Craft & Politics

Craft & Politics


The postindustrial landscape of Bridgeport, Connecticut, proved to be a surprising source of inspiration for artist Denyse Schmidt.
Photo/Michael Schmelling.

For the first time in 80 years, no incumbent president or vice president is running for the highest office in the land. Come 2009 we will see a sitting senator roll into the White House for the first time since John F. Kennedy took over the Oval Office in 1961. And for the first time in the history of the United States, there is the very real possibility that we will address an African-American as "Mr. President." With an extraordinary primary season behind us and no doubt an equally compelling electoral season ahead, it seems the perfect time to examine the political nature of craft and how it fits into the grand scheme of things.

Perhaps more than other creative undertakings, craft historically has resounded with political implications. However, as the British writer and educator Paul Harper noted at the recent Furniture Society conference in Purchase, New York, "The field doesn't like to speak about its work, so it is a bit ironic that the notion of craft was actually founded as a literary and critical discourse" in response to industrialization. It is craft's role as a critic of the modern world that has seemingly driven the resurgence of interest in the handmade today, as Sabrina Gschwandtner points out in her exploration of the DIY community ("Let 'em Eat Cake," page 62).

While some are attracted to craft for its inherent otherness, others simply want to embrace it for its very essence-craftsmanship-that is the quality of a piece of work as determined by the time, effort and honed skills that go into its production. But craft removed from its political leanings always seems to be missing something, while craft that exists merely as a political statement seems equally lacking.

I'm fascinated by craft's sometimes radical politics but with this issue, we also wanted to explore more subtle variations, like those we found at the Bridgeport, Connecticut, quilt studio of Denyse Schmidt or at the socially enlightened Los Angeles-based company Artecnica ("Craft and Community," page 44), or in the rich craft practices nurtured within the
hallowed halls of the Cranbrook Academy of Art ("Cranbrook, Craft & What the Future May Hold," page 54) or in the multitude of meanings artists can bestow on public spaces (Critic's Corner, page 78). At American Craft we're always in search of balance and in these stories I think we've found it. It is in this balance that I see the opportunity to elevate craft to its proper place in this world-as a uniquely qualified leader and a grounded member of a society that too often seems on the verge of chaos.

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