Society of Contemporary Craft not entirely ‘DIY’ approach to art


In the emerging world of contemporary craft and do-it-yourself projects, schools focusing on crafts and non-traditional artistry like the Society for Contemporary Craft make a case for not always going it alone. 

Tucked away in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, it’s a hidden gem for crafters and art entrepreneurs alike. The Society for Contemporary Craft (SCC) is a non-profit, visual arts organization that focuses on areas in fine metals, ceramics, wood, glass, paper arts, fibers, mixed media and more.

In 1971, Elizabeth R. Raphael opened The Store for Arts and Crafts and People-Made Things in Verona, Pa. Fifteen years later, Raphael’s store made its way to the Strip District and was renamed The Society for Contemporary Craft.  

Since then, the SCC has only increased in size and popularity. In 2001, it experienced major expansions and renovations that made it the 4,000-square-foot art exhibition and education center it is today.

Not only does the SCC include a large first floor exhibition and store space that features and sells regional and national artists’ work, but also three large working studios where classes and open studios take place. 

In addition to its Smallman Street location, the SCC has a satellite gallery at the BNY Mellon Center, which includes changing exhibitions.

The SCC features the work of more than 2,000 artists and offers classes and workshops to children, beginner through advanced artisans and even for those who just want to try something new. The students who take classes and utilize the SCC’s resources have a variety of backgrounds. 

Francis Balog, in particular, did not have much background in contemporary craft until recently. A graduate from Duquesne with a degree in pharmacy, Balog served more than 22 years in the Army and Army Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. 

He creates jewelry through his work with metals and stones and frequents the SCC’s open studios to “make use of its resources and work space”. He does sell some of his work, but not as a living, and generally donates his work to charity or gives it to family and friends.

He and his wife, Paula, have been active supporters of various arts through conservancy and community organizations. He enjoys working with metals, such as sterling silver and copper, and tumble polishing stone. 

“I prefer to work with sterling silver but also use copper. My main focus has been on the use of stones that have been polished or cut into cabochons for earrings and pendants,” Balog said.

Linda Van Gehuchten frequents the SCC as a teacher and specializes in various kind of wood crafting and turning.

Her focus has been furniture accessories and wood-turned objects, but she has also turned plastic and worked with laminates. She has been working with wood since her graduation in 1973 and makes her sole living by teaching and selling her work at various galleries in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. 

In terms of decorative arts versus the fine arts, Van Gehuchten believes that decorative arts is associated with function and use. 

“Design is a procedure to modify the look of its appearance and to be useful,” Van Gehuchten said. “[Fine art] has different objectives that relate to culture and reflections on what is going on at the time.” 

There is currently an exhibition called “Transformation 9: Contemporary Works in Ceramics,” which will remain in the main gallery on 2100 Smallman St. until Jan. 3, 2015, and features 31 artists. This particular exhibition explores one of the oldest questions of the craft world: What is contemporary craft? 

Two future exhibitions are planned for the main gallery — “Bridge 13” will showcase solo shows and was established in 1988 to heighten the public’s awareness of contemporary craft artists and breaking down barriers between areas of craft and fine art. It will open on Jan. 23, 2015.

The SCC is involved with several community outreach programs in addition to the classes it offers to the general public. 

These programs address four specific target audiences: at-risk children and their families, the homeless, literacy students and the elderly. They invite artists of all ages, demographics and varying skills to focus on the creative process, beauty, possibilities, and diversity of craft and artistry.

The SCC offers many opportunities for emerging and student artists, such as exhibition space, scholarships, a year-long apprenticeship and a summer artist residency. 

The SCC’s current studio apprentice, Jenny Soracco, is a 2014 graduate of Carnegie Mellon with degrees in sculpture, installation and site-work, but she primarily prefers to work with fine metals. Soracco also minored in global studies, which influences her work in an anthropological sense. 

She assists visiting artists, and through this experience, learns a variety of other mediums taught at the SCC. There are about four to five artists every season, and several of them are recurring visitors who teach different classes. 

“Contemporary craft maintains a specific and poignant relationship to the material, often dialoguing with the rich history of the material and those who manipulate it,” Soracco said.