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Stores, Stations & Sites: The Emerging Craft Industry

McComb, Jessie F., a Fulbright Scholar, was in New Delhi for a year studying the lost wax casting process of the Bastar region in Chhattisgarh and the surrounding areas. Back in America, she is going to contribute to our website in a new series Letter from America. Ms. McComb received a BA in both Art History and Physics in 2003 from Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York. In addition to her interests in Indian folk and tribal crafts, she has worked extensively with Contemporary Indian Art.

Here in America the months of November and December comprise our biggest and busiest holiday season. From Thanksgiving in late fall to Christmas in early winter, the local stores are filled with shoppers buying food, sweets and those all-important special presents. This time of year also brings about images of houses decorated with pine bows and red felt bows, lavish spreads of holiday cookies on carefully trimmed dining tables and fireplace mantles adorned with handmade ornaments and knitted Christmas stockings. Often it is only this time of year that people all over America release their otherwise dormant creative talents and enter whole heatedly into the world of craft.

In America, like India, crafting is steeped in tradition but always open to change. And the juncture of this tradition and change is never so apparently seen in America than during the winter holiday season. Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukah are some of the most traditional celebrations that Americans observe every year. There are stories, legends and customs that trace back to the founding of the country, not to mention the individual traditions that each family continues. Whether it is cooking certain dishes, saying certain prayers or making a holiday wreath together as a family, this season draws on traditions old and new.

Over the years, as families become busier and people have less time to devote on hand crafted items and hand-made gifts for loved ones, a helping industry has flourished. Although people's time may have lessened, their desire to create and work with their hands has only increased in this technology driven world. So certain companies, television stations and stores have risen to the challenge and developed design lines, television shows and craft departments to aid the most time strained crafters.

For those that cannot manage even a little time stores like larger Pier 1 Imports and Crate & Barrel, as well as smaller shops like Ten Thousand Villages, offer a variety of hand crafted items to add an authentic touch to a household or a special gift. For those that have time but may be "craft-impaired" there are craft store that have ready to make craft projects with all the tools and parts included. These stores also have plenty of craft supplies for those more adept. A crafter can find all of his or her needs in one place including wool yarn for knitting, pre-cut glass pieces for mosaics, wood slabs, paint and all sorts of glue to keep everything together. American crafts have definitely come a long way from the days when a knitter not only spun her own yarn but raised and sheared the sheep from where it came. Other companies have made crafting more appealing by highlighting serious crafters and their breathtaking crafts. The television station, the Home and Garden Channel (HGTV) recently launched a show called "Crafters Coast to Coast" that spotlights artisans from all parts of America. The channel has other shows that also give viewers "how-to" lessons on making quilts, woodworking and many other crafting techniques. In the past "Crafters Coast to Coast" has featured artisans that specialize in: lampshade painting, silk screening, woodblock printing, ceramics, felting, mosaics and pottery, to mention a few.

Of course the Internet also hosts many options for those seeking crafting advice. At http://www.craftster.org would-be and real artisans alike can post and find tips on everything from locating rare, antique knitting patterns to choosing the right glue for a child's art project. The site has links to complete sets of directions for making crafts, as well as a forum for experienced crafters to give and receive recommendations. Similar information can be found at www.craftsitedirectory.com where in addition to a forum, links to professional craft web sites are listed. Here crafters can get ideas for their own crafts or simply buy from the pros.

Although all these shows, stores, pointers and proposals are useful for even the most novice crafter they expose an alarming trend in American society. While countries like India, Bolivia and Costa Rica struggle to maintain the sanctity of their traditional arts and crafts, crafting in America has largely become a hobby second to "real jobs" and only performed when there is time to spare. Of course there are those that take their art very seriously and dedicate both their lively hood and time to creating, most of us dabble in crafting trades with little regard to the meaning, spirituality and culture of American crafts. So this Christmas season I would wish that Americans take a moment to pause and reflect on the years of evolution that brought crafting to where it is today.



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