Maine Masters—FRED WOELL: AN AMERICAN VISION

 Launch of Website and Screening Tour

 

Come Alive, You’re in the Pepsi Generation, 1966, J. Fred Woell, Mixed media 4″x 4 1/2″ x 5/16″

 

 Fred Woell: An American Vision, the 17th episode in the Maine Masters series of films on Maine’s exceptional artists, has just launched a website  www.jfredwoellfilms.org and is in the planning stages of a national screening tour.

This documentary by Richard Kane with Robert Shetterly premiered at the Camden International Film Festival and is slated to screen in May 2018 at the annual conference of the Society for North American Goldsmiths (SNAG), co-sponsored by Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. The film will screen theatrically throughout Maine in 2018 as well as at many museums, universities, national craft shows and conferences.

The film is about this Deer Isle, ME political artist who made satirically searing commentary often on the dark side of history.  A humble and humorous artist and teacher, Woell opened the door to seeing anew.

FILM REVIEW – by Stuart Kestenbaum
Fred Woell: An American Vision captures the essence of a man who believed deeply in the power of the creative spirit. As an artist he was an innovator and a rule-breaker.  As a teacher he encouraged his students to make their own discoveries.  It’s appropriate to have American featured in the title of this film, for Fred’s vision was uniquely American:  he had a deep belief in democratic ideals combined with common-sense ingenuity in making work or repairing the world around him.  While he could see the inconsistencies and flaws of his own country, he could also evoke in us our potential to make a better world.  For Fred, making that better world began with his hands in the studio. In this inspiring film we are fortunate to witness a part of that journey.

Stuart Kestenbaum is Maine’s Poet Laureate and Chair of the American Craft Council.

A limited number of DVDs are available from Kane-Lewis Productions, 207-359-2320, kanelewisproductions@gmail.com

 

J. Fred Woell: An American Vision

 

An artist of supreme democratic spirit

This newest episode in the Maine Masters series of documentary film portraits of Maine artists features an interview with artist/writer Robert Shetterly about the nature of metalsmith J. Fred Woell’s political message. The film opens with Fred’s iconic piece Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation now in the collection of the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. Rob opens the film calling that piece “subversive … because,” Rob says, “it’s really a medal given for imperialism that suggests the mask of America. All smiles and being young and being happy.” And Rob foreshadows the message of the film and Fred’s work saying, “but there’s a dark side.”

J. Fred Woell, “Come Alive, You’re in the Pepsi Generation” mixed media pin, 4″ x 4 1/2″ x 5/16″, 1966

Simply using the materials that Fred did was a subversive act. Take Glenn Adamson, former director of the Museum of Art and Design, who discusses in the film how jewelry has traditionally marked a person as being wealthy. “Just think of a crown,” he says. But what Fred did with jewelry was to make it completely horizontal using found objects such as soda bottle tops and bullet shells. “So he is an artist of supreme democratic spirit,” Adamson states. “… and that’s such a powerful idea. It makes jewelry into a politically progressive medium when of course that’s precisely the thing that it wasn’t.”

But Shetterly goes a step further and politically dissects one of Fred’s most powerful pieces called Four Corners. Behind Fred’s cleverness, irony, and wit, Rob says, is a profound analysis of the history of politics of America.

J. Fred Woell, “Four Corners” mixed media with barbed wire

“The fact that it’s done with barbed wire,” Rob says, “which was the actual material that was used in the west to shut off the flow of native animals like bison and the flow of the Indians moving across the Great Plains. … To put the Indians in the cross hairs of this barbed wire is an extraordinary achievement. It seems very obvious to me that it represents a crucifixion … it’s our sin itself being commemorated, the sin of the genocide of Native people…. And then behind it you see this piece of weathered wood like a barn board and it’s cracked right down the center. Just like there’s a crack in this country, and what we stand for and what we say and what we do, it’s cracked.”

Rob continues. “The other thing that is equally key is about value. Here you put the face of a native person on money, partly to say, ‘we value you’. But this isn’t on a 50 dollar bill, not on a hundred dollar bill. It’s on a plug nickel. And then you set it up on a cross hairs and you take target practice.” And Rob concludes his analysis saying, “and Fred’s obvious point here is … what does this say about us?”

This is the deepest exploration of one of the most understated, yet insightful artist/metalsmiths of our time… an artist who had a significant influence on so many others.

The film is produced by Richard Kane and Rob Shetterly. It will premiere at the Stonington Opera House on September 21, 2017 at 7pm.

Spring 2017: UMVA Update, Maine Masters

above: Ashley Bryan, “Puppet,” Ken Hannont photo

Maine Masters

Ashley Bryan’s response to war and racism was to shine a light upon those evils and create beauty and joy, awe and wonder.

He continues to do so in a supremely democratic, anti-elitist way.  He celebrates what is common, making art out of found objects washed up from the sea — fisherman’s gloves, old sweaters, stew bones.  He takes cast off objects and makes something beautiful from them.  Someone once asked him “Where in Africa did you get these puppets?”   Only then did he realize that his puppets really do come from his heritage, a place deep in his past.  He shows us how each one is a beautiful, unique creation.  Every one of us is different and he celebrates those differences — so very American in its message.  We are an immigrant nation and we historically have gained strength from the give and take of those differences.

Darkness in ones’ life often surfaces from a negative self image.  Ashley’s performances, his books, his readings, his poetry are all about lifting the spirit.  “If we affirm who we are with love for all  people we can withstand the brutality.”

Ashley’s childlike approach to life and art is not about being innocent or naive.  It is profound.  He experienced the abomination of war and racism.  He emboldens us to keep the child in us alive and to confront the darkness as would a child. No one is born racist.  No one is born to fight war.  We are all born with an awe, a spirit of wonderment for life.

I Know a Man … Ashley Bryan, produced by Richard Kane and Rob Shetterly, is the latest film in the UMVA’s Maine Masters series.  It will screen at the Emerge Film Festival in Lewiston, ME on April 29th.  Time and place TBA.

Click here to go to Maine Masters site.