Episode #39 – Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith “SNAG Encompasses All Metal Artists”

 

Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith is the current executive director of SNAG, the Society of North American Goldsmiths. It is an organization dedicated to the support and advancement of contemporary jewelry and metal artists; memberships include not only goldsmiths but silversmiths, blacksmiths, and metal artists. Gwynne is active on various boards including: the Public Art and Cultural Commission with the city of Ashville, the Arts Business Institute, and the World Craft Council of North America. Gwynne was first an accomplished glass artist before getting involved with the metal arts. With 17 years of working in the craft field Gwynne has become passionate about supporting artists who are trying to make a living with their craft. She works with artists across America helping to teach business skills with a program called Craft Labs. Too, she strives to create more exposure to craft through exhibitions and public art to reach a larger audience.

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What We Talked About

  • Gwynne was born in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up with a creative flair thanks to a mother into handy-crafts, but her folks would not pay for a college degree in art.
  • She went to Gettysburg College and later transferred to Ohio State. At Ohio Gwynne finished her undergrad degree, a bachelor’s of science in health education. Her first job out of college was as a chemical dependency counselor to HIV positive heroin addicts. She continued to work in HIV/AIDS social services field for about 5 years.
  • Gwynne went back to Ohio to get her MBA when a life changing sadness struck the family, her mother died. As a young woman she floated in shock before finding her next move. She went to Thailand to help build a hot glass shop with the head glass blowing instructor from Columbus College of Art and Design. After the shop was completed, she has the opportunity to learn to blow glass, and she fell in love with hot glass.
  • When Gwynne returned to America she got a job managing a glass shop in Columbus called Glass Axis, a nonprofit hot, warm, and cold glass shop where artists can take classes or rent equipment to work. For many years she managed the shop while also creating her own glass work, sold both wholesale and retail. Gwynne married a fellow glass blower Matt Smith in 2004.
  • After managing the shop Gwynne had the opportunity to do curation at a local museum outside Ohio. Then later she earned a job at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft in 2007.
  • Just before relocating to Houston though, Gwynne and her husband took classes from the metal studio at Penland School of Crafts. About 5 years ago they moved from Houston to Ashville, an area with a huge heritage of craft.
  • Gwynne has a long history of promoting the craft industry. She believes in helping artists expand their markets and create sustainable businesses. She is a member of the Craft Think Tank which convenes annually to provide a platform to explore how craft organizations and makers can work more closely together to further American craft.
  • Gwynne’s first traveling exhibition was Craft in America, featuring 187 objects. The show was in conjunction with a PBS series of the same title which still airs.
  • To Gwynne’s way of thinking, accessibility for anybody, be them rich, poor, educated, or not, is the most important feature of an exhibition.
  • Gwynne next worked on a blacksmithing exhibition called Forged, Tempered, and Quenched. She wanted to show well-made work, both contemporary and from the history of the craft. For instance, there was a Samuel Yellin dragon doorknocker across from a seven headed dragon piece, the historical and contemporary interacting.
  • She didn’t know much about blacksmithing before the exhibition, some metal smithing and soldering.  Coming from a background in glass though, she already had a love of fire and using heat to change the form of something.
  • The Society of North American Goldsmiths, SNAG encompasses all metal artists. It was founded in 1969 by 8 metal artists from various focuses, in fact only one was a goldsmith. The group wanted to bring legitimacy to metal artists and advance the field, to help create a purpose for the art form in the academic setting.
  • There are currently about 2200-2400 members worldwide. The number one value of the organization is to bring the community together and create a place to be a voice for the community in order to consciously help advance field on whole. People can get more done as a group than an individual. It is good to have a variety of perspectives represented, to share ideas, learn skills, and stop the craft hierarchy so the overall field can advance.
  • This will be the fourth year that SNAG will host an online exhibition of contemporary metal smithing of all kinds. If you are a member you can still register, the new exhibition will launch early December, and past exhibitions are always available to view online.
  • Large city conferences focus on concept ideas and innovations of the field, but not so much on professional development or technique. Averages of 650 people attend the conferences. Larger conferences meet a need but Gwynne felt there needed to be another event to meet a different conversation, a formal platform for discussion on how people make a living in the field. Thus was the inception of SNAGnext, asking, what’s next in the field and how are people making a living?
  • The first SNAGnext will be hosted in Ashville on May 18-22, 2015. As opposed to the stationary setting in large cities, the smaller town will allow for more than one location. Registration opens mid-January. There will be demonstrations and opportunities for hands-on learning.
  • SNAG membership benefits cost $95 a year with a print subscription, $84 for a digital. Membership offers a large community, opportunity to meet people in other sections of the field and also your own. There are education endowment scholarships, 3 awarded each year to students; this year SNAG has also added 3 emerging and mid-career scholarships for artists who have been out of school 3 years, calls open January  1st and close mid-march. Conferences offer opportunity to bring the metal community together. Metalsmith magazine is a SNAG benefit, a periodical that covers a variety of work, basically functioning as an art journal.
  • A new technical program is under works to capture the techniques and ideas of long established metal artists, including the masters who helped revive the metal craft in America. Focusing on professional development training, entrepreneurial necessities such as how to merchandise a booth, pricing, and wholesale versus retail.  The upcoming, more robust program, would including webinars and documentation of master techniques.

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