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Handmade Portraits: Bruce Metcalf with Bonus Audio Podcast

Oct 10, 2008

by Tara Young

MP4 | Youtube | | Subscribe in iTunes

(music by Lineland, photos by John White Wilson)

Bruce Metcalf has dedicated almost forty years of his life to the creation and historiography of American Studio Craft. He makes his exquisite  jewelry with the utmost care and precision. On average most of the pieces take two months to create, whereas some take years before he perfects the final nuances.

After stints as sociology and architecture majors, Metcalf found himself transferring to the jewelry department during college in 1970. It was a bold move because the crafts weren’t highly regarded within the fine art establishment at that time. However, the move felt right, and studio craft is where Metcalf has stayed ever since.

Because “fine artists” wrote about craft only as functional and not for display, Metcalf decided to set the story straight and represent himself. He began writing about craft history and theory. Currently, Metcalf is in the process of finishing up a text book on the history of American Studio Craft, the first of its kind.

Over the course of the last decade, the number of craft departments across the country has continued to dwindle. Although newer generations of artists embrace studio craft, academia still does not embrace its importance within the fine art establishment. Metcalf spends much of his time — when not producing work — talking to heads of art schools, academics and art critics about the importance of studio craft as part of formal fine art training. Although Metcalf acknowledges that many talented and successful artists are self taught (he himself is self trained in woodworking), he maintains that the best training still lies within a formal setting with a teacher as a mentor.

Metcalf has become an outspoken figure at the intersection of craft and fine art worlds, but recently at the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) conference, his comments led to another controversial role in the eyes of a new crowd. He sparked a dialogue between generations of crafters — his peers in the older, more established Studio Crafts/Craft as Fine Art generation, and the younger, technology-infused, DIYers of “Alt craft.”

After the conference, crafter imogeneANDannie posted “Confessions” on her blog that, in a very personal way, focused in on Metcalf’s remarks, and in doing so, unveiled the perceptions of the two disparate sides. Folks chimed in with their opinions, and in some cases the conversations were heated: the generations clashed over technology and the role of formal education, as well as the differences between spontaneous, punk rock craft for the masses vs. the carefully crafted, luxury pieces sold through dealers or galleries.

At the Connect/(Dis)connect talk at the American Craft Council, Metcalf discussed these matters with Chanel Kennebrew (you can get to the podcast through our Storque post). During the talk, Metcalf was in part amused, recalling his rebellious student days — and another part of him was willfully steadfast in his views on the social and economic differences in practices. History seemed to be repeating itself, as a younger generation with new tools and a shifted horizon line bucked “the way things are done.”

In addition to this Handmade Video Portrait, we’ve produced an audio podcast with out-takes from the interview with Bruce Metcalf. His theories on the relevance and importance of craft have helped bring clarity to the discussion of studio craft’s place within the art world. And because we just couldn’t get enough of discussing the Alt vs. Studio craft debate, we invite you to listen in.



Watch our other Handmade Video Portraits and subscribe to our Youtube Channel!
See Bruce’s website for more of his work:

Please share your thoughts in the comments!

House and Tree Ring
House and Tree Ring
I Wear My Sunglasses at Night
I Wear My Sunglasses at Night
Lily Brooch
Lily Brooch
Custom Flow Series Ring
Custom Flow Series Ring
TRIBUTE TO TARA resrved for lunacywitchd
TRIBUTE TO TARA resrved for lunacywitchd
Reserved for finearts71
Reserved for finearts71


  • altardbeast

    altardbeast said 12 years ago

    Bruce Metcalf was one reasons, besides having awesome faculty and studio mates, that I took several more fine metals classes at ECU. What an honor.

  • mermaidclaire

    mermaidclaire said 12 years ago

    "Beauty is possibly redemptive." Love it! Another awesome portrait by Tara!

  • dogties

    dogties said 12 years ago

    Amazing. Awesome items too!

  • Elizaveta

    Elizaveta said 12 years ago

    Beautiful Interview...What Bruce said about his dad touched my heart.....Bruce is extremely inspiring.

  • Slowshirts

    Slowshirts said 12 years ago

    These handmade portraits are one of my favorite things about etsy. Thanks Bruce! I graduated from a college that removed "crafts" from it's name. I often wonder if they'll ever regret it. I still keep it there when I tell people where i went to school. I'm proud of "crafts", and it will always be CCA"C" to me.

