Artist and professor Maria “Mia” Hall will bring her respect for the importance of craftmaking in contemporary culture when she takes over for the retiring Jean McLaughlin as director of the Penland School of Crafts in January 2018. “This is a lifelong dream. I couldn’t ask for anything better,” she told the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet by telephone. “I’ve always been struck by everything there. It’s such a concentration of talent and innovation, and that has always been really fascinating for me,” she added. The craft school, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, has selected Hall to become the director at the start of 2018. She will succeed longtime director McLaughlin who made many important changes to the institution, including a large studio renovation project and an endowment increase from $2 million when she started in 1998 to $17 million today.
Hall will provide fresh perspective at Penland as she is the current interim chair of the Department of Art and Design at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), where she's taught for nearly 10 years and helped to establish the furniture design program there. As chair of the art and design department, she has overseen the fundraising, design and construction of a new 65,000-square-foot arts facility for the university, which will open in November. Hall is an artist in her own right, and her work takes the form of functional furniture and mixed-media sculpture. She holds a BA and an MFA from San Diego State University in furniture design.
Hall has a longstanding relationship with the craft school, having attended their auctions with her husband, metalsmith David Clemons who also teaches at UALR and has both taught at and been an artist in residence at Penland. The pair met McLaughlin about eight years ago. “I was immediately really taken by the clarity of her vision. I was really struck by a strong female leader,” Hall said by phone.
Hall discussed the importance of craft skills in today’s technology-obsessed world. She envisions a future where art and STEM can go together, and society can recognize their similarities. “It’s interesting how we have separated out the arts as something unnecessary and frivolous. When I see art especially in education, I try to not necessarily talk about the art but to talk about the skill and the problem solving and everything that goes into artmaking. It’s very similar to the sciences,” she said.
As a teacher, Hall will bring to Penland the idea that students who are not considered “book smart” still have the potential to be makers and innovators with a different kind of artistic talent she wants to see celebrated as much as math and science. “If you can’t regurgitate formulas, you’re not necessarily being considered. Some students have this body intelligence to blow glass or throw clay and we push that aside,” she said.
She believes one of the wonderful things about the craft world is makers’ willingness to exchange ideas without fear of competition, which is not always common in other areas of art. At Penland, she hopes to spread the openness characteristic of craft making to the larger art community.
“I am looking forward to expanding [the school’s] role in not just studio craft, but its role in the art world,” she said. “We’re starting to see more craft practices permeating into the bigger art world, so I am hoping to make more people aware of what Penland has to offer,” she remarked.