I have long pondered the concept of proper credentials regarding feltmaking. The topic recently came up on Pat Sparks feltlist .
I work in a variety of media, and have seen this issue come up many times, each craft having its own levels of quality and skill requirements. As an example, the latest arena to come up with a plan on accreditation, is the metal clay world. Metalsmiths have been taken aback by the growth, first scoffing at the idea of comparing their work as metalsmiths to claywork. But over time, even recognized metalsmiths have delved into metal clay due to its ability to create pieces that would be unattainable or laborious using traditional techniques. It grew faster than one could dream and work of every quality has hit the market. They needed to take the time to come up with an accreditation program (they call it the Masters Registry). I think they have done a good job. It is much more complex than the felting world would ever need. The overall concept of requiring applicants to send in pieces to be judged on quality, while also covering a breadth of techniques is a good start. Theirs is a brand new system, that has yet only registered a handful of Masters – time will tell if it is successful, but I have heard a lot of rumblings of people working on applying.
I think the felting world could use something in the same fashion to establish a quality minimum for someone to mark their credentials as an accredited Feltmaker. We have all seen felt sold that is below standard. I must be honest and say that when I first started selling pieces, they were not nearly as well felted as the pieces I make now. I shudder to think about how they have fared. Only time and experience can really teach you what makes good felt. It is in this light that I think we must look at what we hope for from accreditation. A Master class – is, in my opinion not the right way to go. Not everyone can travel to a given location, those who can , may take the class, and still not make good felt. It is not a viable solution, nor available to all.
A system that anyone can apply to is important, regardless of their location, or association affiliations. This should also be an anonymous application such that no biases are formed prior to judging. That is easily done, and exceptionally important. There should be a fee associated with applying. The work of managing the accreditation process is not an easy one, and there needs to be a solid structure behind this behemoth of a task. Once accreditation is issued, there should be an ability to acquire certain items that would be of use to a qualified feltmaker – ie.. labels for your work, information leaflets that talk about felt and your accreditation in the field, logos and website links, discounts at supporting fiber suppliers who could potentially provide financial support to the accreditation system in exchange for advertising etc. My head is absolutely spinning with ideas.
A jury of recognized leaders in the field is needed to establish a groundwork for what constitutes good felt, as well as what techniques are needed to be mastered before one can receive accreditation. This jury would ideally not be judging the style of the pieces submitted, but the quality of the work and knowledge of the craft.
– Is it made with the correct fiber for its purposed use? such as fine wool for shawls, coarse wool for rugs etc..) is it evenly laid out? etc..
Should a series of categories be set out, with applicants having the option of sending in pieces for say 3 out of 5 potential categories? Does this cover enough breadth to establish a skill in the craft? How many pieces are needed? what categories?.. some examples..
– flat pieces with exposed edges – must be even and uniform, no cut edges
– hollow forms (resist project) 3D without sewing (clothing or vessels, purses etc)
– needlefelting – how does this fit in?
Is creativity a requirement?
Does ones own design carry more weight?
Who can judge the beauty of a piece?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Skill?!?.. well ..felt that looks good is not always good felt.
Is this a job for the IFA? good question.. maybe a topic for the AGM in Italy next year? The fact that there is an annual gathering of some of the world best felters could make for an excellent venue to do a once a year selection to a FeltMaster Registry. My only concern being that one does not need to be a member of the IFA in order to apply for accreditation.
I would very much like to hear people thoughts on this topic. Thank you for taking the time to read mine.
*** an excerpt from my comments on the list regarding this topic added June 17, 2009 ***
Do I consider myself a qualified feltmaker? Would I make the grade being judged by a panel of experts in the field, potentially not… I do not know, it is not for me to say. Quite honestly it would be very intimidating to send my work in. It is in taking these steps that one grows as an artist. One must try in order to succeed (failure? always an option!). But what I would hope for in the experience of applying for the credentials, would be some specific constructive criticism of the work sent in that would allow me to focus on my weaknesses and grow in order to apply again once my skills have evolved.