New Grant Furthers the Language of Change Makers

Eli Wolf Linvill, previous crew leader of the Blacksmith Crew at Warren Wilson College, with a local elementary-school teacher in 2019. A $1 million grant from the Windgate Foundation will help strengthen Warren Wilson’s blacksmithing opportunities for students through the new Craft Studios program, so students can take academic courses for credit and have integrated work learning opportunities. Photo by Casey “Red” Herring.
A single letter can change the conversation, says Namita Gupta Wiggers. As Director of the Master of Arts in Critical Craft Studies at Warren Wilson College, Wiggers lectures not only on craft history and theory but also the vernacular of craft, namely by distinguishing between the singular and plural forms of the word “craft” itself.

“People tend to think about crafts as a category of objects—a weaving, a chair, a book. We are taking a different approach at Warren Wilson College,” says Wiggers. “We teach students to think about craft as a subject to study—to learn to make and to learn why craft matters in our cultures, in history, and more.”

Wiggers was instrumental in launching the liberal-arts college’s low-residency graduate program in 2018, thereby making Warren Wilson one of the nation’s only educational institutions where students can shear sheep, harvest indigo, and spin yarn all before lunch.

According to a July press release, the college now hopes to establish “a more formalized craft program within the arts” with the support of a nearly $1 million grant from the Windgate Foundation. The monies will be used to establish craft studios, or physical spaces on campus where students can take a class such as blacksmithing for academic credit. Warren Wilson will also provide more scholarships for craft students, increase the number of undergraduate students taking craft-related courses each semester, and convene a group of faculty to explore adding an undergraduate craft major. (The college currently offers an undergraduate minor.)

“The craft program at Warren Wilson is unique,” says Provost Jay Roberts, “and we now have the chance to provide a more cohesive craft vision for the college and our students.”

But these developments are not so much a craft revival as a rethinking. Many recognize Warren Wilson’s agrarian roots, but few know that the college came to be in 1942 when the Asheville Farm School for boys merged with the Dorland-Bell Institute, a weaving school for girls. Though the campus weaving program dissolved in 1969, a student approached Melanie Wilder, who now serves as the Fiber Arts Studio Supervisor, about resurrecting campus fiber arts in 2009. In 2013, the college received a grant from the Windgate Foundation to develop its Blacksmithing, Fiber Arts, and Fine Woodworking Crews. Unique to Warren Wilson, these crews allow students to receive a hands-on understanding of what it means to be a maker.

“Historically, to understand craft is to connect to basic needs—food, clothing, and shelter. Those human needs haven’t changed,” says Wiggers. “There is so much that we can understand—and teach—through craft that connects to many more parts of the way we live.”

To learn more about craft programming at Warren Wilson College, visit warren-wilson.edu.

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