Past Sessions

See below for the speakers, talk titles, and abstracts for past workshop sessions. Sign up here for our mailing list to be notified about upcoming talks and future calls for participation.

Spring 2022

Please note: Because these talks represent work in progress, we do not record or archive our Zoom sessions. We recognize the difficulties this may create for some audience members through scheduling and time-zone conflicts, but hope for your understanding—our aim is to enable speakers to set their own terms and timelines for disseminating their research.

January 12, 2022: Textiles, Identity, and the Marketplace

10:00a – 12:00p EST
Via Zoom | Register

Ribbon Skirts and Baskets: Indigenous Femininity in Canadian Centennial Exhibitions”
Lisa Binkley · Assistant Professor, Department of History, Dalhousie University

When Dr. Margaret ‘Granny’ Johnson (d. 2010) of Eskasoni First Nations displayed her hand-stitched ribbon skirt and handmade baskets at international and national venues in celebration of Canada’s centennial anniversary (1967), she participated both inside and outside the sphere of Western modernity. While her ribbon skirt embodied the traditional matriarchal teachings associated to women’s biological and reproductive roles, and women’s position within Indigenous society, her baskets served as a way for her to earn additional income to contribute to the home economy. Exploration of Johnson’s hand-stitched ceremonial dress and handcrafted baskets as material culture and through a lens of Native Feminist Theories identifies the need to expand ideas of Indigenous feminisms, reaching outside the parameters of Indigeneity and mainstream feminism, and toward a reclamation of Indigenous sovereignty.

“West African Artisanal Tailoring as Clothing- and Identity-Making”
Elizabeth Ann Fretwell · Assistant Professor of African History, Old Dominion University

This talk traces the history of Beninois artisanal tailors and seamstresses, and their work designing, cutting, sewing, and marketing clothing in twentieth century west Africa. Scholars have documented the key role of (mostly women’s) clothing consumption and fashion in negotiating political and social identities in colonial and postcolonial Africa. Yet these accounts elide that much of this clothing was tailor-made for clients and that consumption of bespoke clothing was shaped by makers as well as users. In centering the tailor, my research fills a significant lacuna in an otherwise robust literature on dress and fashion in Africa and shifts attention to how craftspeople created the forms and styles available to ordinary people and to how the exchanges between tailors and their clients helped embed clothing with its political and social meanings. By focusing on the objects, craft knowledge, and practices of tailoring from the pre-colonial Kingdom of Dahomey to the recent past, I argue that as tailors made clothes, they also crafted ideas and experiences of self, city, and nation. Drawing on evidence from archival, oral, visual and material sources, and an apprenticeship with a master tailor, I am attentive to the technologies and material qualities of the craft. I trace changes within the uses and meanings of sewing machines and other tools, clothing and sartorial embellishments, diplomas and membership cards, and workshop spaces. I also focus on sites of learning and production to show how state workshops and schools, open-air markets, private homes, and independent workshops shaped the content and quality of craft knowledge. With its focus on the material and how men and women gave it form, my talk reveals how craftspeople helped mediate modernity, urbanization, and political transformations in twentieth century west Africa.

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January 26, 2022: Beyond the Craftsperson: Craft and the Agency of Materials

10:00a – 12:00p EST
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A ‘Suave Combat’? Distributed Agencies between Matter, Artisan, and Workshop in Early Modern Venetian Glassworking”
Emily Hyatt · Research Assistant, Heidelberg Center for Cultural Heritage, Heidelberg University

