Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Handmade: Special Family Edition; An Interview with Duane Mohney of Prunella’s Workshop

by Lynn Mohney of Prunella’s Workshop

Our families and our upbringing can have great impact on who we are as artists as well as the future artists we may create and inspire. Every once in a while I plan to interview an artist regarding art in their family, both current and growing up, to shed light on the different places artists come from.

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Duane Mohney, the other half of Prunella’s Workshop, as well as a member of my family – specifically my spouse. Duane is in a unique position as he did not enter the handmade lifestyle from an art background. Duane has a degree in computer science and he is a full time software engineer; however, he is an integral part of Prunella’s Workshop, a business that may have otherwise never existed without his input.

Needless to say, it was an interesting experience to interview my own husband, as I had to be cautious to not finish his sentences for him! While the majority of the interviews have been performed via cyberspace, Duane Mohney was present during his interview, and I have done my best to capture his responses as he stated them. I hope you enjoy!

Duane Mohney working at the jeweler's bench

 Prior to meeting me, would you describe your family to be creative/handmade/artistic?

“Artistic is not a word that I would associate with my family. Craftsman would be more appropriate.”

Which of your family members inspired you to pursue a craft?

“I would say my father, the handyman, who has always had a “do it yourself attitude” has been the best inspiration towards my being crafty, specifically, woodworking. Interest in woodworking led to the photo printing classes in school, and a general introduction to craftwork. My father taught me you do it yourself or you do without. It was a financial necessity growing up, but it was still inspirational.”

(Duane’s father should be the poster child for the handmade movement. He helped his grandfather build his mother’s house, and when Duane’s father was ready to settle down himself, he built his own.)

A Do It Yourself (DIY) project done in our home. Duane built the mantel piece and I tiled the fireplace.

“My maternal grandmother did counted cross-stitch as referenced in an earlier post. Counted cross-stitch is a craft more so than an art and she was exceptionally skilled in her craft. At one point she had met one of the pattern designers for one of her larger works. The designer was so impressed by the quality of her work, that she asked her to do a couple more of her designs.”

How did you come to find yourself immersed in metal work?

“We had just met Liz Stewart of Lush Beads and you had wanted to make some jewelry. You picked up a lot of supplies and made some beaded things, but it wasn’t what you were looking for. We were at dinner with our friend, Anton, who had his chasing work with him. We began talking about classes, which led me to do some research on Metalwerx and Worcester Craft Center, as well as what would be required to be able to do this in the house. I bought you a class at Metalwerx for your birthday, and the instructor gave you homework. Watching you make metal jewelry at home made me realize it would be a nice small scale way for me to “do it yourself” in the condo and get out my own crafty itch. From there, it has just spiraled, or as they say in traditional wood working groups, ‘It’s been a slide down the slippery slope.’”

What is it like being part of a creative team with your spouse?

“My role in the creative team is more of a craftsperson. I implement your vision, and research what is needed to apply that vision to become reality, so that you have the resources needed. Given that, the 90% of the time that I am carrying out the artistic vision of the designer, it works well. It can be frustrating when I’m having an original moment and I don’t like the input I am receiving from you. I can’t be a diva and throw a fit because there is no where to go but to the rest of the house.”

Pendant by Duane Mohney; Photo by Duane Mohney. Duane is also a skilled photographer

Was there someone in your life who, while not necessarily crafty in their own right, pushed and encouraged you on your path?

“Craft is not a career for me; therefore, I would not expect someone to push me in that direction. By day, (and night sometimes) I am a software engineer, and drive a keyboard most of the time. Craft is a physical and mental break for me and I can direct my creative release in a business-positive manner, which is an added bonus.”

Do you feel your skills as a software engineer come into play with your craft?

“I don’t feel that my skills as a software engineer come into play specifically, but I certainly feel that some of my educational background effects how I think about problems in the studio. I have a very engineering detail oriented approach to jewelry making.”

Do you feel it is our responsibility as craftspeople to pass along our skills and knowledge to future generations?  If so, how?

“I do feel it is our obligation as skilled workers to pass on the tips and tricks that we have learned so that future generations can discover something new. We invite our son into the shop and let him participate in safe parts of our jewelry making. We participate in online forums discussing problems and solutions.”

Passing our skills down to our next generation; our son hammering a new pendant

How do you pass along the love of what you do to other people?

“When we are out trying to sell our work we tell our customers the story of ‘why handmade.’ Why did we do something this way, how did we do it, and what is our vision.”

Do you feel it is more important to pass along your specific skill set?  Or a respect for craft/art in general?  How can either be achieved?

“My specific skill set may or may not be worthy of passing on, but an appreciation of craft needs to be passed on. As craftspeople, we can help this by educating our customers in the benefits of locally produced handmade goods, and why keeping it local is important.”

Duane Mohney at the jeweler's bench

Silly question for fun – what was it like to take a fine art drawing class?

“My past education included both technical drawing as well as CAD, which forces you to think about objects as you know they exist, whereas fine art wants you to draw it as you see it.  My lizard brain is technical and I don’t see the foreshortened image in my head. When I analyze what is before me, I see the isometric view. It was really hard for me to see the foreshortened image.”

What is your favorite part of metalworking?

“Molten metal. It is the juxtaposition of the fluid state and the solid state. Flowing yet ungiving.”

Cast Viking Turtle Brooch by Lynn and Duane Mohney; Lynn designed the turtle, and Duane cast several pairs. Photo by Duane Mohney 

What other DIY crafts are you involved in?

“As I alluded to in an earlier question, traditional woodworking is another interest of mine. By traditional woodworking I mean hand tools not consuming electricity. This choice to not use power tools is two fold; first it is possible to do more in a smaller space with hand tools and secondly it is safer.”

Why do you do more than just metal?

“Because I can. Woodworking would be the first craft that I practiced in a serious manor, and when I moved east, I didn't have the space to have a shop and borrowed shop space when needed. The research into jewelry instruction lead me down many side paths, and I discovered the traditional woodworking movement by accident. It struck a chord, and I've follow the path, not as seriously as the metal work, but certainly sliding down the slope.”

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