Rachel Jones has been and educator and collaborator with Eco Practicum since its inception. She is currently earning an MFA in Applied Craft and Design from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and the Oregon College of Art and Craft, and this summer Rachel will join us for Eco Practicum Catskills as our head Farm Educator, introducing a new craft component into our curriculum.
What's your background? When did you decide to become an craftsperson?
I’ve always been a crafty person. I always had the knack for figuring out how things work, and the passion for learning how to put things together. It runs in my family. My dad, a scientist, was a weekend tinkerer and DIY maker. I grew up in a home where I got to make paper from prairie grass, tap our maple tree for syrup, and make contraptions out of scrap wood at my own workbench. After I graduated college, and tried out an office gig at a non-profit, I realized that for me to be able to do good in the world, I had to be doing it with my hands. I found myself a wood shop to apprentice in, and the rest is history. Partially trained, but mostly self-taught or taught on the job, I’ve been traveling the country, learning as many different skill-sets as I can as my way of grappling with and contributing to a more sustainable future.
You've been an educator at Eco Practicum for many years now! What have you learned at Eco Practicum that you like to bring to your craft-based work?
Eco Practicum is a major influence to my craft practice. I have worked on farms, in a sculpture foundry, in wood shops, and in construction all over America. Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve experienced a distinct separation between craft and environmentalism, which is surprising to me because I think they go hand in hand. Not everyone thinks this way. Some wood shops still use rare woods and trash offcuts. Some farmers, while caring so much about producing organic food, still rely heavily on plastics and other unsustainable items in their lives. I see these symptoms of systemic problems all over. But for five years now, I have been traveling around the country taking jobs in order to learn new skills, and every summer returning to the Catskills to teach at Eco Practicum is like a pilgrimage for me. I get to be re-inspired by my students and the experts and activists we work with, and re-center my values so that I can keep pushing the craft world to re-merge itself with environmental sustainability.
You're going to be introducing a new craft curriculum into Eco Practicum this summer. We're so excited! Why is this craft curriculum important to what we're learning at Eco Practicum? What are you planning to teach?
I am so excited to be introducing this new component of the curriculum! Many of us care about the food we eat, care about where it comes from, how it’s grown, and who grows it. Some of us even grow our own, which is a skill of self-sufficiency and is fundamentally empowering. A lot of us have radically changed the way we acquire our food. We go to farmer’s markets, or join CSAs, or we become farmers. By doing this we are actively making a major shift in our culture. But ALL the other stuff that we use and rely on is made from a natural resources, too. How many of us still buy IKEA furniture? Or clothes made in China? Raw materials have to be grown, or mined, harvested, processed, etc., just like food, and it is up to us to change the culture of how we make, buy, and use those things. This new craft curriculum is going to be an opportunity for our participants to gain some fundamental skills in the houses of wood and fiber in order to more fully access the tools to live a more self-sufficient, empowering, and environmentally responsible life.
You recently went back to graduate school in Oregon for an MFA in Craft and Design. What has been the most inspiring thing you've learned this year? How do you hope to bring that into your work?
In school I am constantly fueled by the lack of conversation surrounding environmentally responsible practices in the art and design fields. Out here, I am for the first time embedded in an artist community, and I realize now more than ever how important it is for me to marry environmental responsibility to art, craft and design. I am doing this by making everyday, utilitarian objects (like furniture) that both push back against an aesthetically and luxury driven design market and that challenge me to work with materials that are responsibly sourced. I am also constantly inspired by my amazing group of peers who have completely reshaped the boundaries of what I think is creatively possible.
What's one thing you think everyone should know how to do?
I think everyone should know how to properly use basic carpentry tools like a drill and a saw. Everyone should also know how to sew. These seem so mundane, but once you know how to use these few tools properly, you can make just about anything!
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