In chapter twenty-nine of his 1564 work Dello specchio di scientia universale, the Italian traveler and physician Leonardo Fioravanti praises the work of the glassmakers of Murano. “Nowhere else in the world,” he writes, “has thus far been able to make this art in such perfection.” This achievement, Fioravanti claims, is due to the supreme technical skill (artificio) of the Muranese glassmakers. However, crucially, Fioravanti also emphasizes that “God and Nature have provided [this place] for the benefit of this art,” since such glass can only be produced with Venice’s “lagoons of salty water,” “plant ashes brought from Syria,” and the “light and beautiful flame” of the furnaces themselves. The craft of glass, evidently,is wrought by many actors. Taking Fioravanti’s pronouncement as a starting point, this talk identifies and discusses contemporary artisanal and literary attitudes toward the craft of glass in early modern Venice (c. 1450–1600). In contrast to dominant art historical paradigms of the nineteenth and twentieth century, which tend to privilege notions of stylistic purity and the cult of the individual artist, this research suggests an alternative interpretive model. This exploration is rooted in the so-called material turn of recent years as well as in sixteenth- century sources, both of which (re)cast the material as expansive, polyvalent, and agentive. Through tracing the itineraries of the raw materials of two types of colorless Venetian glass, vitrum blanchum and vetro cristallo, and by mapping their production within the node of the Muranese glass workshop through artisanal manuals and recipe books, it becomes possible to highlight the extent to which the realization of this craft was distributed across space and among various agents. Such an approach relocates Venice-made glass within a broader provenance and proposes a polytemporal, multi-nodal, and transcultural mode of interpretation.

“Materiality in Mexico’s Arte Popular: Amate as a Case Study”
Estefania Sanchez · Independent Scholar

The 1921 “Exhibición de Arte Popular” established the category of arte popular in Mexico. The exhibition required that all works be made from materials originating in the country of Mexico and created through “authentic” Indigenous traditions. In other words, the focus was on creating a national identity founded in Indigeneity rather than on the Indigenous communities themselves. Since 1921, discussion of arte popular has focused on either dismissing it as a tourist trinket or advocating for its inclusion as ‘art’. However, there has been a serious lack of discussions centered on arte popular’s appropriation of Indigenous cultures for a national aesthetic. This has led to an underwhelming focus on the relationships between contemporary Indigenous communities and the objects they are creating. This presentation applies an alternative approach to the study of arte popular by taking a decolonial approach that focuses on the relationship between contemporary Indigenous communities and the non-human (materiality). I provide a case study that maps the way that the relationship between the Hñähñu’s (Otomi) communities and amate (bark paper) have developed. 

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February 23, 2022: Crafting Histories and the Present

10:00a – 12:00p EST
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Crafting the Patawomeck Eel Pot: History, Survivance, and Culture”
D. Brad Hatch · NEPA/Cultural Resources Media Manager, U.S. Department of the Navy

Traditional crafts associated with Virginia Indian tribes have drawn the attention of colonizers, collectors, anthropologists, and material culture researchers for hundreds of years. The vast majority of these crafts have a connection to traditional foodways systems and serve as major aspects of tribal identity and continuity from the pre-invasion period to the present day. One of these crafts that is intertwined with the culture of the Patawomeck people is the white oak eel pot, a specific type of woven eel trap. My research examines the history of these objects, their role as an object of survivance, and their cultural implications from the perspective of a material culture researcher, archaeologist, and one of two remaining traditional makers of these traps within the tribe. The critical engagement with the materials and histories of Patawomeck eel pots ultimately reveals a broader understanding of changing Patawomeck communities and identities from the pre-invasion era until today. After providing some background on the form and construction of these objects, I place them in the context of Virginia Indian fishing and basketry traditions and discuss how the eel pot has become an object of survivance among the Patawomeck, helping to tell our story to each successive generation. I conclude with a reflection on the fragile nature of craft within Virginia Indian communities by discussing how the eel pot tradition among the Patawomecks was almost lost and my current efforts to ensure its survival.

“‘A Map is Not the Territory’: Unsettling Craft Histories in Shaped by the Loom
Hadley Jensen · Research Fellow in Southwest Modernism, Lunder Institute for American Art; Research Associate, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History
; and Raphael Begay, artist and Public Information Officer with the Navajo Nation Division of Human Resources Administration

For this co-presented talk, Hadley Jensen and Rapheal Begay will discuss their work on land-based and relational practices of Navajo weaving. In building upon current research and fieldwork on the Navajo Nation, this presentation brings landscape into view as a craft(ed) “object” or site of inquiry, both historically and into the present. With support from NYU Gallatin’s WetLab, Begay and Jensen worked on a collaborative field documentation project in Fall 2020 that examines relationships between people and place. Through 360-degree panoramic images, still photographs, and audio recordings, we aim to provide an immersive and sensory experience of the animate landscapes and varied topographies of the Navajo Nation, evoking a multisensory document of place from a Diné worldview. This media content will be featured in two forthcoming exhibitions on Navajo weaving in an effort to reimagine and rechart Diné space, particularly within the context of institutional histories and collecting practices. In building upon the exhibitions’ themes and narratives, this project foregrounds reciprocity efforts, making this documentation accessible and relevant to descendent communities whose past, present, and future homelands we inhabit. Ultimately, this initiative strives to create a more dynamic future for exhibition-making to enable new forms of curatorial scholarship.

