Artist and teacher Delanie Holton-Fessler fulfills her own need to make things, but she also helps others, especially children, experience the joy of creating with their hands. Drawing on the love of craft she learned from her family elders, Delanie uses her combined artist and educator experience as founder and director of Craftsman & Apprentice, a creative maker space that nurtures the creative spirit with an emphasis on imaginative play.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I was always encouraged to make art, even as a young child. I had fabulous and supportive art teachers all along the way. In high school, I participated in a youth arts program that led me to art school, then teaching art and working as an artist.
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I moved to Denver when I was 18. The creative community here in Denver has been a constant source of inspiration and connection.
Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? Which creative projects led you to the work you do today?
I was very, very into sewing and making crafts from recycled junk as a kid. I was always interested in handcraft because of how all the women in my family seemed to be able to sew and craft just about anything. Then in college, I helped run the sculpture studio which gave me access to a world of tools and techniques.
Who or what has inspired/influenced/empowered you?
The craft community as well as innovative educators like Gever Tully influence me heavily.
How does your formal education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
I have a BFA in sculpture and it definitely informed my studio practices. However, I found myself wishing for more of an emphasis on domestic craft.
You have created a rather unique creative space. Tell us about Craftsman & Apprentice – how did it come to be and what happens there?
The Craftsman & Apprentice came out of a desire to connect with people more deeply when working with our hands. We host camps, workshops and retreats, as well as provide schools with hands-on maker curriculum.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Maker Camp: Heritage Crafts & Skill-Building Projects for Kids?
My sincerest hope is that people reading Maker Camp come away with a sense that handcraft and creative play are accessible at home and in the classroom. Also, that kids are capable of challenging themselves, making mistakes, and learning from them.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
We are constantly refining our organization around the shop. When we organize materials in an aesthetically pleasing way and make them easily accessible, it can help to spark the creative process.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
For the kids, we use loads of cardboard and loose parts (think bottle caps, corks, beads, and baubles) as staples, as well as low-temperature hot glue guns. Low-temp glue guns make instant attachments that enable kids to work as fast as their imaginations.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade?
I love my bandsaw. Maybe a little too much!
Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
We use lots of items from a second-hand tool shop here in Denver. We have all sorts of vintage metal shelves from machine shops, and I love to use old metal and wood tool trays to store materials.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I have sketchbooks dating back to high school. In addition, I keep a running list of ideas and strategies. I also use my sketchbook as a tool for reflection.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I have a shop playlist that I’ve played in the studio since we opened. It’s all old-school, Motown, reggae and Django Reinhardt.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
A little bit of both. I like a good plan but I often deviate from my original plan. I like to allow the process to inform my work.
What kinds of creative projects are your favorites?
Personally, I am very interested in traditional utilitarian handcraft like spoon carving and basketry. When it comes to our work with kids, we are really interested in crafting for pretend play. Creating things like whole pirate worlds, cardboard grocery shops and cardboard carnivals.
Tell us about a challenging project. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to design a sensory room for a local school. It was challenging to develop a design that would be safe and durable while creating a calming and whimsical environment. I worked with a friend and local fabricator to build the elements that were outside of my wheelhouse. Collaboration is exciting and poses its own challenges.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be?
When I was 13, I read Concerning the Spirituality in Art by Wassily Kandinsky. He spoke about the internal impulse to create as a very human and spiritual need. Reading his book changed the trajectory of my life.
I also recently interviewed the artist, Wes Sam Bruce. He created a huge nature play art installation at the Children’s Museum here in Denver. His work and studio were so inspiring!
When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?
I am really interested in making objects of use. My personal creative practice centers on making objects that relate to my domestic life, as well as exploring craft practices that my ancestors may have engaged in. Our next project is going to be a Swedish fence that we will build from wood harvested on our mountain property. On a smaller scale, whittling, basketry, and printmaking are all common on my list.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Part of being human is the act of creativity. But, we’ve developed a narrow view of what we call creative practices. Creativity as a mindset is a practice. Just asking the question, “what else is possible?” can help us all to expand our thoughts of creativity.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
Be willing to make some really bad stuff. None of us are masters when we first try anything. Don’t worry so much about perfection or the judgment of others. Instead, focus more on the thrill of problem-solving, the feeling of being in process and letting go of the idea of perfection.
Tell us about your website. How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Interview posted February 2021
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