Nisa Smiley is a studio jeweler and MCA member working in Ellsworth, Maine. She as served as a mentor in the 2019 and 2020 Craft Apprentice Program and participates regularly in MCA programs and initiatives.
My artistic practice is motivated by an innate desire to explore the essential connections between humans and the natural world. Each piece I create is an expression of my curiosity and delight, as well as an offering, and an invitation to pause and consider our profound interrelatedness. Using a palette of precious metals, gemstones and natural objects, I design and hand craft original jewelry, with the intention of fostering a deeper connection to our natural world by way of beauty.
What Maine Craft Means to Me
by Nisa Smiley
At first glance, the word “craft” brings to mind modesty and simplicity, and yet, it encompasses so much more. Craft is universal. Human history is rich with craft traditions, livelihoods, and artifacts, collectively telling the stories of who we were, then and there. Anytime functional objects were needed, from dishes to clothing, jewelry to leatherwork, tools to furniture, it was the craftspeople that were called upon to make these items, by hand.
As we have evolved, so, too, have our crafts, reflecting advancements in thinking, technology, and cultural needs. What began as a way to meet basic needs, and typically defined an individual’s lifetime’s work, today has morphed into a movement that spans the spectrum, from full-time, professional craftspeople, to hobbyists, to DIYers (Do It Yourself). We craft for pleasure, income, tradition, community, education, and creative output. Craft is now for anyone who wants to participate, which means that the craft landscape has spread far and wide, in quality, quantity, and variety. The line between art and craft has softened, allowing many to bridge that divide, and redefine what it means to be a craftsperson and an artist in today’s world.
I spend most of my creative time in this place, expressing my artistic visions through the vehicle of craft, professionally and for pleasure. Craft connects me to my culture, place, and time, and gives me a voice to contribute to this essential part of the human experience. This freedom to pursue my creative endeavors, on my own terms, is a privilege that I am grateful for each day. My gratitude extends to those who’ve come before me, and to the many fine people who make up the craft community here in Maine today. Some are skilled craftspeople and artists, and some are generous teachers. Some are lovers and collectors of craft, and some are tireless advocates for the craft community. Many are all of the above! Each person plays an important role, and together we make up a strong, vibrant, welcoming place to be creative with our hands, hearts, and minds.
Organizations, like the Maine Crafts Association and the Maine Arts Commission, provide resources and support that benefit so many, myself included. And there are many of us! The Maine Crafts Association serves over 600 members, and year after year, they continue to develop new programs and resources for craftspeople in Maine. This is inspiring to me, and helps me to keep an optimistic outlook when thinking about the future of craft.
When I think of craft, I think of this amazing community and the vast array of handwork that each of us brings to it. I think of my personal responsibility to share what I have learned, and the hope found in so many new faces who are eager to learn. I think of this place that we call Maine, and the abundance of inspiration and support that we find here. I think of the past, present, and future of craft, and I am filled with pride and gratitude, and humbled. It’s a good time to be a part of the craft movement!
Photo credit: Wylde Photo
What Maine Craft Means to Me Essay Series invites you to explore the many intersections and layers of craft, people and time in Maine through the words of those with deep connections to our state and our field.
The Maine Crafts Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts organization supporting craft artists by providing educational, marketing and retail opportunities. Our ability to accomplish our mission and help artists thrive is reliant on individual contributions.