  • SusanThornton

    SusanThornton said 12 years ago

    I was a lucky one too. I graduated from The Appalachian Center for Craft, a satellite campus of Tennessee Technological University. I have fought with getting a MFA because of the dwindling programs in the nation. I love making my metalwork and having others love the pieces. Bruce is an amazing voice in the metals field.

  • mtraub

    mtraub said 12 years ago

    So alluring, I just want to reach out and touch his work.

  • StudioAMF

    StudioAMF said 12 years ago

    What a beautiful story. I love his distinction between art and craft and his relationship with his creations. Very cool!

  • Cajajewelry

    Cajajewelry said 12 years ago

    I just love the house and tree ring so awsome!

  • linguaNigra

    linguaNigra said 12 years ago

    omg, I want everything! The lace knuckles are the bomb!

  • desirapesta

    desirapesta said 12 years ago

    we went to the same college. i went to the debate with Chanel and Bruce and it was somewhat sad to see the misguided take the craftspeople had on us Etsians. so so many thought it was full of young, under-trained junk-makers.

  • sarawestermark

    sarawestermark said 12 years ago

    I first heard of Bruce Metcalf through the art vs. craft conference at SNAG last year. I loved his participation with a fellow etsian in a re-visit of the discussion available through the American Craft website. I have formal training in voice (classical) and I know the value of training, but as a mom of three and a love for jewelry, I have had to forgo traditional methods of learning the craft and learn on my own. While it probably takes me lots longer to get a concept or technique, I do know how to "practice". I am glad to see this on etsy. Bruce Metcalf is an iconic figure in the jewelry world and I'm glad that you are staying open to us crafters! Thanks for sharing!

  • weirdwolf Admin

    weirdwolf said 12 years ago

    Thanks for all of your comments! This was a fantastic video to shoot. Bruce's jewelry and dedication to his craft was completely inspiring. The craftsmanship in his work was just outstanding.

  • ElysianFields

    ElysianFields said 12 years ago

    Thanks for a great video on Bruce Metcalf. His work is truly inspiring and he is a joy to listen to.

  • mizdarlin

    mizdarlin said 12 years ago

    His work has a certain affinity with Geiger, but more humane somehow. Wonderful stuff-love his strength for not settling for doing what he didn't want to do, like so many of us. Now that I'm about to retire, I hope to pursue my obsessions comparatively freely. Great and inspiring podcast-love his work.

  • Fishstikks

    Fishstikks said 12 years ago

    Wow, Bruce does some absolutely amazing work and I'm truly moved by what he's done. It was like a lightbulb went off over my head. Thank you for bringing such an amazing man and his artwork to my attention!

  • matouenpeluche

    matouenpeluche said 12 years ago

    That was truly awesome! How interesting it is to look at artists and their craft and see them talking about it! Amazing! Thank you for making this well made and super interesting little film!!

  • hozzlebozzle

    hozzlebozzle said 12 years ago

    I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn as a sculpture major, and I became so disenchanted with the art world because of my experiences there. I've always loved to create, it had always been a self-confirming process for me, and something to be proud of. My grandfather attended Pratt before me and made his career as a lifelong painter. I was inspired by him and so I was enthusiastic to be sort of literally following in his footsteps. Except that in the art school environment I found myself in disharmony with professors who wanted to milk elaborate CONCEPTS out of me and my work. Not that I dislike conceptual art, some of it is genius, but I just came to feel that so much of it is fluff and bluff. And all I wanted to do was make beautiful things, not necessarily with a political agenda or a social statement or any particular message, but with the simple act of pouring myself into a object that originated in my mind. I was told that if I wanted to succeed as an artist I needed to add more layers of meaning to my work, to make it interesting to viewers. I asked why couldn't I just make things that were beautiful, why that wasn't enough? Professors said "because its been done before. The art world has advanced beyond the simple act of physically making something. Concept is everything." And I said I didn't WANT to come up with concepts, I just wanted to MAKE STUFF. And I was told "Well that's not being an artist. That's being an OBJECT MAKER." It was said with such disdain. And that's when I decided "Fine. Maybe I don't want to be an "artist" then. Maybe I'll be an "object maker" and be HAPPY instead." And ever since, I've found myself drawn to nontraditional and non-precious and inexpensive materials. And it has taken some time for me to shake off the art school snob factor, and in fact I stopped creating altogether for a while, but I am finally feeling free enough of the art school confines to be able to unapologetically identify myself as a crafter, an object maker, an artist, whatever, without feeling inferior or bland. It is so inspiring to hear Bruce Metcalf addressing these important issues, because in today's world I think its becoming more important than ever for people to be able to return to the act of creating objects without feeling alone in the endeavor. And don't get me wrong, Pratt is a good school, and I am eternally thankful for all the high-quality technical instruction I received there. I think formal training is important for many people. But I also think that its long overdue that alt crafts be recognized as an essential branch of the "art world."

