Sunday, September 12, 2010

summer reading: Craft Corps: Documenting the Craft Revolution

Summer reading is something I've kept up even though I've been out of school longer than I was ever in it ... although I usually have a book going at all times, I do go through more during the summer.  Perhaps it's the extra hours of daylight - who knows?  But this one came with the assignment of talking about it, and so I will.

I received a copy of Vickie Howell's Craft Corps (published by Lark Books) a couple of months ago, and through the recent moving, production, shows and all of life's distractions, it's been a fun little retreat to read about all kinds of crafty folk, how they got started, what motivates and inspires them, etc.  It's been an interesting read too as I am in a city and region that is brimming with crafty folk of all kinds, and when I saw the title I expected I'd know most if not all of the names in the book ... not so!

Vickie Howell, author of Craft Corps
Part of that could be that many are from or based on the west coast or in Texas, and I know from my own travels and addresses in various cities that each city and region has its own flavor in arts and crafts, much like varying neighborhoods in each of those cities - each city's Chinatown or Little Italy will have the very best of what it has, which may be very different from those in the next city.  And while several of the talented people profiled have had or currently have shows on cable, I'm cable-free so except for a few nationally known names, these were all new people to me (and most of the well-known crafters, being outside the medium/materials I work in, were also new to me), so I got to 'meet' a lot of cool, crafty folk!   And you know that every review is given through the perspective of the one doing the review, so you'll see I can't help but constantly refer back to the craft community around me as I go through this book - don't get it or not get it based on what you read here, this is my own conversation with myself about it. You should read it too and join the conversation!

It's always fun to read about other artists and how they work - what moves them, what scares them, what  blows their skirts up.  And of course if we artists don't love talking about ourselves, we do love talking about our work, which is the next best way to get us to talk about ourselves.  I know this is how I felt when I did an interview myself for Big Fat Art Cloth, which is the blog of art therapist and textile artist K. Crane in Lexington.
Big Fat Art Cloth recently
got some blog love

She's developing a series of interviews with artists in all disciplines, and she's asking artists the questions I think she asks herself, and seeing different artists answer similar questions is always illuminating and entertaining (well at least for other artists).  I think we artists always want to know how it is for others around us, and the cool thing about the crafting community is that it includes every form of art you can find - if there's an artist, there's a craft involved, and we all want to know what the other is doing, how they're doing it, and what they go through in the process.

See how I relate back to my own craft community?  It'll keep happening - that's the glory of the craft community I think, the global appeal and local connection.  That and I tend to ramble... oh look, something shiny!

At the Crafty Chica's blog site
(she's featured in the book),
you can learn how to make a wall sconce
out of a plastic shopping bag - awesome! 
The questions asked in Craft Corps are fairly general among all the artists with some more specific for those with more specific areas, and that same entertainment level is there in learning about a first craft memory or first 'break' into the business of craft.  If you've ever had any crafty tendencies, you can't help but ask yourself the questions as you read along.  Without exception, everyone in the book had a crafty childhood of some sort, some with artistic and supportive families, others crafting in spite of their surroundings.  Some had more traditional and/or corporate lives before they decided to dive into the craft world full time, and some dove in with the cushion of the former life helping them, others merely with the belief that only by jumping would the net then appear (I can relate to those folks).  They all started with a great love of making things, and along their paths in life they found themselves eventually drawn back to a base calling to create.  It's always inspiring to hear those stories!

Project Runway winner and master crafter
Jay McCarroll is also profiled...
DC peeps will find him and his cool designs
 at the Oct. 2 Crafty Bastard.
Many of the folks profiled are somehow related to each other, either geographically or through their media work on cable stations with their own crafting shows or in various crafting groups.  Working in a region of indie crafters and self-starters, it's an interesting study to compare the paths of those I read about with those around me.  I do know some local crafty folk who have put together shows for the local cable station, some who have produced shows with growing popularity, those who meet under the umbrella of various crafting groups, and some quite frankly who I'm shocked to find absent from the national stage.  And yet there is a thread of connection throughout the craft community here as in the book - I think if you find two crafters who don't know each other, you'd find a connection in less than six degrees.  Then again I think that's true of any two people in Asheville, so it's all relative to your environment, and I guess to me that also means there are many more chapters to this book that could be written.

I know in every corner of the planet there are volumes' worth of people who are crafting from the most quiet level of basement/bedroom tatting to indie-designer to Lady GaGa's personal stylist (ok that's not my medium but how crazy fun would that be?!).

Lady GaGa is working with
some very crafty people...
So overall, while I was reading the main interviews and profiles of these very talented, creative and crafty individuals, I was enjoying the personal stories, but being a crafty person who plays with clay, I had hoped for more than the one featured artist in my medium.

