Crafty News

Craft in America: Memory

Craft in America

I’m a little late to the game. I’ve only recently become aware of the documentary series Craft In America, which aired on PBS with the episode “Memory” in 2009. Better late than never, right? Luckily, all the episodes are archived and free to watch online!

Through interviews with a 90-year-old woodworker, a southern basket maker, a Native American weaver, a soft-spoken blacksmith from Santa Fe, and a rebellious furniture maker slash sculptor, this first episode painted a colorful and varied picture of American craft traditions.

Admittedly, I was initially disappointed with the show’s focus on conventional forms of studio craft and established craftspeople who’d garnered a notable amount of success in the fine art world. As one whose appreciation for craft developed more recently, amid the indie craft revolution and more commercial DIY movement, I had difficulty at first connecting with these craftspeople’s stories. Fortunately, I quickly recognized the depth of knowledge and insight these expert artisans could offer to younger craftsters and that the craft practices I engage in and value today have deep-rooted, rich, and lively histories.

fiber artist and basket weaver Pat Courtney Gold

{ natural fiber basket by Pat Courtney Gold }  { Pat Courtney Gold harvest cattails }

“Memory” presented beautiful but accessible work to aspire to and absorbing personal narratives to inspire. The weaver, Pat Courtney Gold, holding steadfastly to both her heritage and her individuality, created exquisite baskets that blended traditional Wasco designs with her own aesthetic experimentations. Handcrafted objects, she explained, “tell their own stories, have their own lives.”

Blacksmith Tom Joyce

{ blacksmith Tom Joyce in his studio; image credit: Bear Brandt }

Tom Joyce, the blacksmith, tenderly shared his handicraft—tools and hardware as well as substantial public sculpture made from recycled materials, including a baptismal fountain commissioned by a local church that was forged from salvaged metals donated by the community. The glimpse into this intense, impressive metalcraft was remarkable; the discussion of the “inherited history” of each piece was powerful.

Furniture maker Garry Knox Bennett

{ Ghost Chair #3 by Garry Knox Bennett }  { Garry Knox Bennett in his loft by Joe Samberg }

The candid sculptor/furniture-maker, Garry Knox Bennett, whose work is best described as delightfully irreverent (nonfunctioning chairs and ornately carved, traditional-style tables in garishly bright, clashing colors) was a downright hoot. While explaining how his career began with selling handmade roach clips, he proclaimed, “God bless the hippies—they loved anything ugly.”

In addition to these entertaining stories and inspiring insights, the first episode of Craft in America provided an essential context for contemporary craft. Through “Memory”, I realized that today’s craftspeople must have an awareness of the past—of our country’s craft traditions—to fully appreciate the present state of American craft and to actualize its best possible future. I’m excited to see what the next episode holds!

Crafty News

Cain’s Arcade

So this video has been making the rounds, but it really is adorable. If you have an extra ten minutes, you really should watch it.

When I was little, I used to build what I thought were fairly elaborate castle-like structures in our basement. I’m fairly confident that this kid, Cain, has me beat. The imagination and heart that went into his arcade games is so inspiring.

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Crafty News, Featured, The Business of Making

Who Buys Handmade?

If you’ve been with us for more than a few months, you may remember when I asked you to take a little survey about your Etsy shopping habits. Well, many of you did, and I was forever grateful, because I was able to gather some really interesting information! Though the data was a little skewed–it wasn’t a completely random sampling of Etsy shoppers–I think it still provides a bit of insight about the average craft consumer, their motivations, and their interests in the handmade movement. Taken with a grain of salt, this information could be particularly useful if you sell your own handmade goods on Etsy.

embroidered postcard saying "Buy Handmade"

These results created a profile of the average Etsy consumer. She’s an adult woman, between 25 and 34 years old, and considered a member of the working or middle class. She makes a few Etsy purchases a year, usually jewelry or accessories costing between $21 and $40, and often purchases them as gifts for others. Though she doesn’t sell her own craft, she values handmade goods, enjoying the occasional craft fair, and appreciates the variety that Etsy offers. She’s more likely than her male counterparts to value the eco-friendly goods that Etsy offers, but she finds Etsy’s check-out process less appealing than younger consumers.

The graphs below provide more detail about a few key results.

The majority of respondents were female (84.3%).

All respondents were between 18 and 34 years of age, while the majority (70.6%) were 25-34.

Most respondents made less than $50,000 a year.

Jewelry and accessories are popular selling items on Etsy.

Respondents were more likely to purchase gifts for others than items for themselves.

Respondents were more like to purchase items costing $21 to $40, but items in the $11-20 and $41-60 ranges were also fairly common.

Over half of respondents (51%) attended one or two craft fairs in the last year.

Most respondents (58.8%) do not sell their own handmade goods.

So what can a crafter learn from this data? It’s always important to keep your customer in mind when designing, pricing, and promoting your goods. If you feel that this profile is consistent with your typical customer, below are some tips that might help attract more buyers. These pointers are based on the above information, as well as some more complex statistical analysis I performed in the original case study, but which I omitted from this post for brevity.

  • Utilize social cause marketing messages to leverage the target audience’s appreciation for handmade and eco-friendly product offerings.
  • Feature moderately priced products ($21-$40 range), as products below $5 may not be valuable enough to outweigh shipping costs or other intangible costs (e.g. time, effort, etc), and products above $40 may be too high considering the average consumer’s income bracket.
  • Promote products as “gifts”.
  • Sell products at local craft fairs and markets if possible.
  • Market to possible secondary targets: 18-24 year old women or those who sell their own handmade goods. The latter could be reached through marketing messages that appeal to their sense of community (e.g. through social media or support networks like Etsy groups).
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Why Craft?

{ Full-time Etsy Crafter from Hipster Animals }

I’m more than a little skeptical of broad generation-based generalizations, but this explanation of the increasing importance of handmade craft in our lives is pretty interesting:

It’s part of the American way to get a lot of self-worth from your job. Meanwhile, one of the reasons there aren’t enough of those jobs out there is that America no longer makes enough stuff. Young people feel that void, intrinsically. Making stuff is what got us smiles from our parents and top billing in refrigerator art galleries. And since we are, as a generation, more addicted to positive reinforcement than any before us, and because we have learned firsthand the futility of finding that affirmation through our employers, we have returned to our stuff-making ways, via pursuits easily mocked: the modern-day pickling, the obsessive Etsying, the flower-arranging classes, the knitting resurgence, the Kickstarter funds for art projects of no potential commercial value. The millions upon millions who upload footage of themselves singing or dancing or talking about the news to YouTube. Of course, funny videos and adorable hand-sewn ikat pillows aren’t the only kind of stuff that people are making as a way of coping with harsh economic realities—meth, for instance, comes to mind. But putting aside those darker enterprises, this is a golden age for creativity and knowledge for their own sakes. Our pastimes have become our expressions of mastery, a substitute for the all-consuming career.

Read the full article from New York.

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