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Leading in Central Ma: Worcester Center for Crafts’ Honee A. Hess

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Honee A. Hess believes that different is just, well, different. Not bad, not good, just different. So the fact that she has lived in three seemingly disparate places--New Orleans (where she grew up), Iowa City (where she spent 8 years at the University of Iowa Museum of Art), and Worcester—and confesses to loving all of them, is a testament to that belief. A native of New Orleans, Hess completed her undergraduate education at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in studio art and English. An accidental job at the New Orleans Museum of Art motivated her to complete her graduate degree at Tulane University and begin her art museum career at NOMA where she worked on the “Treasures of Tutankhamun” exhibition among others. She was Curator of Education at the University of Iowa Museum of Art before moving to Worcester to take the position of Director of Education at the Worcester Art Museum. Today she leads the Worcester Center for Crafts, an organization founded in 1856 and most recently affiliated with Worcester State University, as Executive Director. She lives in downtown Worcester in the Crown Hill Historic District.

A conversation with Honee A. Hess

SW: How did your career begin and where?

HH: I quit my first post-college job after three months and then found graduate school to not be motivating, so I got a job as a grant assistant at the New Orleans Museum of Art working in the Education Department. There I saw the perfect opportunity to blend my love of art, my interest in teaching, and my desire to do something that might have some kind of community impact. So I worked at NOMA and continued my graduate studies in art history and education so I could make a career out of Museum Education.

SW: What led you to your current career path as Executive Director of Worcester Center for Crafts?

HH: I was very fortunate that at the same time that my job as Director of Education at the Worcester Art Museum was eliminated, the job as Executive Director at the Worcester Center for Crafts opened up. My work at WAM, although technically labeled “museum education,” prepared me as an arts administrator and so the transition to Executive Director here at WCC was perfect.

SW: Worcester Center for Crafts has partnered with Worcester State University. What does that mean for the center?

HH: Our affiliation with WSU means several things including the location of the WSU visual arts classes in studios at the Crafts Center. These Visual and Performing Arts students and faculty bring great energy to the Center and along with our own students keep us hopping! WSU is supportive of our mission to sustain craft as a vital part of our community and society and they help support us by handling many of the back-office functions of a small non-profit which is so terrific. We assist WSU with reaching out to enrich the community. We also are always trying to brainstorm how the Worcester Center for Crafts can help support the wonderful academic work of WSU and vice versa. Currently we are providing work experiences for several students, and getting students involved in the interpretation of our upcoming exhibition, ¡CARNAVAL!, which opens in January. In addition, each semester we offer a Ceramics Sculpture class and an Introduction to Glass Blowing class to WSU students.

SW: Can you describe what Worcester Center for Crafts offers the community?

HH: We ARE a community place. We offer classes and workshops in Glass (at our New Street Glass Studio), Ceramics, Jewelry-making, Metals, and Photography for adults, teens and families. We often have programs that explore an aspect of a craft, like an artist talk we have coming up on November 8 on Glass Paperweight Art. We work with youth groups in short-term experiences that introduce them to the idea of making and creating, and to the skills that we teach through craft. We are currently collaborating with THINKTank on classes that teach science through metal-work and glass-making to teens. We support other craft groups, like RAW (Refugee Artisans of Worcester). We use our Gallery and Gallery Store to give visibility to wonderful artists, part of the community who are creatively continuing the tradition of American hand-made objects. And, the Gallery exhibits bring another public dimension to the continuing tradition of craft, artists, and ideas in our area. We also organize a huge Holiday Festival of Crafts each year that brings 60+ artists under one roof for three days of exposure and sales. This year’s Festival is November 29, 30 and December 1.

SW: What accomplishments are you proudest of?

HH: Being a true friend is my proudest accomplishment, I think. In my work, helping other people grow and develop is what I’m grateful that I can do. Here at the Worcester Center for Craft I am proud of helping the Center move forward in reestablishing itself as one of Worcester’s gems, which it is! Did you know it was founded in 1856?

SW: Can you describe one day in the life of Honee A. Hess?

