Vassar College Digital Library
Since the industrial revolution, the craftsman has occupied an increasingly precarious position in society. The once obvious and natural role of craft is threatened. Craft production sits in uneasy tension with forces of modernity, practicality, industry, economy, and reproduction. These changing tides have instigated shifts in the actual and ideological identity of the craftsperson. Craftspeople have reformulated their conceptions of craft, and adjusted their physical practice in order to continue working. Several identities will be explored here, those of James Krenov, David Pye, Christopher Schwarz, and James Tolpin. These four individuals are fine furniture makers working in the latter half of the twentieth century and the early 2000s. These craftspeople are stating, in the face of obsolescence, that their work has something to offer modern society. Several of them explicitly position their work (both physical and ideological) as a critique of modernity. This essay will be an exploration of their claims to relevance, and underlying assumptions. It will examine how these craftspeople manipulate the history of craft to empower and justify new forms of "craftsmen." It will consider the efficacy of these identities, whether or not these modern "craftsmen" can enact the change they envision. Finally, their various strengths and weaknesses will be synthesized in order to inform a productive future for craft.
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