Before There Was Etsy
November 27, 2011
— art and crafts movement, etsy, patchwork
It felt refreshing to attend Patchwork, the bi-annual crafts fair in Santa, Ana, California after a bulging weekend of Thanksgiving turkey and Black Friday’s mass consumerism. This Orange Country version of Etsy sparked my wonderment about the Arts and Crafts art movement popular in America between 1910-1925. The parallels between the current handmade vogue and twentieth century social-political movement interweave like a knitted beanie.
This indie art fair had a large presence! Around 60-100 art and food vendors dotted the closed off neighborhood street on a hot, blue-sky day. An eclectic mix of people, dogs, and kids sauntered around booths ranging from soaps, cards, knits, t-shirts, prints, posters, jewelry, kids clothes, toys, and pet products.
Two food trucks, a DJ, and bike valet proved to be nice touches. I took a roller derby postcard from the OC Roller Girls and tried a delicious grilled cheese from local restaurant, Old Vine Café. The aunt and niece team of Delilah Snell and Nicole Stevenson organize Patchwork in 3 Southern California locations in December and May each year.
Many Patchwork sellers already operate their own Etsy store. Although Etsy started in 2005 and has over 800,000 sellers, these craft fairs could not exist earlier. We complacently consumed through years of Ikea, eBay, and WalMart without a thought of an alternative. None of the crafters, technology, or social groundswell existed together in a time frame to enable today’s “buy handmade” sentiment. Grandmother’s crochet finally busted out of the den as new e-commerce platforms enabled makers to setup individual niche shops complete with PayPal.
The current craft craze actually has its roots in over 100 years ago in Europe. The Arts and Crafts art movement spanned between1860 and 1910 in England, propelled by writer/artist, William Morris. The movement hopped to America in the early 1900’s. The new rise of America factories generated shoddy quality work, which craft advocates called for the revival of skilled craftsmen. The design principles promoted the dual craftsman-designer artist and advocated the entire piece’s construction by one crafter instead of the division of labor used in mass production.
The movement’s motto was “Truth in Material.” The craft idea revolved around the material, construction and detail, not the ornate decoration prevalent at the time. This aesthetic spread throughout Europe and Asia across furniture, woodwork, stained glass, leather work, lace making, embroidery, jewelry, metalwork, enameling, ceramics, architecture, painting, sculpture, illustration, book making, decorative arts. Publications, societies, and schools sprouted around the world.
The social reform aspect of Arts and Crafts stands out for me. The social critique writings of John Ruskin and others had the crazy notion of designers taking pride in their skilled craft instead of slaving away in 14-hour days in windowless factories with other drones. Hmmmmm…
Just as women played a significant role throughout the arts and crafts movement, most of Patchwork’s vendors were women. Buyers now take pride in sharing the story of how their object is handmade, while legions of makers dream of quitting their draining day job. This sounds just like America 100 years ago.
Assessing my two purchases of the day brings satisfaction. A wide polyester Sears tie gets re-purposed into a two-pocketed shoulder sling for the bare essentials: phone, keys, ATM card. A felt pin resembling a whimsical pinwheel brings distinction from the over-played flower.
Having the option between local handcrafts and global online shopping brings today’s fun and responsibility. Just take a giggle at Regretsy, “Where DIY Meets WTF.”