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 (

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Greenjeans' Holiday Card Project

Greenjeans is excited to announce its new annual Holiday Card Project to benefit charity!

This year more than 20 artists are donating their time and creative efforts to make unique holiday cards by hand. We are donating the 100% recycled plain paper card stock and envelopes. The cards will be available exclusively at Greenjeans starting in mid-November and will sell for around $3.50 each.

Every year we will select a different charity to support. This year all proceeds from the sale of the cards (= the entire selling price) will go to Millennium Villages, a program that invests in health, food production, education, clean water, and infrastructure to help impoverished villages help themselves to escape extreme poverty. This program is overseen by Jeffrey Sachs' magnanimous anti-poverty nonprofit Millennium Promise. We support this organization's efforts and believe they are doing great work that can make a real impact in the world.

The card pictured here is the first to arrive! Made by Regan Grusy and Anders Bergstrom, the image was taken by Anders outside of their loft in Bushwick, Brooklyn (not an uncommon sight for us Bushwickians...!). The text is printed inside. I will post images of the other cards as they come in.

So come buy your holiday cards from Greenjeans and help support a worthy charity! And many thanks to all the participating artists!

New Look, Same Great Taste

Tonight we changed the look of Greenjeans Blog in anticipation of version 2.0 of our website (with e-commerce!) launching on November 1st.

It's the same blog as ever, just in this spiffy new outfit! Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 23, 2006

After the Conference: An Overview (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the word "craft")

First of all, welcome new readers! If you'd like to see what this blog is about, click here for a hyperlinked list of highlights.

What an intense, stimulating, and mind-opening couple of days it has been! I returned home last night from the American Craft Council's conference "Shaping the Future of Craft," and though I'd only been gone since Thursday, I feel as though I've been on a long retreat. For me, the conference was a sort of mental and social craft boot camp where I met scores of new people, learned a great deal about the history of American craft and the thinking surrounding it, and absorbed tons of new-to-me ideas and perspectives. It will take time to process it all, and even longer to integrate some new ideas into Greenjeans, but today I wanted to record some first reactions and offer an overview of the experience.

The conference, held in dubious downtown Houston at the well-serviced and persistently air-conditioned Hilton Americas, was attended by 250 of the country's craft leaders -- practitioners, educators, curators, writers, collectors, dealers, and others whose vocations deal with craft. (That's me, Amy Shaw, at the left, in front of the faux-draped walls. Thanks Andy B. for taking my mug!) Organized around seven excellent panel presentations and a number of elaborate sit-down meals (including a deeelicious Texas barbeque), the two-day affair ran a dramatically broad gamut: from keynote speaker Martin Puryear describing his uncertainty about speaking before a craft-minded audience since he isn't a craftsman but a sculptor, to David McFadden, Director of the Museum of Arts and Design (formerly the American Craft Museum) arguing that we live in a post-disciplinary age in which all the arts are now integrated and we must therefore move beyond the baggage-laden words art, craft, and design.

Some people spoke in simple terms about materials and processes, and others spoke in the mind-bending language of scholarly theory extending the notion of craft to distant strata. No matter what the message, though, everyone spoke with passion, reflecting a great deal of care for the matter of craft, even if there seemed to be as many ideas of how to frame that subject as there were name badges.

And when it all got to be a bit too much, we’d take a break and go into the lobby for coffee and to admire the real stars of the weekend: the fabulously costumed young attendees of the anime convention being held next door! (See photo at top.)

Overall, the conference successfully provided a forum to shake things up and re-examine assumptions. Those attending could raise issues, argue positions, learn new approaches in thinking, build fellowship, and open their minds. There was even distribution of a manifesto! Things sometimes got marvelously heated, and as with a good class there never seemed to be enough time to hash out all the angles. I think we all left hungry, and that is great. In a nutshell, the ACC did a brave and valuable thing creating this conference, and I think most everyone there is grateful to have had the experience. I know I certainly am. (Thank you a million times again, Miss Lily Kane!)

