The Future Of The Hand Trades & Crafts

During this time of self-quarantine, we have a lot of time to reflect. I was thinking about the state of the handcrafts, and the future of their existence. That is also not to overlook the importance of retaining the vast fund of knowledge regarding hand methods that is in constant danger of being lost to future generations.

The human being enriches the world by contributing to the aesthetic and creative instincts of humanity that this current situation can in some way project aspects of a future where our factories are fully automated, our autos are autonomous, education is primarily provided on-line, and more societal functions are automated and taken out of our individual control.

In this homogenized future where all autos travel at a fixed speed, factories turn out cookie cutter products with practically no human input, will there be a place for crafts and historical hand trades? Absolutely! Handmade means the expression of the individual artistic impulse, whether the creation is by a hobbiest or a professional artisan. The only way these crafts will survive is by actively preserving. the traditional tools and methods.

“Handmade” definitely indicates a labor intensive process so cost will be higher than factory made, which by historical evolution is constantly finding cheaper ways to produce products while sacrificing the details of quality and performance in many cases. Some trades exist today solely as hand trades. For instance, harpsichord making. I don’t know how many master makers are still active today, but in the 1960s and 1970s, there were more master makers of these instruments than had previously existed in history! That blew me away when I learned of it. How big a market was and is there for harpsichords any way? Today an instrument can cost on average, about $14,000.

There are numerous hand trades that deserve to be preserved and protected as milestones of human achievement, if nothing else. This blog specializes in the woodworking trades, but there are innumerable other trades and crafts that have died or are in danger of dying out. The Heritage Crafts Association in the UK is attempting to save the traditional trades and crafts before all existing practitioners die off taking their expertise with them.  The following links are just the tip of the iceberg with regard to preserving the heritage of traditional trades and crafts, not only in the wood trades.

In the US, the National Park Service has a publication, “Preservation Trades and Crafts.” (It’s a large PDF file so be patient when opening.)

A very interesting site offers mini-apprenticeships in the arts and crafts.91 artists in 27 countries offer programs in native arts and crafts such as rattan weaving, paper-making, wood-turning, ceramics and much more.

In 1925, the Spanish Colonial Arts Society was established to promote and preserve crafts, including Colcha embroidery (using naturally dyed yarn), handmade copper engravings, gesso and painted reliefs, retablos (devotional paintings) and straw appliqué

. The Society of American Silversmiths struggles to help the hand forged silver trade to continue to exist.  One business that continues the tradition is Old Newberry Crafters with hand-forged silver sets starting at $1,000.

Dedicated to the preservation of the traditional crafts of the US, Early American Life does a fine job of calling attention to the plight of the hand crafts.

This article by Rudy Christian in Traditional Building, Nov. 2019, is aimed at the architectural trades, but his observations can apply to any traditional trade.

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