September 8 - Happy Birthday to Crafty Artists

Posted on September 8, 2017

"Arts and crafts" is something that people include in kids' programs held at public parks, at Girl Scout meetings, in old folks' homes, and so forth. You say "arts and crafts," and I'm as likely to think of macaroni pieces glued to a piece of cardboard as I am of the late-19th- and early-20th-Century Arts and Crafts movement.

Like any other art movement, the Arts and Crafts movement was complex, featured the ideas of many different individuals, and is hard to sum up in just a sentence or two. But one motivation for the movement was the fact that household items were, by and large, no longer hand crafted but rather were manufactured goods coming out of factories. In the 1880s, designers criticized these goods as poorly designed and also too ornate (overly decorated, with too many poorly-thought-out details). 

William Morris, one of the "biggies" in the Arts and Crafts movement, thought that design and manufacture should be integrated. Design is sort of a mental or intellectual thing - dreaming up an idea of what something looks like, and communicating that idea with drawings and descriptions. Actual manufacture of the object is, of course, physical. And Morris thought that whoever did the design should ALSO know how to do the physical task of making the item and should also be making decisions about the manufacturing of the item.

He thought that the utility - the actual, practical use - of the item was more important than the appearance of the item - but he still cared a lot about the appearance. As a matter of fact, he thought people should be surrounded by beautiful, well-made things.

The result of the Arts and Crafts movement was that people who designed things, and also people who did things that were considered "handicrafts," making practical things like bowls and houses and shawls and jewelry, were elevated to the status of artists. It used to be that only painters and sculptors were "really" artists. 

(We still use "fine arts" to mean the kinds of products, like paintings and statues, that have no practical use but are enjoyed only for their aesthetic or intellectual appeal.)

Today, in order to celebrate the Arts and Crafts movement and its results, we celebrate the birthdays of four artists who work with "crafts" mediums:

Barbara Walch - ceramics

Barbara Walch lives in Maine and sells cut flowers, dried
flowers, potted flowers, and other plants at a roadside stand.

And she also makes these beautiful pieces of
stoneware using an unusual "pinch" technique:

Sonja Blomdahl - glass

Sonja Blomdahl is a glassblower who studied her craft (art)
in Sweden. Today she lives in Seattle, but her work can be
seen in museums and galleries all over the world.

Richard H. Reinhardt - metal smithing / jewelry making

Silversmith and jewelry designer Richard H. Reinhardt
not only plied his craft (art), he also taught it, founding
the jewelry and metalsmithing programs at the Philadelphia
Museum of Art.

Augustus Aaron Wilson - wood carving

Augustus Aaron "Gus" Wilson was a lighthouse keeper.
He whittled and carved wooden bird decoys every
moment he could, and he sold them to a store for just
75 cents apiece! (Wow!) It is estimated that, in his lifetime, he
carved more than 5,000 pieces.

Eventually people began to appreciate his carving skill
and his imagination, and his work became collectible.

And, at that point, people began to pay a whole lot more
than 75 cents for one of his pieces. As a matter of fact,
in 2005, one decoy was sold at auction for $195,000!!!!
Although most of his carvings are of ducks, shore birds, seagulls,
and songbirds, Wilson occasionally carved other animals as well.

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