HH: None of my days are the same. Today, I started my day by dealing with fumes from a renovation project wafting in through the building; then planning the de-installation with the Gallery Director Candace Casey of our most recently closed show; then a few human resource issues to discuss with other staff; then I like to walk around the studios and see what is happening; then I might be soliciting a sponsor—like UniBank which is sponsoring our Holiday Festival. Every day is different. I do a lot of writing, much more writing than actual art making! Also, public speaking. Knowing how to communicate to different people is an essential skill.

SW: What is the something that few p eo p le know about you?

HH: I’m actually very shy.

SW: Who has been your greatest influence?

HH: I come from a very big, close family and grew up in New Orleans. My parents were beacons of hope and progressive thinking for me; my extended family was supportive of everything I did; New Orleans taught me to love family, food and fun…and to sometimes color outside of the lines. Those were my biggest influences. But I must interject that I feel like the person who I am now is a progressively changing culmination of everyone who I have ever met—they have all influenced me.

SW: What would you like most to communicate to young men and women in Central MA considering a career in art?

HH: Whatever you do, follow your heart—it may take a few tries, but follow your heart. Trite but true because you spend a lot of time and energy at work and unless your plan is to plow through 20 years of something you don’t like doing so you can retire early and do what you want to do—follow your heart. And don’t be afraid to experiment and walk through doors that might not seem perfect. You might make them perfect.

SW: Any special plans for the future?

HH: Ironically considering that I grew up in New Orleans, I am gearing up for our winter show ¡CARNAVAL! that depicts how the tradition of carnival, that period of time leading up to the somber time of Lent, is interpreted around the world. We have a scholar coming to talk about the Black Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans, a speaker coming to talk about masking in Venice, we’re working with the Worcester Carribean-American Carnival Association to represent their traditions, I’m collaborating with the public Library, we’re planning a big party (Feb. 1), and we’ll have a big Carnival Day for the whole family. So that’s my short-term future plans. Long-term future plans include moving the Glass Studio onto the Crafts Center campus and leaving the Worcester Center for Crafts a stronger, vital part of the community.


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Related Slideshow: Best Trick or Treat Spots in Central Mass.

It's Halloween, and we've got a round-up of what are considered the best spots for lots of great decorating, tons of jack o' lanterns, and great candy houses. Get your best costume on and enjoy the holiday!

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Worcester's West Side

One of the most charming neighborhoods in Worcester, complete with older homes and tree lined streets, the West Side can become delightfully spooky on Halloween. The houses may be slightly spaced apart, but the views of the neighborhood will make the increased "walking to candy" ratio well worth it.

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One of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of Central Mass, Charlton's Carroll Hill Estates is known for its quaint charm and awesome trick or treating. Neighboring towns are said to have slightly larger houses, but in terms of bang for your buck, it's hard to beat Carroll Hill.

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Fitchburg's Main Street

Although this year's city wide Halloween Trick or Treat will take place throughout all of Fitchburg, trick-or-treaters will most definitely want to check out Main Street. Not only does this notable neighborhood feature some of the city's most historic homes, it even contains the Fitchburg Historical Society. If you wish to visit Main Street this Halloween be sure to arrive between the city's designated trick-or-treat hours of 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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Auburn Mall

Auburn Mall will host a fun and frightening evening of Halloween fun from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Participants are encouraged to come dressed in their Halloween costume and trick-or-treat throughout the mall at participating retailers that have a ‘Pumpkin’ sign in the window. Plus, trick-or-treaters can enjoy Halloween arts and crafts activities. This is a free event.

Please note that individuals may not wear face masks, carry weapons or have fully painted faces.

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Halloween Outlet

Halloween Outlet, which is billed as the world's largest halloween store, will host a trick-or-treating event from 4:30 pm. to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. Participants will receive candy, as well as have the opportunity to get a spooktacular photo taken.

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Worcester County Sheriff

Although most people might think that a Halloween-night visit to the police station is a bad thing, the Worcester County Sheriff's Office is hosting a candy screening event on Thursday starting at 5 p.m. Trick-or-treaters are encouraged to bring their candy to the sheriff's office to have it x-rayed to ensure that it's safe to eat.


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