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March 9, 2022: The Lure of the Local

10:00a – 12:00p EST
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“Rural Craft Production in Britain and Ireland: The Travel Diaries of Margery Kendon”
Thomas Cooper · PhD Candidate and Pigott Scholar, History of Art, University of Cambridge

Margery Kendon (1902-1985), spinner, natural dyer and hand-weaver, is virtually unknown today. She trained under Ethel Mairet, the leading figure in the revival of hand-weaving in the early twentieth century, at Gospels in Ditchling, East Sussex. Kendon and Mairet became close friends and collaborators. Kendon was also colleagues with Elizabeth Peacock, Phyllis Baron and Dorothy Larcher. She was involved with the Rural Industries Bureau and gave craft workshops and demonstrations to a variety of audiences, from rural Welsh communities to the Queen. She is thus at the centre of an important network of artists, designers and craftspeople and of significant developments in the status and use craft in the twentieth century. During the 1930s and 1940s, Kendon travelled around remote coastal regions and wild highlands of Britain and Ireland in search of rural craft production and indigenous methods and materials used to make textiles. Travelling by boat, train and foot, she journeyed through coastal counties of Wales, Northern Ireland, Donegal and the west coast of Ireland, and the Scottish Highlands. Along the way she met and stayed with local makers and observed how these people lived, how they worked, what they made and the place of craft production within these remote regions. Kendon recorded these journeys in detailed written diaries, which are the subject of my paper. They remain unpublished in the archive at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft and, to my knowledge, have never been critically examined. Through close reading of the diaries, supplemented by study of photographs, weaving samples and craft tools, my paper will consider why Kendon went to these places, how she engaged with rural craft makers and production, and how these diaries contribute to a broader understanding of craft, class and industry in Britain and Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s.

“Julia Keiner and the Search for Localism at the New Bezalel”
Noga Bernstein · Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, Hebrew University in Jerusalem

The search for local roots and identity was one of the main aspects of the Hebrew art in Palestine and Israeli art in general. Scholars continue to debate which sources shaped Israeli modernism, and what political implications followed the incorporation of Middle Eastern traditions, European Jewish heritage, or international avant-garde movements into an Israeli national style. My presentation will examine the artistic and pedagogical ideology of Julia Keiner, who founded the handwaving department of the New Bezalel School of Art and Craft in 1941 and directed it for two decades. Keiner’s work has hardly been studied despite her successful international career as a handweaver, and her role as director of the first and only textile program in Israel prior to 1970. Born in Germany, Keiner studied at the progressive art and design school Kunstschule Frankfurt in the late 1920s, where she also directed an experimental weaving workshop, and immigrated to Palestine in 1936. Her design ideology was grounded in the objectivist, universalist principles of her modernist German training, and thus, her engagement with questions of localism and the pursuit of a Hebrew style was never explicit. However, from her position at the New Bezalel, Keiner’s work as a designer and teacher was entangled with explicit attempts to cultivate and define a national Hebrew/Israeli style in the fields of textile, needlework or fashion. I argue that this tension between localism and universalism was particularly demonstrated in the different approaches that shaped the two main fields of training at Bezalel’s textile department: weaving and embroidery. While the former related to progress and modernity, the latter was associated with ethnic identity and tradition. This presentation is part of a broader research project that examines Israel’s textile art and design between 1940-1990 as a hotbed for a range of issues at the interstices of aesthetics, national identity, and gender.

