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My Favorite Craft Moments
Over the next few days, American Craft staff will share highlights of the 70-year craft timeline we recently completed. My favorite craft moments from the past 70 years involve the public becoming aware of the creative process. I agree with the sociologist Richard Sennett, who says everyone is a craftsperson. But many people have vocations that don't necessarily feel creative. When those people become aware of artists, they may become more aware of their own potential to create.
With that in mind, I celebrate these milestones:
1942 Rosie the Riveter rules, as women pick up tools and head to wartime assembly lies, getting a taste of non-traditional making.
The war changed the public perception of what women could do and helped women see new possibilities too.
1959 Concerned citizens save Simon Rodia's giant Watts Towers sculptures, made of scrap steel, rebar, and mortar, from demolition. Later the structures earn historic status.
A construction worker, Rodia worked for 34 years to build and embellish his towers, single-handedly, without benefit of power tools or scaffolding. (The tallest was almost 100 feet.) But few people understood his process until Rodia's house burned down and the government moved to demolish the structures.
1967 Antiques dealer Jim Carpenter makes the first of several trips to Mississippi, where he eventually finds almost 7,000 works by George E. Ohr, 50 years after the artist's death. Dubbed the Mad Potter of Biloxi, Ohr emerges as a great artist.
This is the kind of story the news media love, so no telling how many people heard about Ohr and thought about making a few pots too.
1974 Chinese farmers stumble upon ceramic shards of what becomes known as the Terracotta Army. Archeologists ultimately unearth about 8,000 life-size soldier figures, each unique, dating back 2,200 years.
More archeology, more public awareness. 8,000 life-size figures? Amazing.
1979 The Dinner Party, a monumental ceramic and fiber installation by feminist artist Judy Chicago depicting place settings for famous women in history and mythology, begins its high-profile international tour. Chicago's revisionist history hits a nerve and roils and critics.
What kind of courage is required for a woman, particularly in 1979, to stand against centuries of history written by men? I remember, as an adolescent in 1979, being a little afraid for Judy Chicago and very, very grateful. Women who've since used craft to make big political statements are indebted to Chicago.
1987 The Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is exhibited for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. By 2010 it consists of more than 46,000 panels commemorating 91,000 lives lost.
When craft becomes a vehicle through which thousands of people can process grief, something good has happened.
1994 HGTV launches. Sister channel DIY Network follows in 1999. DIY building and decorating spread further into the grassroots.
Show people new options for their living environments, and you spark all kinds of creative thinking.
2004 Bravo TV hit Project Runway (now on Lifetime) showcases fashion design and the creative process.
Watching contestants make creative decisions under major time constraints is instructive. Since Project Runway, I routinely swap out buttons, dye fabric, and treat clothing I buy as just a starting point.