Keeping the “Folk” in Folk Craft

Courtesy: The Foxfire Museum.

Mike and I spent today editing and copy reading Issue Eleven in anticipation of sending the files off to the printer later this week. As we work through this material with our fine-toothed combs, we are again struck by the inherent humanness that emanates from these stories. This issue is all about people most fundamentally. It can happen that in the course of researching artisans of the past, we turn our subjects of study into objects of study. We think “they” all worked in the same way and for the same reasons, and if we could just figure it out, we’d unlock the mystery. But people don’t work that way. We aren’t that simple, and neither were they. As Elia Bizzarri said in his article in this issue, “[W]hy do I want my ancestors to be so rational, when I’m not all that rational myself?”

In their efforts to catalog craft practices, researchers do, of course, depend upon the similarities that existed between pre-industrial craftsmen, but at the end of the day, it’s the discovered uniquenesses that humanize them. As I wrote in my editor’s letter, “Most [woodworkers of the past] had economic constraints to grapple with, but beyond that basic commonality, artisans made items that met their local communities’ unique preferences and individual needs. This, coupled with the occasional infusion of artistic idiosyncrasy, is what makes pre-industrial furniture making so fascinating. No two chairs are alike because no two artisans are alike.

I am convinced that this inherently human way of working is still worth studying, learning from, and celebrating. It’s not easy being human these days. We live in a world obsessed with hard data, standardized ‘solutions,’ and technocratic policies. Everything must be quantified so that it can be managed. Whatever practice doesn’t fit must be stretched or trimmed. This procrustean monopolization of culture-making affects the way we eat, sleep, love, and work.”

Courtesy: The Foxfire Museum.

All our authors have (unknowingly) woven their own threads into the fabric of this issue. They have succeeded in (as Mike put it) “keeping the folk in folk craft.”

We are humbled and delighted to share these stories with you all. Issue Eleven is a treasure trove.

– Joshua


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