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March 23, 2022: The Crafts in War and Displacement

10:00a – 12:00p EDT (please note shift to U.S. Daylight versus Standard time)
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Renewing, Repairing, Remembering: Craft in Jewish and Baltic Displaced Persons Camps, 1945–1951″
Alida Jekabson · Curatorial Assistant, Museum of Arts and Design, New York

While spanning less than a decade, the history of craft in Displaced Persons camps across ally-occupied Germany demonstrates craft as an active force in transferring cultural knowledge and providing rehabilitation. Looking at this history of objects and making within refugee communities demonstrates the endurance of craft as a cultural technology in the creation of new national ideas. Craft was also central to supporting the normalization of life in the camps immediately following trauma of Holocaust. Using material from museum and private collections, including ceramics, textiles and clothing, this workshop will discuss the shared qualities of crafts in the camps associated with renewal, remembrance, and observance. Also vital to consider are the contrasting circumstances of how Baltic and Jewish refugees arrived in Germany, offering overlapping lenses on refugee engagement with craft. The DP camps, divided by nationality, each functioned as a small city. Spread across allied-control, camps had elected leaders, schools, religious and cultural institutions. Craft in the camps was generally accessed through official government run and private aid organizations and was also rampant within the camps’ trade economies. Refugees put their skills, sometimes newly acquired, and sewed, worked with metal and wood, among other mediums, often using creatively sourced materials, such as parachute silk, army blankets, and lumber from bombing rubble. Some refugees used tools or materials they had been able to carry or that were provided by family or donation. Many examples of craft in the camps were motivated by cultural practice, replacing lost ritual objects or taught to pass on local traditions. Looking at these objects and histories foregrounds an understudied area of craft history and the many ways people access craft as a tool for social and political expression and economic renewal in the aftermath of war and displacement.

A New Focus on War Lace: Approach, Framework and Methodology”
Wendy Wiertz · Senior Research Fellow, Department of History, English, Linguistics and Music, University of Huddersfield

Lacemaking is an important part of Belgium’s cultural heritage. During the First World War this renowned industry was in danger of disappearing forever: demand for the luxury handmade fabric plummeted, while the supply of materials was interrupted. Thousands of lacemakers faced unemployment. In response, humanitarian organizations developed lace-aid schemes with a twofold goal: saving an imperiled European tradition, and ensuring the wartime employment of Belgian lacemakers, often women who supported themselves and their families. The schemes were highly successful, bringing unprecedented publicity to the industry and to American philanthropy, and employing more than 50.000 women in German-occupied Belgium and among Belgian refugees in Holland, France and the UK. War lace, with its unique iconography, sometimes referred directly to the conflict and included names and portraits of people, places, dates, coats-of-arms or national symbols of the Allied Countries, of the nine Belgian provinces or of the Belgian towns who suffered most during the German invasion. Art historians and craft practitioners have known about war lace, but their focus has been on the small number of high-quality laces designed by recognized artists. Combining archival, collection and practice-led inquiry, this paper will look instead at war lace as material culture in the context of a transnational history of humanitarian handicrafts. In particular, this re-focus on material culture and making processes will draw attention to the tangible and intangible ways in which Belgian lace was mobilized as cultural capital for new nationalist or wartime agendas, and the potential effects of these objects as socio-cultural participants in their own right, both at the time of their production and consumption.

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April 6, 2022: Mobilities of Craft Knowledge

10:00a – 12:00p EDT
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Formalisation and Informalisation: Julaha Handloom Weavers in Colonial North India”
Santosh Kumar Rai · Professor of Modern Indian History, University of Delhi

This presentation explores the transformation of a traditional craft structure towards modern production and marketing practices through the case of an occupational caste group of Muslim Julahas handloom weavers in the north Indian province of United Provinces presently known as Uttar Pradesh. Here a predominant craft skill-based lifecycle of the Muslim Julaha weavers shifted towards the modern industrial apparatus in relation to the organization of work, workplaces, capital-labor, techniques, and training relations. I argue that the experiences of Julaha weavers of this region cannot be unequivocally located along the premodern/modern or formalization versus informalization divide. This industry structurally situated within the informal sector was marked by paradoxical processes. Though the traditional community mechanisms of control continued functioning through pre-capitalist kinship and religious identities, in new circumstances confronting the new challenges, they had to negotiate with capitalist labor relations in handloom production for the compulsions of survival. Political mobilizations, selective migration, reproduction of community hierarchies, use of invisible labor through family members, limiting the scope of skill, and saturating the production processes were critical to this scenario. This study of the competing and tension-riddled yet overlapping processes in the handloom industry shows complications started the very moment clash of formal colonial capitalist processes began with informal production processes. New processes produced the “exclusive” space of “community economy” in reverse mode, creating a social capital for Julahas, simultaneously running suppressive mechanisms of both the caste based occupational labour relations and also the capitalist system of production. Practicing their skills in an apparent informal ambiance, this weaving community could resist the aggressiveness of organizational formalization under colonial capitalism. To explain both the mutual coexistence as well as contradictions of formal versus informal processes, locating the transmission of craft skill, knowledge, and craft products through community, caste, kinship, and locality ties holds the key. The persistence of caste and family based production sought to situate this internally differentiated but outwardly unified community within the complex process of interaction between informal and formal practices.

