Sunday, July 29, 2007
On Thursday night, the American Craft Council hosted the second in its Summer Salon Series on the topic of the DIY renaissance and marketplace interventions. It was a fascinating evening, and so interesting to hear the stories of two remarkable women on the front lines of the DIY movement.
Reverend Callie Janoff of the Church of Craft and Cal Patch of Hodge Podge Farm spoke about their experiences championing the handmade in the face of art school and the fashion design world, respectively. Their stories shed light on the origins and character of the DIY movement, and also provided inspiration to anyone who has ever started a craft project and never finished it!
It is not contradictory to say that Callie Janoff embraces craft as a verb, and has less reverent concern for objects of craft per se. She knew as an art student that making art would not likely earn her a great deal of money, and anyway she disliked the idea of her work being bought and sold. She was also interested in the idea that art didn't have to be an object. So she made work that was intended to fall apart, or that existed only as an experience in time, like a conversation or jamming with her rock band.
During this time, a professor in a critique told her that she was making craft and craftsmanship an issue in her work. Over the years this insight proved prophetic: Callie would eventually find that craft can be a spiritual practice with the power to forge a sense of community and camaraderie. She experimented with time-based art events, for instance holding cupcake picnics in Central Park. And she even mounted an exhibition of unfinished craft projects to emphasize that whether or not the maker completes the work, the act of making is the essential strength of craft.
Callie (in green above, and that's Cal at the right) became an ordained minister online in order to perform wedding ceremonies, and co-founded the Church of Craft after meeting kindred spirit Trismegista (Tristy) Taylor who shared her understanding of the power of craft to forge community, lift the spirit, and nurture the soul. Reclaiming the word Church (not to mention the word Craft) and using it without irony, today Church of Craft convenings take place all over the world providing space for people to come together and work on craft projects in a spirit akin to sewing circles of old. By nature of its very existence and perpetuation, the Church of Craft reinforces the values that inform the DIY movement, as defined by Callie: accessibility, connectivity, empowerment, and the subversion of authorship.
These values are also present in the work of Cal Patch. Cal went to school for fashion design, landing a job designing clothes for a popular clothing company after graduation. While she loved the creativity of the work, it distressed her to see row upon row of cheaply made reproductions of her carefully handmade clothes, and after many years she felt she was, as she put it, "selling her soul to corporate America." So she quit her job and opened a space on the Lower East Side where she sold one-of-a-kind handmade clothes made by her and people she knew. It was a huge risk, but it paid off, and after a while designers took notice, and today more and more small shops are supporting DIY designers like Cal.
Retail wasn’t so much her thing, but she loved giving classes in her space, and so she opened Make Workshop, which she described as “hipster craft school.” She continues to make one-of-a-kind clothes for her label Hodge Podge, and she teaches knitting, quilting, felting, crochet at places like Brooklyn General Store and Etsy Labs.
Cal spoke a lot about how her background has influenced her work, especially growing up in the 1970s, which were, as she put it, the heyday of craft. She would do things as a kid like paint rocks and weave ribbons in barrettes, and go around her neighborhood selling them. (Differently than Callie, Cal confessed having no problem with selling her work!) Being a Girl Scout and earning those little embroidered badges was another big influence, as was her Grandmother who practiced all kinds of craft. She also mentioned being into the Sunshine Family, a sort of alterna-Barbie family with their Craft Van and greenhouse. So Cal has always been steeped in the lifestyle of craft. (I have written about the 1970s influence on DIY in this blog -- click here to read.)
Cal and Callie wrapped up their talk speaking about how the DIY movement parallels the slow food movement and the green movement, both of which have roots in the 1970s, and how the currency DIY has gained in recent years is partly a backlash against mass production. They spoke of the role of recycling in craft, as well as creative commons and open source approaches, and the way craft today is so strongly an issue for so many artists. As Callie summed it up at the end of the talk, craft is about what you do, not what you buy.
Once again, the ACC Salon drew an overflow crowd of magazine editors, makers, writers, publishers, and others interested in where craft is headed. Both preceding and following the talk, we all got to mingle over glasses of wine and an abundant spread of noshes, enjoying each other’s company and trading business cards. Kudos again to the ACC and Lily Kane for putting this series together!
It is also always a treat to be in the ACC’s incredible library that is stocked to the gills with books, catalogues, and magazines having to do with craft. It is an endlessly fascinating resource, and it’s open to the public!
Be sure to mark your calendars for the third and final Salon when I will be presenting with Rena Tom of Rare Device about blogging the handmade. It’s Thursday, September 20th from 6-7pm – RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-274-0630. Hope to see you there!