Most classrooms have paper, notebooks and rulers, but the students at the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts don’t use these items for calculus and economics.
Instead, students here are taught to draw with a pencil, work with clay on a ceramic wheel and showcase their creativity through a camera lens.
Close to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Detroit Main Library and Wayne State University, the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts – now the College for Creative Studies – is home to beginning and seasoned artists, and everyone in between. The school has trained students to explore their artistic abilities since 1926.
In this WWJ-TV (which later became WDIV) special from 1974, former Local 4 anchorman Jerry Blocker takes a tour inside the school building and takes a look at many “arts and crafts” produced right in the heart of Detroit.
The video was filmed when the school was just about to undergo its name change to Center for Creative Studies College of Art and Design. It is now the College for Creative Studies.
The Art School first occupied a building on Watson Street, but in 1958, moved to a new location on East Kirby Street. Named for designer Minoru Yamasaki, the Yamasaki building housed the entire art school until a privately funded and independently-operated $7 million addition was introduced to the campus.
Blocker called the school “an emerging institution of higher learning” and a “demonstration of their confidence in the future of the City of Detroit and the arts.”
Blocker first talked to Walter Midener, director of the School.
Midener, an esteemed artist from Germany, was primarily versed in sculpture but noted the school’s unique ability to provide all artists with opportunities to practice their craft.
“The school is educating students in defining arts and crafts and design,” Midener said.
At the time of the video, the art school had five departments: Fine Arts, Crafts, Photography, Advertising Design and Industrial Design. There were also six fields of study in the general studies department.
Jay Holland, head of the sculpture department and Detroit native, spoke to Blocker about his sculpture class. Holland taught at the school from 1964 to 1998 and was known as a master of human form.
In the video, the introductory-level students were making a one-third scale of study from a live model. In more advanced classes, Holland said, students do more interpretive work and master welding, bronze casting, working with plaster and occasionally, stone carving.
“The particular emphasis here is a precise rendition of anatomy and all the naturalistic features,” Holland said.
Blocker discovered that ceramics requires the use of the wheel and meticulous handwork in the next portion of his visit to the Art School.
Maxwell Davis, director of the ceramics department with a background in a number of other art forms, discussed the steps of the ceramic process his student was completing, as seen in the video.
“The piece to be completed can take up to two weeks for it to dry out and be fired and glazed,” Davis explained as the student, who started with a lump of clay and water, created a cylindrical object.
Students first experiment with ceramics through clay, and later progress to working with glaze and the kiln, Davis said. However, Davis’ classes are unique in that both beginning and advanced students are in the same class so as to provide mentoring and peer-learning.
Karen McDougall, a student of two years, showed her work to Blocker, which she has sold through independent art galleries, fairs and student shows.
Next, faced with thousand-degree temperatures and red-hot equipment, Blocker visited the area of the school especially designed for glassblowing.
Those in the glass blowing department create both utilitarian and experimental forms, head of the glass department Herb Babcock said, meaning some works can be used as vases or glasses and some are simply meant to be more freeform.
“It takes a while to get on to glassblowing because timing is of the essence,” Babcock said. “You’re working with a very molten form of glass and it usually takes anywhere from … well, a very lucky person can catch on in half a year and it usually takes three to four years before you can become rather proficient at it.”
Aside from these crafts, Blocker also explored the fabric design, painting, metal crafts and newer departments of the school.
Fabric design instructor Susan Aaron-Taylor pointed out her students working on baskets and tapestries. The students work with and without looms to interact with fabric. In other departments, such as in the painting studio or the metal crafts department, students paint from a model or learn how to craft metal. From crafting jewelry to metalsmithing, students spend many hours a week in these studios.
Within the industrial and advertising design departments, products such as automobile parts are designed and students learn art direction, all in the hopes of obtaining the skills necessary for a job with local studios and agencies.
To introduce two- and three-dimensional art to a younger crowd, Saturday morning art classes are taught to local youth.
Understanding the complexity and concept of an idea -- no matter the medium -- could take anywhere from weeks to months, and mastering a skill properly could take years, many of the art instructors noted.
With detailed curriculums in each of the departments allowing for personal expression, as well as classes engaging students in general studies, the school gives several opportunities for artists to learn and gain experiences needed for their career.
Because of this, the school was accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
At the time of the video, the school had 336 full-time students, 170 part-time students, 240 evening students and 80 special students. The College for Creative Studies now enrolls over 1,400 undergraduates per year and has expanded to include 13 majors for their Bachelor of Fine Arts program including art education, interior design, fashion accessories design and more.
In the video, when asked what his future dreams are for the School of Art, Midener said: “To offer Detroit, Michigan and the Midwest one of the finest art schools in the country.”
For more information about the College for Creative Studies College of Art and Design, click here.
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