A Transitional Artisan: Reclaiming Multiplicity in the Craft Making in Deccan India”
Rajarshi Sengupta · ​​Assistant Professor of Fine Arts, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur

Upon my first visit to artisan Bhikshamayya Chary’s workshop cum residence in Uppuguda, Hyderabad, I was confounded by an assortment of tools, books, objects, and machinery that are not usual in a block makers’ workshop. Chary, hailing from a wood carver’s family in Nalgonda, Telangana, was trained to do woodblock making but also constructing looms as well as carving ornamental doorways. He was appointed as a block maker at the Weavers’ Service Centre (WSC), Hyderabad, in the 1980s by craft activist and scholar Pupul Jayakar. Upon his recruitment, he became invested in building a rich repository of woodblocks at WSC to be used for textile printing and teaching purpose. Knowing the trajectory of his career at the WSC, I expected his workshop to be a typical of the block makers’ workshops I was familiar with. Over the course of our conversations that afternoon and beyond, I came in terms with my disquiet on not finding scattered woodblocks and tools in Chary’s workshop. The problem had less to do with Chary and more with my approach towards craft making in the Deccan region of India. Transition, adaptability, and coexistence have always been integral aspects of artisanal practice, and yet institutional and disciplinary practices stress on equating a specific craft with its maker. Chary’s multifaceted exercises allow us to assess interconnections between craft practices and fluidity of community occupation. More importantly, it sheds light on the role of woodworkers in shaping several Deccani crafts, including carving, and loom and machinery making, while reflecting on the possibilities of writing artisanal histories.

“Journeying Artisans and Circulating Craft Practices”
Valerie Nur · Research Associate to the Chair for Anthropology in Africa, University of Bayreuth

Craft is often perceived as bound to old traditions that change slowly and lag behind the times. Especially, when it comes to endogamous professional groups in West Africa often described as caste or caste-like groups. Caste simply implies that people’s life seems to be prescribed.Based on long term anthropological field research among Tuareg artisans, called inadan, in the Aïr mountains in northern Niger, I challenge the notion that craft practices are fixed to dusty family traditions and thus stuck in the past. Among inadan craft practices are indeed very closely interwoven with the family but in present relationships rather than to long-dead generations. In my paper, I will explore how craft practices become intermingled with and transmitted throughout the family at the occasion of trade journeys, work migration, weddings and family visits. Craft practices change, are modified, improved and new forms develop as they move on. Furthermore, I can show that craft is not simply handed over from generation to generation in a linear fashion but circulate in the wider endogamous family across the country as artisans travel and marry. Therefore, each artisan acquires an individual repertoire of practices from different relatives in different places. Although women are tied to the home, they also share craft practices with relatives in other places through marriage and visits.

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April 20, 2022: Craft Politics in Imperial, Soviet, and Contemporary Central Asia

10:00a – 12:00p EDT
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Crafting Futures: Dismantling and Rebuilding Histories Together”
Rathna Ramanathan, Joseph Pochodzaj, Tom Simmons, and Eleanor Dare · Central Saint Martins, Royal College of Art, Cambridge University

