Your craft

“Funky sculpture at the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware.” Source: The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2018701329/, which says “No known restrictions on publication.”

What’s new?

I subscribe to the magazine American Craft. The Summer 2021 issue has articles on

  • Sylvie Rosenthal who makes sculptures that combine animals and architecture,
  • Detroit metal artist Tiff Massey,
  • Artists whose works educate and advocate for ocean life,
  • Research by Namita Gupta Wiggers on craft products as “social objects that are inscribed with histories and narratives that can tell us something about the world.”
  • The artist in residency program at the Kohler Company in Wisconsin, and
  • Textile florist Yi Hsuan Sung’s use of agar, a high-strength gel made from seaweed.

The theme of this issue is Flourish, about which the editor says:

A flourish is a bold, extravagant gesture. To flourish means to grow or develop in a vigorous way. Flourishing also speaks to having a strong sense of well-being and meaning. So, for this issue, we looked to the craft community to find stories about many ways of flourishing. One thing that became clear when we put this collection of stories together was that flourishing is deeply connected to community.

What does it mean?

The word “craft” is loaded with different meanings and uses. Craft can invite women in (arts and crafts) but can also shut them out (craft workers). Is a creation art or craft? Craft is generally low brow, not high brow. Craft may emphasize function while art emphasizes decoration.

Another article in the Summer 2021 issues,  titled “The Art of the Flourish,” points out that function and decoration can merge. Vintage radiators are designed with fins to maximize surface for radiation of heat to the room, and the result is pleasing to the eye. My partner and I have visited Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill several times and delight in the spare, functional designs there (Shaker Mother Ann Lee said, “Put your hands to work and give your hearts to God”).

Engineers say that their unique function is design, but I have had many delightful conversations with art professors about how the concept of design unites engineering and art, with various combinations of knowledge, skill, and theory required to design. When does someone transition from being an artist to an artisan to a manufacturer? Craft usually involves a handmade object, but all crafters use tools and many use machines.

Why do people craft? Rather than calling humans homo sapiens some prefer homo faber with making, not thinking, as the defining function of modern humans. Humans emerged with the first chip flaked off a stone 2.6 million years ago.  That act was the root of craft, art, and engineering.

What does it mean for you?

For me, one of the unifying concepts in craft is process – how is something made. Design matters, but then the design in the maker’s head has to be made. I enjoy reading American Craft to see what people have crafted but also to see how they crafted it. Another unifying concepts is materials. The article on agar has details on the properties of that material.  I enjoy reading about the materials the crafters use.

For you, I suggest that inspiration can come from many sources. You should be constantly scanning the horizon, in your trade and business publications, for innovations and ideas that will have impact in your industry, but publications far from your field can be inspiring too.

For example, the work of Namita Gupta Wiggers that I mentioned earlier includes her invented word “craftscape” to emphasize the cultural connections represented in a craft object. Her work may illuminate manufacturing work through her ideas about how labor and raw materials are transformed into usable objects. If you seek to create a corporate culture, aspects of her work may spark ideas for you about the deeper meanings of objects for the people in your organization. Culture is not just ideas but also objects.

For another example, the article on the Kohler Company mentions the not uncommon use of their bathtubs as shrines: upended and half buried to enclose a religious figure. Do you know how your products are actually being used?

Print magazines are not, of course, the only way for you to find inspiration. Certainly a deep dive in the rabbit holes of the Internet will uncover much good – and much that is a complete waste of your time. For me, magazines have the advantage of being curated carefully and of being in print. I  linger with a magazine – and coffee – knowing that people spent time thinking, planning, photographing, writing, rewriting, editing, and formatting. American Craft is a well crafted magazine.

Where can you learn more?

American Craft magazine is published by the American Craft Council.

You can search and browse among magazines at Magazines.com, Magazine.store, or Magzter.  The top 10 magazines in the US by circulation include one I had never heard of:  Game Informer Magazine, published by game retailer GameStop. Your local library probably has many magazines for you to dip into; I found American Craft through my library and read it there until I decided I had to have my own copies.

What magazines do you subscribe to? I subscribe to Make, New Scientist, and Smithsonian, among others, in addition to receiving magazines and journals from my professional societies, ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education),  IISE  (Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers) and ASQ (American Society for Quality). I also receive several publications from genealogical societies, to support my genealogical hobby.

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