Craft & Material Studies


Christopher Donald

Vietnam Library Association

Co-founder/Chief executive officer

As Christopher Donald worked on fiber design and ceramics projects, he never imagined he would utilize the skills he was learning to write a novel, edit and layout a popular magazine, teach courses at Boston University or open libraries in Vietnam. Today, the determined artist considers nothing unimaginable.

"The crafts program in particular emphasized problem solving and attention to detail," said Donald. "These are skills which are universally useful and things that many people allow to slide. Being someone who is focused on producing not just quality but excellence in everything I do has given me an edge. I think the influence of my time at CCS had a lot to do with developing those traits.

"I'm a second generation CCS alum. My parents met at the College when it was still the Society for Arts and Crafts. My father taught graphic design courses at the campus for 15 years. I was lucky enough to attend while some of the instructors who taught my parents were still there: Russel Keeter, Bill Gerard (who is my Godfather), and Tony Williams. Bill in particular helped me balance what I was learning in crafts with a particular fine arts refinement."

Donald balances his time between working as a HIPAA Security Analyst (Information Security) at Boston University and chief executive officer of the Vietnam Library Association (VLA), an organization he co-founded with Hao Minh Nguyen. VLA's mission is to build and institute a public library system in southern Vietnam. In his role, Donald focuses on the fundraising, public relations and program development aspects of the association.

"My experience lends itself more to developing the look and feel of the organization and to creating our public relations materials and documentation," Donald said. "I work at identifying potential funding sources and reaching out to our donors. I make and conduct our presentations and maintain the public face of VLA through our Web site and MySpace page. I might develop the basic structure for, say, our upcoming collaboration with MIT, Architects Abroad, which is a program where we will send 10 MIT architecture students to Vietnam to work with an equal number of Vietnamese architecture students and the local community to develop their library collaboratively. Hao builds the business 'bones' into the project. Then I push it to the businesses and individuals who will fund it."

Donald's passion for cultivation has collided with his artistic talents on several occasions. At home, he grows and styles bonsai trees and creates the pots for them. One of his new gardens features a Japanese style semi-raised pond to house his collection of fancy goldfish, which include Ryukins, Black Moors, Panda Moors, a lemon-headed Oranda and a few Ranchus. The artist also worked as an editor and Web master for Bonsai Today, the world's leading bonsai magazine written in English.

"The experience gave me the opportunity to use my creative skills for their Web design and magazine layouts, and my writing skills as an editor," said Donald. "In general I like work that lets me use multiple skills at the same time. In my ceramics classes I'm known for having great presentations and handouts; in IT I'm known for having good training materials. People are often surprised that the VLA CEO is the one doing Web design and graphics. It's nice to stay busy in multiple disciplines."

Despite his career, work with the VLA, and active bonsai interest, Donald's love for ceramics has not been lost. Once the head of pottery in Greenfield Village, he now teaches ceramics at Boston University - passing on the knowledge and work ethic that was instilled in him by his instructors back in Detroit.

"I began taking ceramics classes the first year Tom Phardel was in charge of the program," Donald said. "Tom is still one of the hardest working people I've ever known and he was a real inspiration as a craftsperson and a teacher. My teaching style actually bears a strong resemblance to his. I also had Marie Woo as one of my first wheel throwing teachers. I still tell my students stories about her as she was such a strong personality and talented artist."