Conversations with an Artist: Adele Crawford
We met Adele at the de Young Museum when she was an artist in residence in 2014. We were captivated by her thoughtful, reflective process and her use of old materials — photographs, books, postcards — which she alters to reconfigure them and activate a new story. We also had the most stimulating conversations with her, inspiring us to return more than once. A friendship developed and when we were opening Poet and/the Bench, we knew we wanted Adele to be part of our journey.
Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul?
I can’t say there was a moment — as far back as I remember I have had a love of making things. First with my mom, making candles, Christmas ornaments, sewing projects and re-finishing furniture. I soon realized that kits were very limiting and I preferred to create things on my own. I loved the freedom to make my own design and color choices. Making has always been a major part of my life. I’ve made Christmas, Valentine and birthday cards for my friends for over 30 years. When I took my first book making class I felt I connected with a true passion.
What themes do you pursue in your art?
I am constantly looking at culture and how as a culture we change and appreciate different things throughout the ages. Given that change exists fundamentally we are the same, although now surrounding ourselves with technology. For instance, I have always loved the photograph. In Victorian times photography was used to capture an image of a loved one and kept safely in a beautiful photo album. Now we take photos rapidly and rampantly and house them in the cloud. I have always held the dictionary, encyclopedias (books which answer questions) in high regard. Now these books are deemed worthless and we use technology when we want a question answered. I appreciate and use both. These “worthless” castaways are used as my base material to explore my ideas.
What influenced your direction for BunnyDoggy, The World is Flat and Stringing Words Together?
There was a duck pull toy in a closet at my grandmother’s house. I loved to get the duck out and have it follow behind me. Perhaps it was an early experience with independence and a silent friend. I have also had a soft spot for bunnies; my favorite first children’s book, The Golden Egg Book, was about a bunny who finds an egg, and where I grew up there were always brown bunnies in the yards and fields. Dogs have been traveling companions for me throughout my life. I liked the idea and humor of an adult sized pull toy with cartoony features; big ears, wheels as feet. I couldn’t decide whether to make it a bunny or a dog, so I combined them into one.
After reading a review of Thomas Freedman’s book, The World is Flat — an examination of globalization, it got me thinking about a world moving so fast that we can not hardly keep up. Simultaneously, I was thinking of a story I was told as a young girl. A great, great aunt who was developmentally disabled pinned hundreds of pieces of paper to the curtain in her home. I was always fascinated with this story. I’d done other pinned pieces, but this one felt most similar to what I envisioned. I cut map circles out of the 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica and pinned them in straight lines on linen to slow down and create an image of a flat world.
When I first begin a project I don’t often have a concrete idea. With Stringing Words Together, I spent time with the 100 year-old dictionary, playing around with various folds and manipulations of the pages. Making a box from each page made me think of containing: holding the knowledge, having a capacity for containing the knowledge so I had faith and began folding. Adding the gold leaf to each box came after folding hundreds of boxes. I felt the leaf elevated the dictionary page box to the lofty and dignified place where I hold them.
How has your work developed over time?
I began with paper and making one-of-a-kind artist books. In grad school I expanded onto the wall, still thinking of my work as a book. I then began enlarging family photos and embroidering onto them, moving into taking an existing book apart and reconsidering it. I allow myself to explore, to allow anything to come in.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
The actual space — the structure in my backyard, which provides comfort, quiet, holds all my stuff and draws me in daily. It is my sanctuary where I am free to explore, be alone and make stuff.
Do you collect anything?
This is an interesting question for me. My thesis was on accumulation. I am fascinated by collecting and go to estate sales frequently. My favorite ones are where the person collected and amassed tons. I often bring things back to my studio and am constantly recycling as well. That being said my studio is rather full of potential materials and many books and journals.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
It’s cumulative for me. I read a lot; biographies of artists, novels, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, I follow a number of art, design, food, culture websites, listen to dharma talks, listen to many different types of music, watch documentaries and have a strong spiritual practice. I believe it all influences me. While in my studio, I most often work in silence, attempt to stay present, and try not to bring technology in. Right now I can hear the birds.
What advice would you give your younger self about your artistic journey?
I would have encouraged and supported my younger self to be an artist and trust that desire. To search for the truth and believe in myself.
We hope you’ll come by the shop to explore Adele’s art up close and in person. If you’d like more information about the work, please do get in touch, firstname.lastname@example.org or 415–569–4383.
Until next time,
Bonnie & Jeffrey