The University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union Craft Center has served as an outlet for arts and non-arts majors since it first opened in 1971.
“We are a student-run organization, so that means that membership here is free if you are a UMass student, faculty or staff,” said Becky Woodcock, a junior majoring in natural resource conservation with a concentration in wildlife and a book making coordinator at the craft center. “And if you just come in during normal business hours, then it can be basically open studio hours for you. So you can do anything your heart desires, minus clay unfortunately.”
Woodcock explained that there are about 11 to 13 different areas of the craft center, each providing the resources and tools for certain projects. Some of the areas include leather, mask making, paper marbling, sewing, silk screening and photography.
“If you want to make a ring one day, every staff member here can make a ring. If you want to just do stain glass, anything, you can and we can help you out with that,” she said.
People who have no prior experience with art are welcome and encouraged at the craft center. A nice thing about the craft center is that students who are not art majors have access to its resources, unlike some of the resources in the Studio Arts building, according to Norma Barratt, a sophomore social thought and political economy major and staff member at the craft center.
“I took a photography class last year and I don’t even think I have access to use the dark room in the Studio Arts Building, so it’s so nice to have this one here and the resources here are actually pretty great,” said Barratt.
Woodcock said, “…it’s really nice because you don’t just have to be an art major to be here. You can be a natural resource conservation major, you can be an engineer…so you can be any major you want and you are welcome here no matter what.”
The craft center has expanded on the types of tools and materials available to visitors since its opening over 40 years ago.
“It just basically started out with basic crafts here, and then as the years progressed we gradually added more and more areas. So leather I think didn’t show up until 10 years ago…as the years go by we keep trying to add more interesting crafts for people to do and really draw people in,” said Woodcock.
“…I think the main kind of theme that this place has is that it allows people to connect. And it is definitely a great place for activism too…whether people are discussing different issues or they’re actually making art that’s going to be used for different types of activism, we see that a lot…” said Zoe Hertz, a junior psychology and sociology major with a minor in education, and metal-smithing coordinator.
“It’s definitely low pressure and low judgement. It’s not like you come in here and you are expected to create this beautiful…I mean often times people do really create beautiful things, but it’s not like you’re feeling pressure from the people around you to perform a certain way or produce a certain thing,” she said.
The craft center also serves as a great resource to other student groups on campus.
“A lot of groups, like [Center for Education Policy and Advocacy] …make buttons and screen prints and t-shirts and stuff. I think it’s a good resource for groups like that,” said Parker Phelps, a junior studio arts major, batik area coordinator and a member of the craft center media and marketing committee.
Josh Odam, founder of Free Negro University clothing and a senior political science and legal studies major at UMass has found the craft center to be a great way to further his design skills and his business. Odam finds himself in the craft center “probably every day.”
“The craft center’s been wonderful. They taught me how to screen print, and that’s no exaggeration. It has taught me how to like treat the silk, how to burn my images, how to ensure that my images are crisp and can transfer over to the screen, how to care for my frames. So yeah, they’ve really taught me everything,” said Odam.
Some students find themselves in the craft center often as a way to destress from school and express themselves.
“I am about as computer science as it can get. I study astrophysics and my mother was an artist and my father was an engineer so I’ve always kind of had this dual perspective with my upbringing where basically it comes from my father being logical and my mother being more carefree and do as she feels. And at the end of the day, after doing math equations for hundreds of hours…you just want to do something that you feel as opposed to what needs to be right,” said Adam Redfern, a sophomore astronomy major whose specialty is jewelry making and metal working.
“It’s a place where you can feel safe and you’re encouraged to create something new and express yourself and just have a lot of diverse thoughts and opinions,” said Aren Park, a freshman communication major and metal-smithing coordinator. Park applied to work at the craft center just after arriving on campus at the beginning of her freshman year.
“I thought this was like the perfect place for me to spend my time…do something that has to do with art and expressing yourself because I’ve been looking for an outlet to do that because I am not an art major, so I didn’t have so much opportunity to continue my passion in art. So finding the craft center was like the perfect timing,” she said.
The craft center is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday through Friday.
Hayley Johnson can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @hayleyk_johnson.