal art and craft education brings. Hoping that such value would be stressed at subsequent Harmatran workshop, Ovraiti added, "We need to use our art and craft more for our community than before."
The community factor, according to Dr. Onobrakpeya, is not exactly new to Harmattan Workshop. He stressed that since the event started almost 20 years ago, the people of Agbarha-Otor have been beneficiaries, particularly in mentorship and apprenticeship.
"Dr. Bruce has always been preaching the relevance of art in affecting the community," Ovraiti added, but with the Haystack experience, the emphasis, he stated, should be stepped up to include "using art and craft to solve problems."
Beyond art and craft, Haystack, Onobrakpeya has used the yearly summer gathering tolift the place into a national heritage site in the U.S. "Whether the event holds or not, Haystack is recognised by the U.S. government as a heritage."
More importantly, Onobrakpeya is hoping that the recognition given to Haystack by including it in the academic programme of some select universities and colleges would be done in Nigeria with Harmattan workshop. He, however, recalled that there was a time Harmattan Workshop used to have similar understanding with some schools in Nigeria.
The 2016 Haystack Summer Conference featured professionals from a variety of creative disciplines in art, design, architecture, and writing. It focused on thinking through craft and how creative processes, audiences, and materials informed the works that were made. Excerpt on Haystack's website: Craft is a place where innovation and tradition, skill and intuition, exist together. Whether making a mobile oven for baking bread, rethinking a museum collection, programming machines that can print objects, or choosing to work in vernacular tradition, the very definition and scope of craft is constantly shifting.
"The conference is intimate in scale and allows ample time for informal conversations with presenters and attendees. Conference presenters give talks and either lead discussion groups or studio based workshops that provide a way of exploring ideas through materials. The workshops and discussions are repeated so that attendees can take part in multiple activities. Registration for these is done each day of the conference and no previous experience is required."