Friday Interview: Art Middleton! April 22, 2011 14:37

Inquiring minds want to know. Artists dropping off product, customers at Knitting Club, they've asked the same question: Who are the boys? While boys have long been a crucial part of the Craftland team, it's true, they were underrepresented on the sales floor. One of the guys you may have run into, is Alec Thibodeau, who you all met a few weeks ago.  And if you shop regularly on a Saturday, you've probably met the fabulous Art Middleton. Art has recently curated the exhibit that's on view in the gallery, The Magic Child Repository, and it seemed the perfect time to interview Art, and introduce him to all of you.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Art Middleton and I have been living in Providence for a tiny bit more than a decade now.

How did you first get to know Craftland?
I remember Craftland when it was a holiday show inside a store on Westminster Street called OkieDokie. They had the best store sign in town and I still wear the button. The space was small and boutique-ish, and packed with so many amazing things. I have been an ardent fan ever since.

(Ed. note: Technically the first Craftland existed in what is now White Electric, and Craftland founder Johanna Fisher opened Okiedokie a little while later in what is now West Side Arts. Oh Rhode Island!)

Do you have a handmade business? If not a business, tell us about some of your creative outlets.
I don't have a handmade business. I have failed at putting out records, succeeded in putting out a few zines, and dreamed up lots of schemes involving soap and bread. Creative outlets: writing, playing music, baking much too sweet treats, making collages while listening to podcasts, and the rest of the outlets are behind the dresser so I can't get to them.

Describe for us the current exhibit you curated in the Craftland Gallery, The Magic Child Repository.
Sure! The Magic Child Repository is a collection of handmade books and books objects (broadsides, lamps) that culls its artists from different worlds, zine publishing and the small fiction or poetry presses, and makes a nice home for them all to mingle in. The show is outfitted with a nice couch and lighting perfect for perusing books, pretty much everything in the show can be handled (except two books, sorry!), smelled, stared at, and enjoyed on various levels.

What was the inspiration behind putting on this show?
The Repository has been a dream of mine for a long time. I envisioned a space that was filled with books being treated as if they were art objects (which they are), that was cozy enough to read in, that supported a community of artists making different work that was somehow in the spirit of the handmade, the precious, the small. I feel like I have mentioned things being "small" a bunch in these answers. I think this reflects a basic tenet of what I want to surround myself with, objects and work that is in the margins, maybe hard to find, unique and strange and wonderful. The repository is interested in supporting books that are difficult to define, that maybe look funny on your shelf, or the ones that beg to be opened and pawed through. There's more here: bigger political implications and digressions, how storytelling as an act and an artifact is a product of small communities shaping the course of a narrative and how its shared, but this is what i got for you now.

What do you think it is about Providence that makes a place like Craftland a success?
Craftland is a success because Providence is filled with amazing/crazed/obsessed/wild artists who continue to make incredible work, who are getting older and asking themselves how are they going to make the work they want and support themselves in a culture that doesn't value it the way it should be, and filled with new folks coming in all the time who aren't just inhaling fumes from older artists but carving out space for themselves. There's room here in a way that feels unique and supportive; its a really boundless city in many ways, and I think thats what makes it special.

What does handmade mean to you?
It means that some person somewhere spent intimate time creating something that seemed like a great idea at the time, that is worth all the concentrated effort and sweat and sleeplessness that entails, that has value simply due to its life outside of the imagination, that no matter the price is a gift. At least thats what it should mean, right? We should be working twice as hard, right? Or is this a trick question? Handmade is a machine you can buy? 

Guilty Pleasure?
Battlestar Galactica! I can't get enough of it! Frack!