Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns once said that we can learn as much about history by reading about the present as we can learn about the present by reading history. We would add that by digging through American craft history – a rich and complicated topic that touches almost every aspect of society – and drawing comparisons to America’s craft present, we can better understand how, as Americans, we are connected across time, geography, and difference.
In this issue, we share stories of craft legacies that will help us all to better comprehend how people, movements, and events today fit within the longer timeline of humanity. In these stories are lessons that will help us to better comprehend our present and that provide inspiration for the future.
We also celebrate the 2020 American Craft Council Awards honorees, a group of dynamic artists and leaders in craft who have devoted more than 25 years to the field and made exceptional contributions. In the pages of this issue, we invite you to explore their work – from kinetic wood sculpture with biting commentary to gorgeous yet critical expressions in metal to beaded installations speaking out against violence, racism, and misogyny.
↑ For Unraveling (2015 – present), 2020 American Craft Council Fellow Sonya Clark works with gallery and museum audiences to unravel a Confederate battle flag thread by thread, shoulder to shoulder.
Photo: Taylor Dabney
We speak with writer and curator Glenn Adamson about his forthcoming book Craft: An American History, an attempt to expand upon the understanding of America’s past by taking a nuanced look at the role makers have played in it. He touches on why handwork, with all of its ongoing traditions, can play a vital role in dismantling the toxic divisiveness of American culture today.
“Craft is one of very few cultural phenomena that is shared across a wide section of the American population – regardless of political party, regardless of geography,” Adamson says. “Being ‘pro-craft’ doesn’t necessarily commit you to a particular side of most political questions. It crosses over a lot of cultural battle lines.”
So there’s opportunity for healing and connection through craft. With its roots in survival, it links us all – from the maker of traditional hickory lacrosse sticks to the emerging artist bridging glass and video game design, from the idealism of the Shaker craftspeople and their attempt at utopia to the young makers designing and building change with their communities.
In discovering and reading about these makers and their influence, we can ask ourselves, what do we want our own craft legacies to be?
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