Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Long Time Making

Here I am at almost 2 years old. Just hanging out by the kitchen, playing with blocks. Making a Roman Colosseum or a temple of some sort. Who knows? But I loved to make things, even then. (My mom made the nightgown I'm wearing here.) Mind you, almost everyone I knew made things. Both my grandfathers were engineers, and were constantly tinkering in their garages and workshops building all sorts of things - hydroponic tanks for growing tomatoes, a large smoker for barbecue, electronic gadgets, fatal-looking farm implements. My great-grandmother, as I've said, sewed, crocheted, embroidered, and cooked. My grandmother cooks, my mom cooks, my dad cooks. ( I cook, too. That's a different post entirely.) My mom knitted, crocheted, embroidered, and sews. An aunt embroiders and sews. My uncles both build things all the time. My brother, Nick, cooks and does handcrafts. This, I think, is unusual.

Among those of my generation, handcrafts used to be seen as kitschy and grandmotherly. Among my mother's generation, handcrafts were briefly seen as groovy - before they pursued career and family. Among my grandmother's generation, handcrafts were seen as something that was uncomfortably reminiscent of their childhood years during the Depression - or something only those who were poor pursued. The last 10 years have seen a revival of handcrafting in all three of our generations as well as among those of the next generation. But will it last?

I grew up during a backlash against handcraft during the late 1970s and 1980s. Home-Ec was seriously uncool (I still took it for 3 years.) Shop classes were for dummies (I took them for 2 years.) If you were a serious student, you took art classes if you wanted to make stuff (I took 6 years.) This period was chock-full of crass consumerism, conspicuous consumption, and yuppies who posited that only expensive name-brand goods were worthy of notice. Handmade was definitely OUT.

My mother's generation made stuff in their teens and early twenties in a manic hippie handmade love-fest. Soon after, many abandoned craft in a feminist backlash against all things reminiscent of housewifely duties. Craft was seen as a betrayal of the feminist movement, unless it could transcend the name of craft and be considered ART. The irony inherent in women denigrating women's work instead of valuing it in its own right would later be a central theme in the post-feminist discussions of art vs. craft of my generation.

My grandmother's generation felt the thrill of mass-manufactured goods for the first time in the U.S. Why make when you can buy? Her childhood was spent in the heart of the Depression and her teen years in the middle of World War II. I'm sure many were glad never to have to make or make-do ever again. Handmade objects earned a reputation as things produced by the poor, or something to be made for children, if at all.

The current generation has had the benefit of a world where craft projects and supplies are widely available and where craft is seen as cool. The past few years have even seen an increase in interest in Eco-Friendly materials and monikers. Craft in the last ten years has seen a huge upswing in popularity, even celebrity. But will there be a backlash again? Will the saccharine sweetness of Big Chain Craft Store projects and supplies overrun artisan-produced fabrics, yarns, and other materials as well as the independent shops that stock them? Let's hope not.

I support locally-owned shops for my supplies as much as I possibly can. I also buy fair-trade or locally made materials from these shops. Crafters support a whole chain of people; from the local yarn store owner to the local shepherd to the local fabric shop. These support others in turn. And we make stuff. Glorious stuff, silly stuff, strange stuff, and sublime stuff. We fill our homes and clothe our children. We beautify our environment and amuse our neighbors. Let's hope this lasts.

1 comment:

Nick Ritter said...

"The irony inherent in women denigrating women's work instead of valuing it in its own right would later be a central theme in the post-feminist discussions of art vs. craft of my generation."

Oh, spot on.