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Art Education is an Education for Now

March 27, 2018 | SMFA Communications
Taliaferro Jones ’96 reflects on how SMFA and Tufts prepared her to be an artist—and a better global citizen.

“It’s persnickety work,” says Taliaferro Jones when asked about the art of glassmaking. 

A Toronto-based artist, and a 1996 graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) and Tufts University, Jones describes the precise lost-wax process of glass creation that she uses to produce her designs. She crafts a mold, adds glass billits, and heats it in a kiln—a practice Jones describes is “like watching jewels melt.” She explains how she patiently waits for the glass to cool during the annealing process, when a piece may sit for weeks or months. Next comes the joy of cracking the mold, “like opening an egg,” Jones says, to reveal the glass. And finally, Jones will tackle the finishing process, arduously polishing a piece to completion.  

The results of this highly technical method are stunning. Jones’s current body of work, which extends to photography in addition to glass sculpture, reflects the color, light, and movement of the sea. Luminescent blues and greens emote peace even as they reflect the turmoil of cresting and crashing waves. Jones believes water can offer humanity a way to understand our most basic interconnections. “At a particle level we are all the same,” she says. “Like the earth, we are all 70 percent water. It is a unifying particle—and principle.”

Jones’s interest in the connections of the world and its people—and how to express it through art—is what originally drew her to a joint degree program at Tufts and SMFA in the mid-1990s. Originally from California, but attending high school at St. Paul’s boarding school in Concord, N.H., Jones was intrigued by the opportunity to leverage the strengths of both schools.  

Jones pursued a B.F.A. focusing on photography, glass, and mixed media sculpture, and a B.A. in Art History with a minor in Latin Studies. “It was an amazing combination. I am a really curious person, and it was all so fascinating and challenging,” Jones says. She started with an interest in photography, but explains that she was able to delve into other methods. “One of the things I loved about SMFA is that the creative process was taught in an integrative way, which opened me up to the possibility of learning many art-making processes; not all schools offer that.” 

In particular, Jones recalls Professor Micheal Barsanti’s ceramics classes, which included not only technical skill building but also esoteric and philosophical discussions. Photographer Jim Dow opened his studio to Jones and her classmates, and took them on tours that “opened our creative minds,” she says. “The faculty were just stellar.”

Her education was also marked by international experiences, on campus and abroad. “The global perspective that [SMFA and Tufts] offered really appealed to me,” Jones shares. “Many students were either from other places around the world, or really interested in people from different backgrounds and cultures.”

She counts herself lucky to have lived in the Crafts House, a co-op living experience that is still a hallmark of Tufts today, and to have had the city of Boston to explore. “The Fenway area was my playground,” Jones says, and talks fondly of days spent in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum courtyard and nights eating dinner in Little Italy or Chinatown. An interest in Latin American studies prompted Jones to extend her education outside of Boston, and she studied abroad both in Madrid, Spain, and Cuernavaca, Mexico.

After graduation, Jones moved to Canada to continue her training at Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. Though not intending to stay in Canada long, she was soon picked up by a gallery, and began to teach courses in photography and exhibition planning at Sheridan. Jones was asked to project manage the largest foreign exhibition of Canadian Fine Craft ever assembled (at the 2009 Cheongju International Craft Biennale in South Korea), served as executive director of the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition in 2013, and launched a successful Toronto-based studio—among other pursuits.

Nearly 20 years later, she’s established roots in Canada with her Britain-born husband and their two young daughters. Her geographic footprint, though, is much wider. She is a cultural consultant for an upcoming museum project in Costa Blanca, Spain. And she is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies from John Hopkins University. “I’m a type of migratory bird,” she says. “My life and my work are enriched by exploring differences, but I see the world as a unified place.”     

A passionate advocate of arts education, Jones says her critical thinking skills were honed at SMFA. “The world is increasingly more complicated. We need intelligent, out-of-the-box thinkers to solve problems. Where do you learn to have vision? You learn it in art school."

“What the world needs now is more art education,” she says. “An art education is an education for now.”

For the students of today, Jones advises, “Explore as much as you can, find connections, and don’t be myopic. Grow, take humanities courses, and develop an understanding of the human soul. Study poetry, physical art, photography; it will make you a better global citizen.”

Image above: "Plunge". 

To see more of Jones' art, visit taliaferrojones.com.