  • AmelieAPoulain

    AmelieAPoulain said 12 years ago

    "Make these things that aren't and make them so they are..." I can't tell you how inspirational I found this. Thank you.

  • MadArtjewelry

    MadArtjewelry said 12 years ago

    Wonderful interview with a wonderful artist. Thanks

  • studiocvh

    studiocvh said 12 years ago


  • SamyStClair

    SamyStClair said 12 years ago

    gorgeous finds! I love that pencil holder ring!

  • fetishghost

    fetishghost said 12 years ago

    You really scored one with this interview! I'm amazed on so many levels. Thanks for sharing it with everyone!

  • marcomagro

    marcomagro said 12 years ago

    I just feel honoured being part of this any sense! Feel proud the know such a poetry maker...thank you Bruce. I hope to meet all of you some day to share our pleasure to put beautiness in this strange, mad world. Thank you Tara to shake the big Etsy boxe, and find me... marco

  • kerryone

    kerryone said 12 years ago

    Wonderful interview with an inspirational maker

  • woodmosaics

    woodmosaics said 12 years ago

    Very interesting but somewhat over my head in some points. I am glad he had the sense to do what he wanted to do, and not what someone else wanted him to do.

  • powsherr

    powsherr said 12 years ago

    knuckles are soooo great! I bought from this artist before and love her stuff. Can't wait til there are pages and pages of items to choose from.

  • Anneliesarts

    Anneliesarts said 12 years ago


  • JoyandWhimsy

    JoyandWhimsy said 12 years ago

    To HozzleBozzle - Did you ever read the D. Clowes cartoons, "Art School Confidential"??? I believe they are allegedly based on his experiences at Pratt when he attended decades ago. Some of those "Art School" comics from his graphic novels were made into a really good movie called "Art School Confidential." Another movie based on Clowe's graphic novels came out years ago and was Scarlett Johanson's 1st major movie role - "Ghostworld" - really good also.

  • Lynnaddison

    Lynnaddison said 12 years ago

    I have long admired his work.. so this was a real treat to watch. Thanks for the touch of inspiration he brings us thru his work..and you thru the film.

  • JensJewellery

    JensJewellery said 12 years ago

    Wow.. What an awe inspiring piece to listen to.. I agree that you should not be doing something if you don't enjoy doing it.. This is one of the reasons why I did quit my day job and start making my jewellery full time. If it does all come to an end tomorrow what does it matter if I am the richest woman in the grave yard! Jenni

  • GemmaBeads

    GemmaBeads said 12 years ago

    Very enlightening! Thank you so much for providing such thought provoking topics and interviews. I'm sending this link on to many!!

  • emcjewelry

    emcjewelry said 12 years ago

    This is a great article! I am new to etsy but have long been a metalsmith, it is great to see that this site offers such insiteful articles/interviews. Thaks so much for featuring my lace knuckles in the Related Items. I am honored!

  • Experimetal

    Experimetal said 12 years ago

    I heart Mr. Metcalfs brain!

  • CampanaCeramics

    CampanaCeramics said 12 years ago

    Fantastic video, Bravo!

  • blindspotjewellery

    blindspotjewellery said 12 years ago

    Very inspireing and also encourageing to see how he works and how he thinks about art. Great man! And exellent interview!

  • Jetsah

    Jetsah said 12 years ago

    absolutely amazing! Thanks for the great video feature!!!

  • carmelbydesign

    carmelbydesign said 12 years ago

    How inspiring!!! Loved how bring what is imaginary into reality was described! This has made my day!

  • enhabiten

    enhabiten said 11 years ago

    I am really enjoying this video series. It helps me appreciate all kinds of creative work when I can see and hear the artist describe their process, ideas and experience. This one was a great one. I like Bruce Metcalf a lot.

  • dotdotvintage

    dotdotvintage said 11 years ago

    very insightful, pleasure to see this.

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