In forthcoming blog posts, I plan to address a bunch of issues and ideas raised at the conference including:

:: The notion that the word "craft" may be more successful when used as verb instead of a noun
:: The relationship, if any, between craftsmanship and craft
:: What comes first: the idea or the work?
:: Why does Egyptian or Asian pottery qualify to museums as "high art," but not contemporary pottery? What's the difference between old and new craft?
:: Branding and the craft economy
:: How does craft impact community, geography, ecology, politics, peace/war, and economy? How can craft be harnessed as a force for change?
:: Craft and the notion of heterotopia
:: Craft as slow activism and a means of resistance
:: How can one make a living with craft?
:: Does craft have any boundaries? If so, where do we draw the lines?
:: What about beauty?
:: How do we keep craft from being mediocre fine art?
:: The ability of a single craft area, like lace-making, to gather multiple issues (gender, socioeconomic, labor, geopolitical, etc.)
:: Craft as inherently collaborative, radical, and subversive of the status quo

Despite numerous suggestions that this question is a moot point, I am also still interested in the question "what is craft?" and will continue exploring it as well. I think it's a relevant question, and the answer that such a question holds no meaning does not satisfy me at all. I think the definition of craft is plural and multifaceted and perhaps at times contradictory, and I think "craft" is strong and malleable enough to be such.

My mind is abuzz and I can hardly wait to write more, but this is enough for now. I will close with one final thought offered by Andrew Maydoney over drinks with Dennis Stevens and me Saturday night after the conference closed. It's a point that wasn't really addressed during the conference itself but I think resonates with anyone who is drawn to craft, no matter how it looks or where it is made or seen:

Craft is a way to reconnect with our senses and thereby with our humanity.

That isn't the whole story, of course. But it certainly is the beginning. And it might also be the end.

Dennis Stevens & Kiwon Wang (jewelry maker) at post-conference reception

Andy Brayman (The Matter Factory), Alleghany Meadows (Art Stream, Harvey Meadows Gallery), & Sam Harvey (Harvey Meadows Gallery)

Andrew Maydoney, Carolyn Alper (ACC Trustee), & Kiwon Wang at the post-conference reception

The crowd settling in for more listening

Greenjeans Blog Highlights

Here are links to some highlights from the blog written over the past year:

Writings On "Craft"

History of Craft: Toward a New Craft World Order

How the art/craft/design debate is relevant, and a call to reclaim "craft"

History of Craft: An Initial Overview
Where it all began...

Craft & Art Crossing Over
Where knitting and sculpture meet

Two Craft Worlds
Thinking about youthful, indie-spirited craft compared with old-school craft.

Esquire Magazine Reveals the Future of Craft?!

“My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son rides in a jet. His son will ride a camel.”

Radical(izing) Craft
Looking for the edges of craft

Review: The Renegade Craft Fair
I went, I saw, I blogged

Craft, Consumer Culture, & Ecology

Consumer Culture: Dollar Voting
The politics of shopping

Consumer Culture: Mass-Produced Indiviudality
A call to return to small-scale production

Consumer Culture: Branding Peace
Is there a place for peace in consumer culture?

What Does "Green" Mean?
Is living "green" possible?

Buy Quality, Help the Planet
How craft relates to sustainability

Some Favorite Posts


New Arrivals from Davistudio / Toward a Phenomenology of the Handmade

Trip to NH & VT: Wedding, Bread & Puppet, & Taxidermy

The Craft of Mummification

At Last, the Display Cases!

Does Living Amongst Beautiful Things Promote Longevity?

Inspiring Treetop Spheres

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Two Craft Worlds

I've been spending more time than usual on the internet in the last few days trying to get aquainted with as much craft-related content as possible in preparation for the American Craft Council conference I'm going to tomorrow.

