Jim Cooper, 13th Floor Buddha, detail

SDA Book Club: “Craft: An American History” reviewed by Faith Hagenhofer

This month’s addition to the SDA Book Club is Craft: An American History by Glenn Adamson and reviewed by contributing author, Faith Hagenhofer!

Having just read a book that proposed Fibers as the window through which to view all progresses in Western Civilization, Craft: An American History, by Glenn Adamson, landed on my desk. In it I find a lens focusing craft materials and skills, and the resultant objects and their makers as perhaps THE central activity in the making of America. This single-country view doesn’t preclude the acts of empire–resource extraction, genocides, colonization and slavery practices–that have made Empire possible, but rather addresses these while thinking about the contexts of craft at specific moments and on this specific land. As such Craft: An American History is told chronologically.

Because this is a history of “America” as seen through a particular perspective it is fitting that the overarching name for that lens is CRAFT. This is because the boulevard view of activities Adamson is describing include activities we would associate with art as well as those we would associate with manufacture, even mass production. It would actually be both awkward and perhaps less engaging to say that this is a history of DESIGNING & MAKING, though the landscapes these encompass and their relationships with mind driven hands is exactly where reading Craft takes us.

Many skills and most of the craft-associated materials are included in this book, with none privileged–ceramics, wood, fiber, metal, glass, and others–except where the maker is singled out. This is what I especially appreciate–the many long and short portraits of the makers themselves, the biographical depictions of makers acting collectively, the inclusion of places and ways where knowledge of skilled work has been passed on, and the generous and grateful nods to labor all along the historical road. Adamson also doesn’t shy from addressing fraught places of racial, gender, opportunity, and economic inequity in US history, the effect on individuals and groups of makers, and the subsequent loss to craft in general. You will find this book to be superbly researched and well footnoted too, which is where I go when my interests are piqued. But, since, as Joe Strummer of the Clash says, “the future is unwritten”, do read through the last chapter, aptly titled “Can Craft Save America?”.

Faith Hagenhoferis a fiber artist, shepherd, retired librarian, and has been involved with Surface Design Association for more than a dozen years. She serves as the South Puget Sound (Washington, US) SDA contact.

  • Publisher: Bloomsbury (buy it here)
  • Date: January 2021
  • ISBN: 9781635574586

If you’ve read this book, leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Do you have a recommendation for a recent fiber-related book you think should be included in SDA’s Book Club? Email SDA’s Managing Editor, Lauren Sinner, to let her know!

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