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An Artist’s Tools + Studio as Creative Identity

CERF+’s new resource, Crafting Your Legacy: Putting Your Non-Artistic Assets to Work in an Estate Plan, provides a high level overview of a seldom thought about but integral aspect of artistic practice. An artist’s tools, books, materials, research and other important studio contents are of great value. They can support, in fact, satisfy legacy objectives and also shed light on your own unique creative process and animate that journey.

Curator Mark Leach visits an artist in her glass studio.

Curator Mark Leach visits a glass studio.

Throughout my curatorial career, I’ve visited countless artists in their studios to conduct interviews and critiques. Each experience helped me develop useful perspectives on an artist’s creative and technical process. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the value of preserving an artist’s unique journey through the contents of their studio.

Many of these artists are now well into their fifth or sixth decade of studio practice, and facing a very different creative challenge:  How will or should their lifetime of making art become a permanent legacy? Is it worth the effort to preserve a life’s work? What is the process? If so, is it expensive, just what are my available assets and how might they be used to accomplish such objectives?

The fate of an artist’s work is so often the primary focus in preparing one’s legacy or estate. Yet, the tools and techniques that went into their art making also need to be considered for their significance and value; they may be a primary hallmark of a creative legacy.  When tools to suit a desired outcome didn’t exist, for example, artists frequently customized items they had purchased or inherited. Some fabricated their own or even invented new machinery.

Documenting one’s tools and creating an inventory linked to the development of one’s process are of immense value to curators, historians, and young artists. The tools, equipment, books, and other assets so vital to a studio practice can be “heirlooms” passed to the next generation for their artistic development.

Legacy making should be as personal—and creative—as art making.   It affords artists the chance to think holistically about all the dimensions of a visual arts career and tell their full artistic story.

Mark Leach, who has served as executive director of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem and was founding director of the Mint Museum of Craft & Design, writes about the visual arts, and is an independent curator and consultant.

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