Last night I struck a vein of websites and blogs surrounding what is often referred to as the new indie craft or DIY movement. There is great work going on at sites like and (the latter of which has a great crafters forum); blogs like Crafty Synergy (that Rena told me about today, thanks!); and projects like the Indie Craft Documentary. And there are new indie craft fairs cropping up around the country like the Indie Craft Experience in Atlanta and the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago and Brooklyn. (To find listings of other indie fairs near you, check out the Indie Craft Documentary's site and look at where they're going.)

I love the spirit and attitude of this growing movement -- the anti-corporatism, the sense of providing an alternative, the breaking-the-rules approach. And I love how women are behind a vast majority of the efforts. It is great stuff.

But in terms of craftsmanship, a lot of times the actual items being made don't hold up for me. (I think this is where "craft" and "handmade" find their difference, but that's a topic for a future post.) It's a little disappointing to look at an awesome looking object only to wish that the maker had finished those seams a little better, or had used a higher-quality backing for those groovy cufflinks.

At the same time as this wonderful indie craft movement is growing, there's also a healthy old-school craft scene with its hulking faceted art glass, turned wood bowls, and purple quilted vests. We go to lots of these more established fairs where we find quality in spades. But aesthetically, frankly, there's a lot of kitsch and repetition.

Of course there are many examples of good craftsmanship coming out of the next generation of craft objects, just as there are many examples of original and beautiful works of more traditional fine craft by more established artisans. And of course there are mature artisans pushing the edges of craft, as well as young people learning the traditional forms.

The point is that it's so interesting, these two worlds. Are they merging? Is the new one replacing the old one? And if so, what is happening to the value of craftsmanship? How are new generation crafters approaching old school media? How is craft, and the craft world, changing?

It will be interesting to see what this conference has to offer this weekend. It's being hosted by an old-school craft organization that is starting to realize it needs to be courting a new generation of craft enthusiasts. I wonder what they would think of something like the Renegade Craft Fair, what they'd think of Whipup and Etsy. I wonder what they'll think of my relatively young and progressive Brooklyn point of view. In any event, I'll let you know next week -- I can hardly wait to blog about it.

Photo: covers of old issues of The Craftsman, a journal started by Gustav Stickley during the American Arts & Crafts Movement (c. 1890-1930)

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Radical(izing) Craft

In past writings, I've advocated that to reclaim the word "craft" and render it a marketable term, it's vital to see how craft is sexy, edgy, and desirable. Though we offer plenty of work that falls into traditional categories at the shop, Jae and I are always looking for artisans pushing the edges of craft, artisans who demonstrate technical mastery while trying out new attitudes and forms. (See Matt Eskuche's blown glass, Chris Rom & Geoff Buddie's felted wool sculptures, and Alison Mackey's photos-not-gemstones jewelry.)

Sometimes I describe Greenjeans as "not your mother's craft gallery," (although, of course, your mother still loves our craft gallery). That is to say, we are endeavoring to be the next generation craft gallery. We are trying ourselves to push the edges of craft.

Next week I'm going to Houston for a conference called "Shaping the Future of Craft." Organized by the American Craft Council (Lily Kane, their young, progressive Education Director, invited me after reading some of my postings on this blog), the conference will bring together makers, curators, critics, dealers, writers, and other craft professionals to hash our some of the main debates and, importantly, to meet each other and form alliances in the field. I will be posting at length about the conference in the weeks following it.

Tonight I came across another conference, this one held back in March in Pasadina, California, that I thought some of you might be interested in reading more about. Titled "Radical Craft," the conference examined "advanced craft as an antidote to slick mass production and mass culture in many arenas." Taking a truly interdisciplinary approach (interdisciplinarity is my other big love), the conference included poets, scientists, designers, and cultural critics among its speakers. (If anyone went to this conference, please post a comment about it!)