Crafting Futures is a British Council funded project whose stated aim is to support the future of craft around the globe, strengthening economic, cultural, and social development through learning and access.” Crafting Futures also aims to “support practices and people through research, collaboration, and education.” These intentions are laudable, and yet the reality of delivering this is far more complex. Since we started working on the Crafting Futures Central Asia project in 2019, we have encountered our role as researchers with an increasing degree of ambiguity. Not least of our concerns has been a top-down theorizing of change and the origin of agency implicit within the project, and indeed, within the broader domain of community-based research that emanates from Global North imperatives. In relation to these power structures, local research partners often battle with who gets to define the meaning of craft for their communities, and this has become a core question for our own research and contributions. As researchers operating within the power structures and academies of the Global North, we must also ask ourselves what ideologies are we projecting onto our participants and collaborators? And to what end? In addition to our own ideological projections, what agency is appropriate when we encounter neoliberal frames of reference and stated aspirations from within the crafting communities we work with? 

For the last two years we have worked with craftspeople and labor organizations in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to generate visual and sonic narratives about the meaning and history of craft; at the center of our research methodology is the imperative of countering and moving beyond naturalized colonial assumptions about what counts as craft and orthodoxies of who gets to define its histories. Despite the construct of craft as entangled in the theories of change and economic imperatives of the Global North, our work in co-creating narratives of craft confirmed, as Balaram (2011) observes, that human need is the origin of design, and this is not just physical but also psychological, socio-cultural, ecological and spiritual. We propose a cooperative, intercultural, dialogic model of working on crafting futures that reflects on the deficits of the Global North model and aims to learn from Global South practices, communities, and knowledges.

The Making and Unmaking of Craft in late Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union”
Sohee Ryuk · PhD Candidate, History, Columbia University

This presentation will discuss transformations in the craft of carpet weaving in Central Asia and the Caucasus from the late 19th century to the 1930s. At the of the 19th century, there was a heightened interest in recording and documenting the handicrafts, including carpets, in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Expeditions were spearheaded by the Ministry of State Domains in the Russian Empire in order to determine and record the economic significance of handicrafts in the national economy. These results were instrumental for making arguments for material subsidies as well as various forms of technical or instructional assistance in order to further develop the industry. Despite their admittedly practical interest in the handicraft, observers meticulously the specific processes of making a carpet, from procuring and cleaning of wool, spinning, dyeing, and the knotting and weaving of carpets. Expeditions on these traditions continued into the twentieth century after these areas were incorporated into the Soviet Union, as ethnographers from research institutes sought to understand the handicraft traditions. During the course of the twentieth century, scholars and interlocutors increasingly interlaid national paradigms onto the patterns of carpets. Carpets were included in a particularly Soviet conceptualization of national cultures, which involved formal institutionalization of national artistic culture at the republic level. The institutionalization of carpet and folk-art studies from this period continue to have important ramifications for the present, even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. My presentation uses these descriptions of carpet making as an entry point in order to discuss the changing perceptions of the craft. This presentation will place the history of the handicraft carpet industry against a backdrop of broader economic, social, and political changes in the region. It situates the locus of skill, knowledge, and tradition as the carpet weaving became further institutionalized. 

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May 4, 2022: The Maker’s Hand: Digital Craft

10:00a – 12:00p EDT
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Shiny New Toys: A History of Digital Technology in Canadian Post-Secondary Craft”
Lynne Heller, Dorie Millerson, and Kathleen Morris · OCAD University

This talk draws from the findings of an in-progress Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant titled Thinking Through Craft and the Digital Turn (CDT)*. We are investigating the history, implications and emergent futures of digital technology in post-secondary craft studios and curriculum as well as community engagement and perception of the digital turn. Students, faculty, and technicians in craft-based programs explore the relationship of handwork to digital technologies daily with varying degrees of access to tools and facilities. Due to a lack of research available on craft and digital pedagogy in Canada, our project is tasked with furthering our understanding of the history and present conditions of the adoption of digital technologies—tools, methodologies and networks—and how they intersect with traditional processes. This talk focuses particularly on embodied pedagogy and digital technology through the lens of precariousness. With the advent of an international pandemic and distance teaching, makers and educators have been catapulted into digital immersion. This development has lent further urgency to our project. By offering up both historical and current insights from across Canada, through research findings and data captured from surveys of faculty, students and technicians at post-secondary institutions, we look in depth at aspects of precariousness and precarity, differentiate between the two and relate these concepts to craft and digital ubiquity. We speak specifically about the practices of Downloading Risk and Responsibility from institutions onto individuals; Loss and Opportunity within digital ubiquity; the issue of Shiny New Toys destabilizing traditional craft practices; and the Seismic Shift Online as a response to the threat of the pandemic.

