Monday, August 18, 2008

needle and thread

Dish towel army in the making

I'm taking a small break from editing and posting my journal entries from India.  I need this small break.  I'm still trying to digest my feelings and views, and reading the journal seems to be taking me back to the beginning of this digestive process.  I will finish sharing it, I just need a bit of time to distance myself from the flood of powerful emotions it invokes.

One of my favorite blogs, Alabama Studio Style, discussed the editorial in August/September 08 issue of American Craft titled "Craft and Politics" by Andrew Wagner.  Upon reading the article and exploring the magazine, I realized what has drawn me into craft as an art and activist form lately.  I had been toying with the idea and concept for sometime, as is evident from my consumption patterns both at home and abroad.  All the gifts I brought back from India were a) handmade, b) a handicraft by definition, c) supporting a local community or collective.  I realized how many people in "industrialized" nations can't even sew on a button if they need to, grow their own food, fix a car, repair their home, cook a healthy meal, etc.  I appreciate these crafts and skills from a place deep and close to my heart.  I was taught to sew and knit at a young age by my Nana who has been developing her own skills her entire life.  She is a perpetual student, teacher, and inspirer.  I have no memories of her without her knitting needles handy, or without a handmade quilt or project present.  I've recently realized how lucky I am to have had such a foundation and a person to pass the craft to me.  While Nana has never described herself as an artist, I'd never hesitate to classify her as one.  Many of her quilts are worthy, in my opinion, of display in the Museum of  the American Quilter's Society.  What I also love about Nana is that she does this for herself.  She's only ever been motivated by the enjoyment and love she's gotten from the process and pride of a finished product.

I've been exposed to the community of people in my own locale who also do these beautiful, practical art forms.  I've signed up for a spinning class at Hank's Yarn and Fiber.  I've created a small militia of hand made dishcloths to replace paper towel.  I'm learning more about fibers with Erin.  And I'm thoroughly enjoying all of it.  It's relaxing, exciting and fun.  I love and feel a sense of pride when I finish something.  I appreciate handmade pieces so much more than anything manufactured I've even purchased.  I'm trying to make everything or buy handmade only.  It's difficult, but I appreciate everything so much more.  I appreciate pot holders, casserole dishes, mugs, spoons, quilts, tables, etc.  There is something strangely elegant and beautiful in the simplicity of it all.  

I feel that an article in American Craft sums the above sentiments better than I've been able to articulate them:

American Craft, Vol. 68, No. 4, Aug/Sept 2008, p. 75
Handcraft, the lore of the substances
By George William Eggers

The increase in the average individual's leisure time is now  creating a sort of vacuum, within which the handcrafts may offer a welcome activity.  But this has been looked upon by some of us as only a negative or, at most, a minor argument for the crafts.  A more valid argument for them would undoubtedly be the desirability of putting the handcrafts on a more solid footing of understanding and interest with the public.  However, it may be that there is still more fundamental reason than either of these.  At least equally worthy of consideration is the possibility of the crafts' filling  growing need in human culture.

More and more, the things that the individual used to make or do are now being supplanted by things purchased in the store, by the substitution of the ready-made.  More and more the natural materials and processes of working them are thus being withdrawn from one's direct, common experience.  One now buys things made of plastic, extruded by machinery in a factory.  Time was then dealing with the qualities of wood, the fibers, clays and metals was part of almost everyone's education (much of this education so informal and incidental to his everyday life that he just took it for granted).  Now this informal education in the handling of material stuffs is slipping out of our common experience.  Our senses, no longer involved and challenged by this contact, tend to lose some of their keenness with respect to them and, as lore of the substances decays, the individual loses more than simple knowledge - he loses some of his effectiveness as a human being.

The handcrafts dramatize this "lore of the substances" - of the potentialities of the fibers, of the various grain of woods, of the plasticity of clays, of the malleability of metals.  To emphasize the handcrafts it to restore these living qualities of material to a position of interest in the human scheme of things.  After all, "reading, writing, and arithmetic" are only a fractional part of man's education.  A sense of the stuff of the world around him and a sensitivity to its wonderful ways are an even more venerable part.  Indeed, without some cultivation and discipline of the sense, the symbolism of reading, writing and arithmetic would itself remain inaccessible.  And it is just such cultivation and discipline which the handcrafts point up.  Seen in this light, they would seem to sum up a pretty wide area of the field of essential education, and thus earn a place of importance in a public museum of arts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nana would be honored to read your thoughts. And they are exactly true. She is an amazing lady! As is the awesome writer of this blog... :)