Menushopping cart
Tools for Working Wood
Invest in your craft. Invest in yourself.

JOEL Joel's Blog

Is Craft Relevant?


Is Craft Relevant? 4One of the blogs I regularly read is Robin Wood's blog. Robin (who I don't personally know) is a maker of wooden bowls and plates, made with a foot powered lathe, and he is passionately interested in preserving traditional crafts in England. Not just the tools of the craft, the know how and lore that make it possible to proceed. Woodworking, and the stuff we promote is just one facet, maybe the most popular facet of craft, and working wood is just one of the hundreds of apprenticed crafts that have disappeared. An interesting question to ask is "who cares?"

I think there are at least two answers to this.

- Craft is a touchstone to our roots - to something real and in most cases something local. Just look at Robins bowls. They are production work, but hand production work. Each is slightly different. Because of the cost, being more expensive than a plastic bowl from the local big box store, and because you had to make a decision to buy that bowl from that a person rather than an anonymous entity it says something about you. It feels different in the hand than something massed produced, and it can never be exactly duplicated. Chances are you won't have that many special bowls and if you are like me familiar objects provide comfort and anchor me in place. I've used the same left-handed wooden spoon for over 20 years to make pasta sauce with. I can still remember buying it at a huge crafts show at the armory (possibly - don't remember - made by Barry Gordon ) which I went to with my parents. It will wear out one day but until then I use it, I feel connected to my past, and being left handed it's the perfect tool for me to stir my sauce with.

- Stuff made by highly skilled crafts people maybe the only place for economic development in the future. What I mean by that is that in the first world we are faced with cheaper and cheaper imported consumer goods that basically become commodities. At the same time there are fewer and fewer jobs out there with any meaning. There is no middle to the market. Goods are increasing low end (sometimes marketed as high end but a fancy label isn't a guarantee of something actually fancy) or really high end. The Internet makes it possible for a small manufacturer to precisely reach a worldwide audience. It therefore seems to me that many people, finding no interesting jobs in the mainstream market will try their hand at some craft. Since I think there are enough consumers who like traditional stuff this will be a growing market. We have seen this in the hand tool world with a recent huge revival in high end hand tools, mostly by small vendors. However, frankly, I'm just some guy with a blog. To learn more about worker obsolescence to get the guy's blog and then read this article by the guy with the blog - who also happens to have a Nobel Prize.

So anyway I am following Robin's blog and and happily amazed that his group is starting to have a little traction. I wish we had this sort of foresight in the US. Craft programs have disappeared from schools all over the country and it strikes me we are doing ourselves and our children a real disservice with that.
Join the conversation
09/03/2009 Gary Roberts
How apt and how true. Around 30 years ago there was an abundance of craft shows in the Northeast (US). Most have since gone the way of the dinosaur. We used to buy wood, textiles and ceramic crafts of use in the house and did use them. Some are still in use and loved. Perhaps the youngster internet doomed the shows, and the craftspeople?

You're right on the mark at the current resurgence in craft and in the tools of crafts within the confines of the internet. Forums and email lists that I have followed for years have seen a resurgence in interest and in new members. Which is a Good thing.

IMHO... the more the merrier!

Interesting post on craft, thanks. My interest is craft from
a different angle, how craft develops over life, but there
is a female woodworker who's virtually unknown as far as I
know, here in Ontario where I live. An extremely creative
furniture maker, works as a technician at a community
college where I used to work. She also reticent to the
extreme, so I'd doubt anyone knows about her work. Thought
I'd pass on the link to my own blog, and to a studio
featuring her work. It's an older post, by the way.

Check out the book Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford for a good discussion on the downside of society's getting away from appreciation of work done with the hands and the sharp minds required to guide them.
Comments are closed.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.