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American Craft Magazine August/September 2011

Time Machine

In 1941, Aileen Osborn Webb's Handcraft Cooperative League distributed the first issue of a yet-to-be-named newsletter that would soon become Craft Horizons magazine. It set forth a bold creed on the value of craft. Photos courtesy of ACC archives.
In 1941, Aileen Osborn Webb's Handcraft Cooperative League distributed the first issue of a yet-to-be-named newsletter that would soon become Craft Horizons magazine. It set forth a bold creed on the value of craft. Photos courtesy of ACC archives.
Photo gallery (3 images)

The buzzword around these parts for several months has been timeline. As in: "What percentage of the pictures are in for the timeline?" and "Um, is there space for 7,000 words in the timeline?" and the line that makes me most uncomfortable, "Whose idea was this timeline, anyway?"

We built this issue around our "70 Years of Making" timeline, which is our way of marking American Craft's 70th anniversary. It's been a gargantuan undertaking for our tiny staff, even more than we anticipated going in.

First, we identified and wooed more than a dozen contributors to help us figure out what entries - shows, technical advances, breakthrough artists, books, institutions, etc. - to include. Then we worked with those experts to whittle down their lists and set priorities - which, frankly, nobody was eager to do. (Would you want to pick the 10 most important events of the past 70 years?)

Then came weeks of photo research and, because we're a nonprofit with a modest budget, lots of negotiation with people who had the images we needed. ("I know you usually get $300 for a photo of such-and-such, but would you take $150?") When you need permission to use dozens upon dozens of images, you make a lot of calls and send a lot of emails.

Let's not even talk about fact-checking. One source says a group was founded in 1962 by one person. Another puts it at 1963 and names three people. Suffice it to say, we had to reconcile many little disparities.

Design? As creative director Mary K. Baumann put it, weaving together nine timelines, seven decades, 232 entries, and 199 images (not to mention the slew of photo credits) was "like wrestling an octopus." Organizing it all into a clear, coherent layout took many days.

This project was challenging not only because we're small and lean, but also because craft, as a field, is big and unwieldy. The boundaries between craft, art, design, and other facets of culture are blurry at best. Along the way, we had to continually reset our definitions: Does this event belong in Fiber? Or does it go in our Cross-Craft category? Maybe it belongs in Influences. Come to think of it, does it fit at all?

So many nuances, so little time. We comfort ourselves with the thought that we've formed so many new brain synapses that we may now be in a position to solve the world's climate change problems.

"Craft" means different things to different people, of course. To some people, it means MacArthur genius grant winners; to others, Martha Stewart or Stitch 'N Bitch. We aim to be as open-minded - and open-hearted - as possible about the range of perspectives among people who make things or otherwise value the handmade. But we did have to make some tough calls.

Helping make those calls, and advising us at every turn, was Joyce Lovelace, who has been part of the American Craft staff in one way or another for almost 30 years. Unfailingly savvy, creative, and level-headed, Joyce is a key part of every issue. But for this one, with her help on the timeline and her interview with Paul J. Smith about ACC founder Aileen Osborn Webb, she was crucial.

In the end, like many creative works, the timeline was not finished - only surrendered to our printer. It will continue to evolve online, and with that, we want your help. Please suggest additions or revisions here.

 

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