The students who enroll in Layne Goldsmith’s Fiber Arts certificate class hail from all different backgrounds and walks of life.
They’ve included a practicing attorney, a former physician who left private practice to become an artist and an engineer as well as working artists and others in the creative professions. They’ve ranged in age from 20 to 78. Some are developing a portfolio to apply for graduate school. Others have an art background and are re-entering that context. Several have returned to school to pursue a personal passion.
That diversity doesn’t surprise Goldsmith. In fact, she embraces it. “I love working with people who have lives outside of academe,” she says. Because these adult students have more life experience, “they have much more to talk about in their work.” She enjoys, too, the level at which she can engage them. “It’s like working with a group of advanced seniors or first-year graduate students,” she says.
What does surprise Goldsmith is the sense of community that develops among these students and continues long after graduation. “They continue to meet, share their accomplishments, and mount group exhibitions,” she says. Perhaps she shouldn’t be so surprised — she lays the foundation for that community.
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Early on, Goldsmith schedules a meeting with each student to discuss their reasons for enrolling. “It helps me to help them as an artist, to know what makes them tick,” she says. The program is less about technique and more about understanding where their creative impetus comes from and discovering how their individual creative process works. She sees herself as a facilitator, challenging and supporting her students as they work through these transformative processes.
Having begun one-on-one with each student, Goldsmith engineers the class as a community in which individuals learn from and are inspired by one another. One part of the equation: assignments that pose a problem for students to solve in their own particular way. For example, Goldsmith asks them to construct out of found materials an invented cloth that conveys a specific point of view.
The other part of the equation: facilitating discussions in which each student contributes on an equal footing. “Everyone has something to contribute to the learning process but [to draw it out], they need to see that their input is valuable and meaningful,” says Goldsmith. “I encourage students to share what they know. Since who you are as an artist is an outgrowth of your experiences, it’s all relevant.”
Then there are the opportunities Goldsmith creates for students to experience practice as a professional in the field, at the same time introducing them to the wider fiber arts community. Certificate program students stage a public exhibition, from curation and scheduling to public relations. Goldsmith has also paired selected fiber art students with clients for a taste of what it’s like to design a rug on commission. The commission goes toward production of the rugs by a manufacturer in Nepal selected by Goldsmith. She doesn’t stop there; she’s also raised funds for students to join her forays to the fiber centers of the world.
Beyond all that, Goldsmith simply remembers what it feels like to be an adult returned to the classroom. “I know what a privilege it is to prioritize learning within the busy life of an adult,” she says, noting that at least half of her students are working full time. She values the huge commitment and lets them know it.
Another thing that surprises Goldsmith? For the last two years in a row, two students have commuted from the Bay Area for her course. Maybe that’s just the community spreading the word.