Perambulating the Bounds

Monday, June 25, 2007

Crafts Third Stream

A couple of things converged in recent days. On Sunday, the style section of the New York Times had a piece on the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn, a gathering of what you might call DIY crafters. Labels are always tricky. These are people I think of as operating in various corners of fringe culture, affiliated aesthetically with all of the musical successors of punk. Last week I got notice from Ali Bellos about Craft: A Creative Community, the monthly craft fair she organizes (or at least publicizes) that takes place in the parking lot of the Lipstick Lounge. The next one is the afternoon of Sunday, July 15. This is like Nashville’s local version of the fair in Brooklyn. And for good measure, let me throw in running across Tiffany Dyer-Denton’s booth at the American Artisan Craft Fair a week ago on Sunday—she has participated in the Lipstick Lounge event, as well as the Nashville Craft Mafia, a similar grouping.

Seeing Tiffany and fabric doll sculptures at the American Artisan fair surprised me a little, and made me think about the different worlds of crafts. I was at the show with my mother and 3 of her friends, all of whom are jewelers; they were on their way home from the Society of North American Goldsmiths’ annual conference in Memphis. In the world of groups like SNAG, crafts are done by highly trained people, with a hierarchy of success that leads into American Craft Council-sponsored fairs, high end design stores, and inclusion in the collection of the Renwick Museum or the Museum of Art and Design. Crafts in this sense are something you learn in university-level programs.

On the other hand there are the crafty types, who make handmade things with a traditional design sense. It’s the kind of stuff you find in a “craft” store or a handmade gift shop on Main Street in a small town like the one I live in, or at the county fair.

Then there is this new world of crafts, largely self-taught people who start doing crafts with the spirit of DIY music. My friends in the Hawthorne Improvisation Collective in Houston had the belief that you should make music within the means available to you—don’t let technique keep you from making music, use whatever you’ve got. Within the broad visual arts world, you are running across people who seem to just say “why not make this.” They are not hung up on mastering some body of technique first, and only then exhibiting and selling (although many will have plenty of technique). They go ahead and run with their ideas. The aesthetics are also rough in a way that makes sense in comparison to various strains of fringe music and phenomena like self-published magazines and comics. But the aesthetic seems daft in comparison with the refinement of high crafts and the vernacular steadiness of Main Street crafts.

The new crafts people are creating something very much like folk art, put together by members of a community for use by other people in that community. Like our classic ideas of folk art, it is made by people who are not so different than other people in their community (although we are talking about an urban, artistically oriented community).

Like fringe music, these craftspeople are reclaiming the idea of a participatory culture. People make things. They make them based on their own designs. They don’t depend on metropolitan authority to dictate technique or aesthetics, or on distant companies to produce the goods.

It was surprising to see Tiffany’s work at the Centennial Park craft fair, a couple of feet away from a major jeweler like Tom Mann. Tiffany had art training in college, but she got to her current methods of working in fabric through non-institutional channels. She says she grew up around quiltmakers, so part of her background includes traditional family-based learning. And she describes the way she arrived at her current practices in a typically DIY, self-directed way: "About 4 years ago, I decided to pull out some fabric and I started cutting, piecing and stitching together recognizable images to be framed for an art show. I knew at that moment that this would become my true passion. I had wonderful response to this show and my new found love for creating with fiber emerged." You don’t hear “so I went to the Appalachian Center for Crafts to learn how to do this the right way.”

By contrast, jeweler Thomas Mann, one of the most well know people at the fair who had a booth a few away from Tiffany, cites teachers like Bob Ebendorf, Anton Cepka, and Hermann Junger. He also cites modern art movements like Cubism and Futurism, but it wouldn't surprise me to see artists in Craft Creative Community or Nashville Craft Mafia make similar connections.

The third stream of crafts has a strongly youthful energy, uninhibited and idealistic. Art and life seem tightly intertwined, and the artists seem to have a strong internal motive to make things.


  • I saw the blurb you wrote about my show at Zeitgeist in the Scene. Thanks! If you end up seeing it, I would love to hear your impressions. Cheers and have a good weekend.

    By Blogger Sara, at 8:17 PM  

  • Hey Sara, I did see the show, and it looks good. I'm hoping to do a review here. Are the paintings going to stay up through July 7?

    By Blogger David Maddox, at 9:49 PM  

  • Yep, the paintings will be up through July 7. I'm looking forward to your review, whatever angle it takes. Thanks.

    By Blogger Sara, at 11:02 AM  

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