Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Center for Traditional Craft

Image courtesy of Savannah Tech
The future of trades education has been the main topic of debate and concentrated focus among highly skilled traditional craftsmen the past few years. The interest in traditional crafts and demand for qualified tradesmen has been increasing steadily alongside a parallel resurgence in traditional architecture and urbanism. While there are good paying jobs available in the traditional building trades that contribute in a constructive way to our economy and built environment, the educational infrastructure needed to produce capable tradesmen lags far behind. This gulf between demand and supply of skilled craftsmen translates into opportunity.

Currently, there are only a handful of accredited higher education programs in the US that include even a component of hands on traditional craft education. Many of these are dependent on a single instructor. None of them are integrated into a larger program of Historic Preservation or of Architecture. What we need is a model, a replicable model for craft education. I'm encouraged by what I've personally seen under development recently at Savannah Technical College.

Department of Historic Preservation & Restoration

Savannah Tech offers an Associates of Arts in Historic Preservation & Restoration. It's an extraordinarily practical program, 57 of the 69 required credit hours are dedicated to occupational courses. The program was founded in 2009 and is accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Students learn to work with a variety of traditional building materials including wood, glass, iron, brick, stone, ceramics, plaster and gilding. The department is looking to expand its degree program beginning with masonry in 2017 followed by a plaster program in 2018. Beyond the aforementioned, here's what really excites me about the program:

Former student, current employee of the
Coastal Heritage Society
*Students can and are entering the marketplace debt free!
Grants are available that will pay for 100% of tuition and books for in state residents qualifying for financial aid that do not yet hold a bachelor's degree.

*Savannah Tech is part of the Technical College System of Georgia which has already established learning objectives for their students and clear benchmarks for determining learning outcomes.
*Interning students and graduates being placed in their field due to determined collaboration between the administration, the department head and partners in the private sector.

The immediate success of the program and evident benefits to young people and the local community led to interest from the private sector to support a plan that would both enhance the impact of the state program and expand educational opportunity to professionals and the general public. That plan became The Center for Traditional Craft.

The Center for Traditional Craft

Officially founded in 2014, the primary objective for The Center for Traditional Craft is to underwrite educational opportunities that enrich the curricula and extend educational opportunities to the professional community and general public through private endowment. Additionally, the Center in conjunction with Savannah Tech has been host to recent gatherings of the National Council for Preservation Education in 2014 and the International Trades Education Symposium in 2015. Below are a couple of the programs the Center has instituted and is in the process of developing further:

Visiting Artist Series
The series funds highly skilled craftsmen, experts in fields as diverse as glass blowing, ornamental plastering, timber framing, brick making and dry stack masonry to spend a week or more of intensive instructions with students. 

Historic Homeowners Academy
In addition to the many locals in Savannah interested in caring for their beautiful homes, traditional craft workshops have been well attended by professionals such as architects, preservationists, contractors and tradesmen. A long term program is currently being considered for lectures, drawing and hands on study of Classical Architecture, a certificate granting program for students that would qualify for continued education units for architects and designers.

Historic Homeowners Academy - Plaster Workshop

One of the Center's goals is to have a privately funded independent brick and mortar building (perhaps quite literally) for the Center, a state of the art facility dedicated to traditional craft education. More information on Savannah Tech's Historic Preservation Program and The Center for Traditional Craft can be found here:

The Whitehill Report on Professional and Public Education for Historic Preservation

Image courtesy of Savannah Tech
Although today largely forgotten, the Whitehill Report was a very important document for historic preservation. The committee was formed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation shortly after the National Historic Preservation Act was enacted into law in 1967. Among its findings was that there was a need to fund both schools of historic preservation as well as restoration, i.e. hands on traditional craft skills. Historic preservation schools were to be associated with established architecture programs. The importance of a living tradition of craft and architecture was repeatedly stressed. Preservationists were essentially to be architects who received training that would qualify them to sensitively work with historic buildings as well as design new traditional buildings.

Although academic preservation programs did and continue to receive government funding as a result of the report, the particular suggestions of the report were not closely implemented. Certainly comparable funding for traditional craft and restoration training never came through. Nevertheless, I see the findings of the report itself well thought out and mostly valid even almost 50 years later. They  outline a necessary level of support that would help programs like Historic Preservation and Restoration at Savannah Tech and the handful of other similar programs to flourish and spread, providing meaningful, well paid work for an entire generation of young people. It's high time for a revised report on Professional and Public Education for Historic Preservation!

You can find a copy of the original Whitehill report in its entirety below:

Interested in more content on a Philosophy of Craft?
Please visit my YouTube channel: A Craftsman's Philosophy

Contributed by Patrick Webb

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