Friday, October 27, 2006

1970s Nostalgia and the New Craft Movement

Tonight Jae and I had dinner at a new-to-us restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, called The Queen's Hideaway. Tiny and casual and personal, the place exuded a particular sort of homey Brooklyn charm that we all love. We drank inexpensive wine and beer, listened to the 70s-flavored tunes coming off their turntable (they spin records the old fashioned way), and ate deeelicous pork ribs, delectica squash, and some sort of sesame-crusted fish all prepared with love and kindness and no fear of brown sugar or a little extra time over the flame. Being there was like being in someone's shabby-chic apartment where they cook a great dinner for you served on their mismatched thrift store plates and you leave grateful and belly-full and so glad you came. I think Jae found the mot juste to describe it: the place is totally analog. Loved it!

What is it about Brooklyn that propagates places like this? And not just Brooklyn. This is happening all over the U.S. So, what is it about these recent years, then? There's this whole throw-back feeling percolating in the zeitgeist, this texture and sensibility that evokes shag carpeting on a basement floor, faux-wood paneled station wagons, corduroy and felted wool, and certain color combinations like orange, avocado, cream, and brown.

I think this has to do with the fact that people (including yours truly) who grew up in the 1970s are coming of age. We are around 30 and coming to a point in our lives when we're starting businesses and finding ways to broadcast our self-expression. So the fabrics we design and ads we develop and shops we create and restaurants we open all have this 1970s patina that attracts others who share a nostalgia for this era (no matter what their age).

I also think this helps to explain the resurgence in craft that is brewing, as well. (See my earlier post about the two craft worlds.) Those of us who were the kids of more progressively-minded parents in the '70s -- I don't think it's just me -- remember going to craft fairs, watching their Moms water spider plants suspended from macramé hangers, wearing jumpers that their aunts sewed for them, snuggling under Grandma's crocheted afghan. We grew up surrounded by these homespun handmade things.

Why is this? Maybe because in the 1970s corporate mass-produced homewares hadn't yet flooded the market supplanting the handmade quilts and dishes and clothing we were familiar with. And it may also have something to do with the fact that in 1976 America celebrated it's bicentennial, an event that rekindled an interest in America's homegrown roots. It was around that time that a resurgence in interest in traditional forms of building (like timberframing and log cabins) surged, when Colonial style enjoyed popular revival, and when the American craft movement found itself back in action after a nearly 50-year hibernation.

Nowadays, those of us who were kids then (and therefore not necessarily aware of what was going on) are getting married, starting families, and deciding how we want their lives to look. For a lot of us, this means making things with our hands. Maybe we've been making things consistently since we were young, or maybe we reconnected with handwork after 9/11, or maybe we just recently decided we wanted to sew skirts and knit ponchos for ourselves and our friends. In any case, some of us have gotten quite serious about our work and are now on the alternative craft fair circuit peddling our woodblock screen-printed avocado-colored totes and nappy knitted scarves and modified Vogue pattern aprons. We are literally hand-working through our 1970s nostalgia.

Even at Greenjeans there's a bit of this afoot, albeit subconsciously. In place of a normal store counter, for example, we have my parent's first kitchen table and chairs which they bought in the '70s. Most of the artisans whose work we offer either started out as craftspeople in the '70s or were born then. Indeed my own first experiences with craft are set in the apple orchard behind the potter's studio where the Northwood Community Craftsman's Fair was originally held. My Mom was an organizer of this fair for many years. I practically cut my teeth on the sugared lollipops a local candymaker sold there. I can still picture the tables set up under the trees where calico-skirted ladies sold homemade potpourri and bearded men clanged hammers against their blacksmith's anvils to make (Colonial-style) doorpulls and hinges. These are some of my fondest, freest memories of childhood.

Maybe The Queen's Hideaway has a bit of a southern take on the '70s. Maybe people who grew up in the suburbs remember more shag carpeting and less apple orchard. But in any case, I am quite certain that the 1970s are alive and well in the hearts and minds of the people inventing the new craft movement. Go to any of these next-generation craft fairs -- Indie Experience, Renegade Craft Fair, Art vs. Craft -- and you will see it. This may not be the whole story, but I'm sure it's part.

Photo credit: The School Around Us in Maine circa 1970 (


Mad said...

Whoa! Great new look, loving the energy, can't wait to talk---xoxo-mad

Indie Craft Documentary said...

Hi Amy, Again & again I come back to you blog. I was doing a search for "1970 craft fair" and this post was first in line. Although it wasn't what I was looking for your thoughts and words are so insightful. I really appreciate it. Also, thanks for refrenceing Art vs. Craft!!