Never mind the mess. Students think outside the screen at the UMass Amherst Student Union Craft Center, est. 1971.
What is the value of 3-D craftsmanship in a digital world? You might not think that busy university students would willingly submit themselves to the time-consuming process of making crafts with their hands, yet every week the spacious, vibrant room of the UMass Amherst Student Union Craft Center thrums with the quiet energy of many makers leaning intently over their projects.
For over four decades, students have been drawn to the Craft Center as a creative sanctuary that furnishes tools and supplies to nonart majors and encourages their creative juices to flow.
The staff members—all students—were trained by Paula Hodecker ’89, center director from 1997 until she retired this past summer, to be proficient in every craft. That thorough training enables them to guide student crafters who might have no experience in the medium. Yet, as self-sufficiency is one of the values of the center, they can’t do anything for you. “That’s against the rules,” explains senior public health major Tova Weinronk.
The array of crafts offered dazzles in its wealth of options: glass staining, silversmithing, leatherworking (a hippie-ish poster outlines the steps for making “sandles”), beading, silk-screening, silk painting, batik making, book-making, tie-dying, mask making, and button making. An old-school chemical darkroom is available for black-and-white photography. Students on college budgets make decorations for their rooms, clothing at the sewing machine station, and gifts here for their loved ones—one couple recently made their own wedding bands.
WOW! I could make that!
“You have to specialize so much at college that it can limit your ability to do things outside your major,” says silversmith Phoebe Arteaga ’17. “But this expands you.”
Having to work methodically develops problem-solving skills and an insider’s view of the story of objects. “Once you know how something is made, when you see it in a store, you think, ‘Wow! I could make that!’ ” smiles silversmith and senior architecture major Margaret Nubuor.
“We are used to getting things quickly. Being here teaches persistence because you have to slow down,” says leather and silk-painting specialist Amy Hambrecht ’18.
“You might cut your hands occasionally. But you find the value of things when you make them yourself. You truly understand the value of things when you know the process behind creating them.”