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A View to the Making

Silvia Heyden, weaver. Photograph by Michael Schwalbe.

As a long-time professor of sociology at NC State, Michael Schwalbe documents and interprets the social world. As a photographer, he taps into an altogether different way of sharing what he sees. Schwalbe’s latest project is an exhibit of photographs and text called A View to the Making: Portraits of North Carolina Craft Artists at Work.

“For the most part, words are my stock in trade,” he says. “But photographs can communicate in ways that reach parts of our minds that are less receptive to descriptive prose. I bring photographs into the world in hopes that they will bring with them—appropriately accompanied by words—things we need to know about other people and other places, and perhaps cannot learn as well in any other way.”

A View to the Making pays tribute to North Carolina craft artisans and the quality of their art. Schwalbe picked 25 North Carolina crafts people who work in glass, wood, clay, metal or fiber. He conducted interviews with each artist, and then photographed them at work in their studios. The resulting exhibit, opening September 13 at the Durham Arts Council, combines black and white documentary photography with text from Schwalbe’s interviews with the artists. “My hope was to capture the skill and creativity required to turn raw materials into beautiful objects,” he says, “and to inspire fascination in the skill that these North Carolina artists bring to bear on their work.”

Bill Wallace, woodworker. Photograph by Michael Schwalbe.

Schwalbe has melded his orientation as a sociologist with his interest in documentary photography before. His book, Smoke Damage: Voices from the Front Lines of America’s Tobacco Wars (Borderland Books, 2011) includes 45 black-and-white portraits of people whose lives were significantly changed by tobacco-related disease. Another book, Remembering Reet and Shine: Two Black Men, One Struggle (University Press of Mississippi, 2004), follows two working-class Black men born and raised in Chapel Hill, and includes photographs of the men and important places in their lives.

In conjunction with A View to the Making, Schwalbe is moderating two panel discussions. The first focuses around documenting and preserving craftwork in North Carolina. The second revolves around why craft matters in the modern world. (See details below.)

A View to the Making: Portraits of North Carolina Craft Artists at Work is open at the Durham Arts Council, Semans Gallery, September 13 – November 10, 2013, 9:00 am – 9:00 pm daily, 1:00 – 6:00 pm Sundays. Public reception, October 18, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. The DAC is located at 120 Morris Street in downtown Durham.

Panel discussions:

Documenting Craftwork in North Carolina*

October 1, 6:30 pm


  • Charles (Terry) Zug, Professor Emeritus of Folklore and English, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Author of Turners and Burners: The Folk Potters of North Carolina.
  • Ellen Denker, Independent Scholar. Author of The Rocking Chair Book and The Main Street Pocket Guide to North American Pottery and Porcelain.
  • Lindsey Lambert, Director, North Carolina Pottery Center, Seagrove, North Carolina.
  • Bernard Herman, Professor of American Studies, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Author of Town House: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1760-1830.

North Carolina is home to rich traditions of pottery and furniture making, weaving, boat building, and other crafts. Today, the state includes thriving communities of craft artists working not only with clay, wood, and fabric, but also with glass, metal, and other materials. What should be done to ensure that these traditions are documented and preserved? How best can this documentary work convey important knowledge about North Carolina’s craft traditions to future generations? Panelists will address these and other questions. Following the panelists’ presentations, audience members will have an opportunity to ask questions and share their views.


The Meaning of Making: Why Craft Still Matters*

October 22, 6:30 pm


  • Howard Risatti, Professor Emeritus of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University. Author of A Theory of Craft: Function and Aesthetic Expression.
  • Marilyn Zapf, Assistant Director, Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design, Hendersonville, NC.
  • Charlotte Wainwright, Director Emeritus, Gregg Museum of Art & Design, North Carolina State University.
  • Mark Hewitt, Potter; President of Board of Directors, North Carolina Pottery Center.

Does craft still matter in an age of mass-produced commodities, deskilling in the workplace, and outsourced production? Under these contemporary conditions, what is the value of bringing great skill and care to the making of objects by hand? Why should we seek to nurture the spirit of making and the knowledge it entails? Panelists will bring diverse perspectives to addressing these and other questions related to art, craft, and design. Following the panelists’ presentations, audience members will have an opportunity to ask questions and share their views.

*Panel discussions are presented by exhibit organizer and photographer Michael Schwalbe, the Durham Arts Council, and the Gregg Museum of Art & Design at NC State University. Both talks are free and open to the public and take place at the PSI Theater at the Durham Arts Council in downtown Durham. Sponsored by the Gregg Museum of Art & Design, with support from the Penland School of Crafts and Cedar Creek Craft Gallery.