For a broader perspective, I also read some reactions to the conference:
:: Review and reaction to the conference by Janet Abrams on the industrial design site Core77
:: The blog Functioning Form offers good insights in its recap of the conference, along with links to other material about the conference
:: Going a bit further afield, I (re)discovered this blog from the UK called Craft Research. It includes several postings about the Radical Craft conference.

Feeling jacked, I then googled "extreme craft," half as a joke, half out of curiosity. Of course, there's a blog by that name! (Click here for Extreme Craft.) It's kept by a guy from Nebraska who teaches ceramics and writes about everything from "Agrifolk art" to pink goth. I love his profile photo so much I used it as today's illustration. (Hope he doesn't mind!)

Changing the public perception of craft from something dusty and dull to something vital and exciting will take time, but the more we all explore the edges of craft, the more we will be able to educate others about just how relevant and valuable craft really is.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Trip to NH & VT - Wedding, Bread & Puppet, & Taxidermy

Ahhh, vacations! We had such a nice trip to New Hampshire and Vermont this past long weekend I just had to share some pictures with you. (Click here for slideshow.) It wasn't a work trip, although we did visit every craft gallery we could find along the way. No, this time we were traveling for ourselves, and it was bliss!

The main event was the wedding on Saturday of my dear old friend Jody to her betrothed Andy. The wedding was held in Walpole, NH, at a pretty place called Alyson's Orchard. It was great to see old friends at the wedding and to help set up chairs, orchestrate the ceremony, and eat lots of amaaaaazing food that a friend of Jody's prepared for the reception. Jody looked so glamorous and happy in her plunging gown and "explosion of tulle" veil. Andy is a very lucky man! She's a lucky girl too -- Andy is a total gent. He even played his guitar and sang her a song during the reception. Jae and I wish them all the best in the world!

The day after the wedding was our first wedding anniversary, and we spent the day tooling around Vermont. We drove all the way up to Glover, which is near the Canadian border, to visit the Bread and Puppet Museum. Bread and Puppet is something I've heard of but wasn't sure what it is (and still don't have my head around it, so click here to read about them). But I adore puppets and this Museum, housed in massive barn, was so unlike anything I could have imagined. It was an incredible monument to the exposed human soul and a community's passion for creative expression. I haven't had an experience of wonder and amazement like it in many years.

For lunch, we stopped at an extraordinary Mom & Pop in Glover that we thought would be your run-of-the-mill country store, but turned out to be a deli/grocers/hardware store/post office/sporting good store/natural history museum! A local taxidermist has created a stuffed menagerie of local fauna displayed throughout the store, including a bucking deer, a growling black bear, and an entire moose (stationed in front of the post office). Thank goodness Vermont doesn't have any Walmarts -- this amazing Mom and Pop would probably be wiped out by the competition.

The drive around Vermont offered absurdly beautiful views around every bend. It didn't hurt that the weather was picture-perfect every day. We realized that all those kitschy landscape paintings we saw in the art galleries are actually quite accurate, and mused that maybe Vermont is itself kitsch! But not really. It's just profoundly beautiful. No wonder everybody loves Vermont!

And thanks again to Alison and Mia for minding Greenjeans while we were away. You two are super stars!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Away to the North Country

Just a note to say that Jae and I are going to be away Wednesday-Sunday this week. We're going up to New Hampshire for the wedding of a dear old friend, and then to somewhere in Vermont to celebrate our own one-year wedding anniversary. (I can hardly believe it's been a year already!)

In the meantime, stop in on Thursday or Friday to meet Alison Mackey who will be minding the store. Alison is a wonderful local jewelry maker who sets her own photographs of flowers and plants into silver bezels and seals them under clear resin. She can show you her fabulous work at the shop in person!

We will be open on Saturday, but will possibly be closed on Sunday. Jae and I will be back in the shop as usual on Tuesday.

And next week look for actual items to be available to buy via e-commerce on the website!! It's growing...!

Happy long weekend!

Photo from