Fire. Hammers. A pottery wheel. Some of humanity’s most elemental and primitive tools, yet into the 21st century they remain. And Craft Alliance Program Director Susan Donahue Yates attests that they’re some of the coolest. With each season’s catalog of classes, some of the most popular, according to Yates, let students play with fire, hammer metal into jewelry, or shape a lump of clay into something as fundamentally beautiful as a baby seal mimicking the Mona Lisa’s wry smirk.
At Craft Alliance, the focus is art in all its forms. Whether the tool is the raw flame fusing cut copper or a Mac loaded with Photoshop image-editing software, the intention to inspire and to create remains the same. Its two locations schedule seasonal terms with four- to six-week classes, as well as intensive workshops and children’s classes. Guiding each student along his or her adventure, skilled faculty instruct from experience. Most are working artists who exhibit their work and who have reaped their experience from the trenches of the art world.
Craft Alliance is not just empowering people with knowledge; they are also helping people make mugs, bowls, wooden spinning tops, rings, rugs, and digital photo albums. Many of these things are practical and serve a functional purpose. But many do not—they’re just beautiful things, like vestigial tails. A good number of these pieces are created by hand and are meant to remind us, as Yates remarked, that everyone can do something different from their everyday, workaday lives by adding beauty to a world that truly needs it.
The student and faculty artists backbone the Craft Alliance community, which in 2014 celebrates its 50th anniversary. The Grand Center location represents a regeneration of an arts district already pillared by the Fabulous Fox Theatre, Powell Symphony Hall, and St. Louis University.
The Vino Gallery—located in a renovated police substation in the Central West End—houses an impressive selection of small-production and artisan wines, beers, and other libations amid an ever-evolving collection of local art. The staff guides visitors to the tasting bar or the outdoor patio, allowing guests to sample selections and avoid pouring wines they don’t like into a roommate’s humidifier. Rachael Buehrer, wine enthusiast and educator, and coowner Alex Head, promote informed wine consumption with complimentary tastings after 5 p.m., Monday–Friday, and all day on Saturday. One-hour wine classes lend imbibers further wine expertise, and the wine-of-the-month club helps customers branch out from go-to varietals.
Founded in 1840, McCaughen & Burr is one of the oldest continuously operating galleries west of the Mississippi River, and it specializes in the framing, restoration, and sale of artwork. The gallery’s expert framers work primarily in presenting fine art but can also tastefully imprison diplomas, wedding invitations, and whichever family mementos you’ve decided to hide in acquaintances' attics to confuse their descendants. Fees depend on the size of the piece and the type of frame, generally ranging from under $100 for small pieces of artwork and diplomas to around $300 for larger items such as sports memorabilia.
Laumeier Sculpture Park transports contemporary sculpture and its attendant acolytes from the traditional confines of the museum gallery to an outdoor art sanctuary. Casting Circle members traipse through 105 acres of sculpture by artists such as Tony Tasset, Ernest Trova, and Mark di Suvero before wielding their 10% discount during celebratory sprees at the museum shop. Members also enjoy discounts on iPod-guided audio tours, which fill noggins with tidbits of information during strolls through the park or confuse burglars when played through roof-mounted loudspeakers. Educational events, workshops, and classes dot the park’s schedule, and art camp nurtures the artistic pursuits of children as old as 15 during summertime sessions.