*CDT is a collaborative effort between Emily Carr University of Art + Design (Hélène Day Fraser, Keith Doyle), Alberta University of the Arts (Mackenzie Kelly-Frère), OCAD University (Lynne Heller, Dorie Millerson, Kathleen Morris, Travis Freeman), Sheridan College (Gord Thompson) and NSCAD University (Greg Sims). For more information, see

“Conceptualising Amateur Filmmaking as Digital Craftivism in Queer Disabled Contexts”
Jenna Allsopp · PhD Candidate, History of Design, University of Brighton

Drawing upon Betsy Greer’s co-authored Manifesto, “craftivism” is generally understood as a practice of engaged creativity which somehow raises consciousness, shares ideas, challenges injustice and/or contributes to wider conversations about uncomfortable social issues. Craftivism involves the reclaiming of creating something by hand, with thought and with purpose, and has the power to connect communities and networks of like-minded people through the act of making.  Echoing Greer, the Craftivist Collective assert that craftivism is not about direct campaigning, but rather raising awareness and provoking people to think—craftivism’s power lies in the possibilities it fosters. This work-in-progress paper is based on current doctoral research in which I consider digital amateur filmmaking as craftivism and whereby I argue the film festival, or its historical counterpart the “cine-club,” can be reframed as a craftivist circle. Scant historical research has been undertaken to explore the connections between amateur filmmaking and craft, so my paper treads new ground and is approached from a design historical perspective. Advances in technology have changed our understanding over time of what a crafted object is and how digital practices can be considered forms of craft, such as hacktivism and the crafting of computer coding. 

As a case study, my paper mobilizes Oska Bright, the world’s largest learning disability film festival, based in Brighton, UK, and, in particular, their “Queer Freedom” strand launched in 2017. By highlighting the work of two British self-identifying queer learning disabled filmmakers associated with “Queer Freedom,” I explore how the filmmakers mobilize performance and self-portraiture motifs to occupy space and self-represent at the still-taboo intersection of queer learning-disabled identities. While not directly campaigning for a particular queer or disability right, their films align with the more ambiguous form of activism promoted by Greer, whereby creativity is used instead of just the voice to communicate meaning and raise consciousness; without the need for “banners and chanting.”

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[NEW DATE] May 25, 2022: Like/As/Is: Metaphor, Empathy, and 20th-Century Politics

10:00a – 12:00p EDT
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“Art between Text and Textile: The Deployment of Fiber in the Southern Cone”
Jacqueline Witkowski · Visiting Assistant Professor, Massachusetts College of Art and Design

At its outset, my research asks why and how artistic approaches to the political situation in the Southern Cone of South America between 1964 and 1990, as this region endured authoritarian governments, were carried out through the metaphorical use of the textile. Within the countries of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, textile materials, techniques, and concepts initially appeared under a modernist, primarily formalist paradigm. But as each country faced increasingly repressive regimes, artists harnessed such forms and traditions to address local historical and sociopolitical concerns. I examine how references to unspun wool and fiber, and threads more broadly, were not only explored through their material qualities but also acted as a process to engage the political context. Artists further adapted textile concepts through accompanying mediums such as poetry and writing, often in order to subvert censorship.

To understand how artists utilized the notion of the textile to counter censorship, articulate processes of colonization, and assert a local identity under the globalizing rubric of conceptual art, I consider the strategies that took place within the specific artistic and political contexts of each country. Currently, the project analyses Brazil and the work of Lygia Pape, as she employed a theoretical apparatus that was based in earlier manifestations of antropofagia; Mirtha Dermisache, whose asemic writing antagonized the military junta’s censorship and control of language to maintain power in Argentina; and lastly, I look to the poetic propositions of Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña in conjunction with her exploration of the Incan medium of quipu while she lived outside the country. My argument analyzes how the utilization of the thread in South America at a moment steeped in interconnected political and aesthetic challenges perhaps necessitated the textile as an operational force. I argue that the medium and concepts afforded by the textile—or what has recently come to be called “textility”—were able to provide alternative methods to understanding a tumultuous historical situations and support avenues outside of dominant hegemons and forms.

