Aug 24, 2015
Guest Intro paragraph
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.
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
- 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. 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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