One of the blogs I regularly read is Robin Wood's blog. Robin (whom I don't personally know) is a maker of wooden bowls and plates, made with a foot-powered lathe, and he is passionately interested in preserving traditional crafts in England. Not just the tools of the craft, but the know-how and lore that make it possible to proceed.
Woodworking, and the stuff we promote is just one facet, maybe the most popular facet of craft, and working wood is just one of the hundreds of apprenticed crafts that have disappeared. An interesting question to ask is "who cares?" I think there are at least two answers to this.
Series of bowls by Robin Wood
1. Craft is a touchstone to our roots—to something real and, in most cases, something local. Just look at Robin's bowls.
They are production work, but hand production work. Each is slightly different. Because of the cost—being more expensive than a plastic bowl from the local big box store—and because you had to make a decision to buy that bowl from a person rather than an anonymous entity, it says something about you. It feels different in the hand than something mass-produced, and it can never be exactly duplicated. Chances are you won't have that many special bowls and if you are like me, familiar objects provide comfort and anchor you in place.
I've used the same left-handed wooden spoon for over 20 years to make pasta sauce with. I can still remember buying it at a huge crafts show at The Armory (possibly, don't remember, made by Barry Gordon ) which I went to with my parents. It will wear out one day but until then I use it, I feel connected to my past, and being left handed it's the perfect tool for me to stir my sauce with.
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2. Stuff made by highly-skilled craftspeople may be the only place for economic development in the future. What I mean is that in the "First World" we are faced with increasingly cheaper, imported consumer goods that basically become commodities. At the same time there are fewer and fewer jobs out there with any meaning. There is no middle to the market. Goods are increasing on the low end (sometimes marketed as high-end, but a fancy label isn't a guarantee of something actually fancy) or really high-end. The internet makes it possible for a small manufacturer to precisely reach a worldwide audience. It therefore seems to me that many people, finding no interesting jobs in the mainstream market, will try their hand at some craft.
Since I think there are enough consumers who like traditional stuff, this will be a growing market. We have seen this in the hand tool world with the recent and huge revival in high-end hand tools, mostly by small vendors. (To learn more about this, read economist Paul Krugman's discussion on "Will Technology Make Workers Obsolete?" or "White Collars Turn Blue.")
So anyway, I am following Robin's blog and and happily amazed that his group is starting to have a little traction. I wish we had this sort of foresight in the U.S. Craft programs have disappeared from schools all over the country and it strikes me that we are doing ourselves and our children a real disservice with that.
This new "Tools & Craft" section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.