Garth Johnson
'art masquerading as craft, craft masquerading as art'
And then there is an underlying question throughout the interviews about the age-old question of 'art' vs. 'craft'. For me, every art is a craft, while whether craft is art is decided subjectively, which is another question for another time. Garth Johnson, profiled in the book, runs a very fun blog that literally gives the finger to anyone taking that argument too seriously.  I love that, but I also found myself reflecting on another comparison within the clay world.  I've seen and heard the opinion in many cities and in many variations that 'if it's sculpture, it's art; if it's functional; it's craft' which also should determine the worth and value.  Refer to my comment on art vs. craft to know where I stand, and then go read Garth's blog.   Sometimes it's hard to eschew labels and semantic constraints when it just swims all around you.  While I know the image of 'crafters' has widely been with the indie/underground artists and is accepted to include whimsy, shock, unexpected pairings and any other number of 'odd' assemblages, I wonder...if a beautiful pair of earrings is crafting, and if a lovely and very cool hand sewn apron or dress is crafting, cannot a beautifully decorated, hand made plate also be crafting as much as the beautifully decorated, hand made plate with an accent of astro turf and baby teeth (not seen in the book, just an extrapolation on the question)?   hmmmm.... including this particular clay artist in the interviews is a good statement on that very question.

RetroCrafts, by Suzie Millions
As I said, there are many more chapters, and as I read each interview,  I was also kind of writing the version in my head that would include the folks I know (including but certainly not limited to):

incredible artists/crafters like Brooke Priddy, exquisite designer and owner of Ship to Shore, Suzie Millions of .. just about every cool craft known (and who has written books of her own),  Carol Motley of Bury Me Naturally, making the most personal kind of craft imaginable, each of the dedicated artists and crafters who sat in the rain for this weekend's 2nd Saturday Artist Market hawking their wares, and of course clay crafters like ... well, ok, me if I'm writing the book, Becca Floyd who creates layers of texture with stamps and glaze in her functional ware, The Button Florist Celia Barbieri who makes bouquets that never die...

potter heather tinnaro with
Empty Bowls founder John Hartom

crafters who spread the love like the artists and crafters involved in the annual Asheville Empty Bowls Project, including Empty Bowls founders John Hartom and Lisa Blackburn, everyone at the newly minted Dry Goods Shop (home of the United Craft Front) where you can either bring your craft for guidance and community or go learn it from the start, Laurie Corral of Asheville Bookworks, where letter press and hand made books come alive for the experienced and the newly smitten...

ubiquitous Chocolate Lounge plug...
this is the Theros, Orange & Fennel Truffle.
Seriously crafty little nugget of bliss.

and how about Dan and Jael Rattigan of French Broad Chocolate Lounge (seriously, can she write a post without a ChoLo shout out?, no.),  Jody  Rhoden of Short Street Cakes (who is also on a tour of Cake Ladies for her own book),  Suzy Phillips of Gypsy Queen Cuisine, potentially Zeytoon and hopefully soon the coolest mobile kitchen serving the best hand-crafted savories you've ever tasted (you think craft can't be edible? why do they call it craft services?)

Like I said, there are many more chapters to be written and new ones in development every day, and each interview I read made me think of ten more crafty folk I know - I bet you know some too.  And those I listed above merely scratch the surface and that's just here in Asheville.  I could come up with equally long lists for Atlanta, Chicago and DC (my former resident cities), and don't even get me started on what's going on in my home state of Vermont - the craft movement is indeed alive, growing and thriving.  If you don't see it all around you, you're just not paying attention.

actually, click here
Meanwhile, back at Craft Corps (oh right, we were talking about the book!) a lovely compliment to the conversations with crafters is the inclusion of "Words to Craft By", which fills in the pages between interviews with mini profiles of crafters from around the continent.  These tidbits were gathered at the Craft Corps blog site, where crafters of every size, shape, color and material come to share their crafty selves, and where Vickie Howell has amassed a true army of crafters.  This is a good place to go to see and feel that ground swell of craftiness throughout the country.  A reclaiming of the term Hand Made as a badge of honor, not a quiet excuse for lacking a mass-marketed label or factory stamp 'as seen on tv'.  Long live the crafters!

Pick up a copy of Craft Corps and get your own crafty mojo bubbling!  And...if you come see me at Echo Gallery at Biltmore Park next Friday or Saturday (September 17 or 18) and are the first one to say you saw it here, you can have my dog-eared copy to read yourself!  And in the spirit of true craft-hood, I'll just ask you to pass it on to the next crafter you see after you finish. Unless of course you use it to create an incredible work of craft ... like a chandelier (no, too martha...), or perhaps a yurt for your dog (now that's a good thing!).  Go get yer craft on!  peace.