Crafting New Mediums

Crafting New Mediums

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Vinyl as craft.

DJ Pommes Frites spun entrancing music and the beers on ice were an added bonus to one of my more interesting recent craft fairs. According to the e-mail announcement from Chris and Jennifer Daltry, the owners of What Cheer? Antiques + Vintage and coordinators of the early November Rock & Roll Yard Sale of vinyl records and local DIY craft, the purpose of the fair was to prove that “vinyl is not dead and the DIY handmade movement is raging.” Inspecting the vacant storefront in downtown Providence transformed into an urban yard sale with more than 30 vendors—half music merchants, half DIY artisans and most somewhere in the middle—I wondered: why market vinyl records and handmade art in the same space?

I went to find out. Immediately to the right of my functional pottery booth was a vinyl record enthusiast selling from his personal collection. When I asked which albums he was most proud of, he promptly pulled out early Sinatra. Asked why, my neighbor scratched his chin and took his time to answer. “Because Sinatra was a real craftsman,” he said.

On my left was another vinyl aficionado and record label producer who was happy to explain his collection and showcase his creative album artwork. His company, Tor Johnson Records, produces and distributes local Providence music that is often “loud and heavy” and recorded on beautifully crafted vinyl records. Most are small print editions and many of his products have intricate layers of different colored vinyl with creative, dynamic graphics on both the album and sleeve. This record producer next to me approached his craft as would any artisan: with a keen understanding of his mediums of music and vinyl, creativity and—as Richard Sennett believes—with the desire to do a job well for its own sake.

In contrast, the ceramic work that I was selling at the Rock & Roll Yard Sale was not music-themed. It was simple and functional—jars, mugs and bowls with heavy rims, strong handles, and straightforward designs. My work is informed by an early Arts and Craft Movement that eschewed machines and emerged in reaction to the Industrial Revolution. But here on either side of me were music-lovers collecting, producing and selling craft of a very different kind—created not by hand, but by the work of gigantic industrial presses.

My idea of craft has been informed by populism and nostalgia for an antiquated movement. The definition of craft on display at the Rock & Roll Yard Sale was open-ended, democratic, nonhierarchical. There were DJs spinning records next to knitters, a graphic designer selling robot stickers next to a music-themed magnet maker, and a record producer selling vinyl next to a potter. In this world, the crafts tent is left wide open and hand-made pottery claims no more of a stake on the world of craft than such musicians as Frank Sinatra or Joey Ramone.

Fairs like the Rock & Roll Yard Sale illustrate the groundswell of interest for creative goods made with skill, discipline and a high degree of craftsmanship. As does Etsy, an online craft marketplace which last year grossed $87 million in sales and has already topped $130 million this year. According to Amy Shaw of The Found Curve blog, craft is a dirty word no more. “There are no two ways about it: craftiness is definitely having a moment.”

For a potter like me, rooted in a more traditional crafts movement of a bygone era, this means a broader potential market for my work. It also means sharing the stage and craft venues with nontraditional craftspeople and DIY artisans—whether musicians, record producers or makers of handmade cards. I believe the stage—and the crafts movement itself—is large enough to hold us all.

In addition to enjoying a cold beer and the live music at the fair, I was able to pick up a birthday card for my grandmother. I hope she likes the Sex Pistols. . .

Jeremy Ogusky is a craftsman living in Somerville, MA, producing honest and functional pottery. www.oguskyceramics.com