Sunday, 4 May 2014

Craft and Sin in the same headline?

I have just come from the Sin City Crafters fair held at the upstairs space known as the Rocket Room, above the Rocket Bakery.  True to its sizzling title, I spent every cent in my pocket on luxury items, a.k.a. stuff I don't really need but, that will give me satisfaction and/or pleasure.  Is that the vice aspect? I kicked my feet in a fit of delight when I saw the poster.  This was inspired marketing.

I am not familiar with St. John's as a Sin City but I am open to persuasion.  My hometown of Montreal, at one point in time, was regarded as a Sin City but that was due to the influx of thirsty Americans fleeing Prohibition laws.  Canadian Whiskey and the Seagram Company was never the same.  Ibiza in Spain wears that title now with its club and drug culture.  And I am sure many other cities do too from Las Vegas right back in time to Sodom and Gomorrah.  So, why not St. John's as Sin City– but in relation to craft?

The Culture of Craft contains a chapter written by me titled Craft in a Consuming Society.  It contains my analysis of the various ways that craft is used in our society, how it is sold and related issues (is it a profession or a vocation?).  My special focus is on the giftware trade, from souvenirs to wedding gifts. 

I have tracked the word "craft" for decades now and I can tell you with authority it is probably one of the least sexy words in common parlance in the English language.  When the One of a Kind craft fair in Toronto was being transformed from a hippy run event in a field to a capitalist endeavor that would routinely generate big profits the owners did extensive market testing around associations with the word craft.  In a nutshell, they discovered that the word craft was associated with something your ancestors did in order to survive.  Basket making, weaving of cloth, iron smithing for horseshoes, etc.  Instead of trying to revamp the word craft they decided to advertise the craft fair as "the best ten days of shopping", which had more sex appeal.

One of the other related practices that I have tracked is how an artist or craftsperson signs their work.  I have studied "signature" and written about its various aspects for years.  I think it was in 2007 when I wrote an essay where I observed that the things in my personal collection did not have designer labels but they all had signatures.  My looking at the handmade dishes in my drying rack beside the sink sparked this observation.  Years earlier, I became fascinated by the topic when I was at a fibre conference and a traditional basket maker, Edith Clayton, sold me an apple basket.  When she took out a black sharpie marker and signed her name on the pristine white handle, I was horrified.  Looking at my face she said with a shrug, "everybody else is doing it."  Edith might have been close to eighty at the time.  She had never signed her work before but somehow the marketplace had made it appropriate. 
Traditional apple basket by an anonymous maker.

Selling something sure changes the dynamic.  Think of the difference of selling a kidney as opposed to donating it.  I've nearly been sold three times in my life: once in Turkey, once in North Africa and believe it or not–once in Montreal.  That's a story for another time.

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