Why We're Here

National Craftsman Inaugural Issue/1976

The magazine...by David B. Van Dommelen

The article...by Lewis Snyder

The enormous recent interest in crafts and allied arts has attracted attention on local, regional, national and international levels. Numerous groups and organizations have come into existence to correlate the activities of the craftsmen, to publicize their work, and to expand public knowledge. Crafts constitute a unique and influential force in the world of art and design, both at home and abroad.

 

With the quick obsolescence and replacement rates that characterize the products of our society, the mass-produced objects of everyday use make almost no demand on our sensibilities, thus leaving us free from being possessed by possessions. Yet this very freedom leaves us feeling dispossessed and rootless at a time when we need to identify with objects of personal value that define our way of life.

 

Handcrafts today satisfy aesthetic and psychological urgencies rather than functional ones: the craftsman, therefore, engages in a challenge of function versus aesthetics, wherein the value of use becomes a secondary or even arbitrary attribute. The craftsman can now devote his time and talent to creative urges; he need not worry about being a major supplier of utilitarian objects.

 

The product of his “creative urges” is art—and the interest in art in this country today is staggering. On another plane, ironically, the artist-designer-craftsman has become an important figure in some industries. The man of business has become aware that “quality design” is an important selling point, and has turned to the trained craftsman as a source of this design.

Crafts can be viewed not only an art form, but also as an industry with enormous economic potential nationwide. The potential for a significant expansion of the crafts industry clearly exists because of the raw material and the human and physical resources available. The markets for crafts, both local and national, are growing at a tremendous rate.

 

Consequently, as a result of this recent surge and demand for crafts, many needs in the field have become most obvious. Perhaps at the top of the list is the constant need for distinguishing and identifying works of high quality. Public recognition as a serious working professional whose output is important to our society is of direct concern to the craftsman. The last decade has seen progress in this area because of the demand for handmade items, program development, and the identification of crafts as a means of individual creative expression.

 

Even though crafts programs have been expanded in universities, colleges, and art schools, there is a need to develop more programs that go beyond the “how to make it” category on the one hand and the “philosophy of design” on the other. Concurrently, training must be given in the areas of marketing and business. Outside the classroom, there is a need for a total distribution system, on e that would encompass all aspects of the moving crafts to the consumer. The purchase of supplies, the pricing of an object, and the finding of wholesale and retail outlets that display crafts in the proper manner (and don’t require excessive commissions) are constant problems.

 

The craftsman who expects to sell his work is a businessman and needs to acquire basic business skills without hampering his creative process. Even though many groups and organizations are offering seminars and workshops to meet those needs, only a few of their members are usually able to attend. Better ways must be found to educate craftspeople about business techniques, marketing, and technical training.

 

Also a major importance in the crafts field today is the education of the public, who must be made to understand the complex process the craftsman uses to create his product. The establishment of situations where the craftsman can explain contemporary designs and various concepts is essential.

 

In conclusion, the more vital needs of the craftsman today are those of communication and organization. The independent and isolated nature of the craftsman is necessary for creative growth and survival in business, but it tends to make organizations difficult. Thus the need for some method of communication with others having similar problems and success is of vital importance. This has been achieved to a small extent through local guilds, but communication begins to break down rapidly on state and regional levels. Cooperative efforts among craft groups, coupled with practical information, administrative techniques, and political influence are needed.

 

In recognition and response to the state of the crafts across this nation today the National Association of  Handcraftsmen has organized itself to attack these major problems.