‘Sometimes I feel that if I am intimate enough with the object it will come alive’: Crafting Empathy in the Late Twentieth Century”
Rachael Schwabe · Independent Scholar

We are living in a moment in which empathy has taken on a new sense of urgency. Added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1895, this initial definition of empathy identified it as relational structure of feeling into another person or thing. The transcendent and ordinary dimensions of empathy were expanded in the late-twentieth century with events like the civil rights and gender equality movements, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and the Vietnam War. I seek to build upon this historic context in which empathy entered mainstream discourse, by examining craft works made in the late twentieth century, whose forms and surfaces confront their viewers with the intimate labor of their makers. I contemplate the dynamics of empathy and craft through objects lovingly made by Ruth Asawa, Senga Nengudi, Felix González-Torres, Janine Antoni, and Lorna Simpson, between the 1960s and early 2000s. I argue that these artists participate in a legacy of empathy by creating object-conduits whose properties destabilize the discrete boundaries of a viewer’s physical and emotional being. My project explores a two-pronged line of inquiry oriented in my perspective as a craft historian: What can crafted objects teach us about care, trust, and collaboration? And how might these objects continue to perform as channels for affective and activist work, outside their maker’s control? Asawa and Nengudi fashioned organic forms in wire and nylons that articulate the denaturalized body in space. González-Torres’ candy spills, Antoni’s gnawed sculptures, and Simpson’s felt prints manifest surfaces that viscerally evoke the body’s flesh. All five artists are united in their use of craft’s relationality not only to enact the body, but also to reveal tensions of love and labor. More significantly, their hand-worked objects provide empathetic encounters that imagine more equitable models of reciprocity and communion among crafted objects, makers, and viewers.

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[NEW DATE] June 15, 2022: Labor and Landscape in the United States

10:00a – 12:00p EDT
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“Embodying Land and Labor: The Production and Consumption of Florida Native Seminole Palmetto Dolls in a Settler Colonial Context, 1920s-1950s”
Amanda Thompson · PhD Candidate, Bard Graduate Center

From the 1920s, Florida Native Seminoles peoples crafted small portraits of themselves in doll form from the red fiber of the palmetto plant of their South Florida homelands and dressed in distinctive Seminole fashions. Settler-tourists considered these Seminole-made palmetto dolls a quintessential souvenir from South Florida. In this presentation, I explore how both Seminoles and settler used dolls to negotiate settler colonialism in South Florida from the 1920s to the 1950s. Land and labor are woven into these dolls, their marketing, and their consumption. For their Seminole makers, they embody a connection to land through their use of the palmetto plant which grows in their homelands. But they were produced, sold and consumed at tourist “Indian camps” at a time of government efforts to coerce Seminoles onto reservations. These “Indian camps” and reservations, in claiming small parcels of lands for Florida’s Native people, symbolically established the rest of the state as non-Native land open to settlement. Through the labor of crafting palmetto dolls, Seminole women ensure the economic survival of their families and, through teaching the craft of making dolls, the futurity of Seminole people. But, to the tourist paying to view Seminole women making dolls in an “Indian camp,” that labor serves to mark the dolls and the Seminole as others within the context of settler colonial development.

In crafting these dolls, Seminole makers embodied powerful assertions of sovereignty and resistance to settler colonialism. In innovating these dolls to be sold to tourist, Seminole makers acknowledged and capitalized on settler-tourist fascination. But in consuming these dolls, settler-tourists enacted settler colonial dynamics. I consider dolls as powerful things which play out contests over land, labor, identity, and sovereignty in South Florida.

Fruitful Ground: Craft, Nature, and Whiteness”
Matthew K. Limb · PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, University of California Santa Barbara

Using frameworks of ecocriticism and decoloniality this presentation examines the connection between nature, craft, and settler colonialism in the exhibition series California Design (1954-1976). A triennial show held at the Pasadena Art Museum, California Design promoted handcrafted and industrially produced objects of the Golden State to middle and upper-class consumers. Eudorah Moore, the director of the series and head of the museum’s Design Department, commissioned elaborate photographs by Richard Gross of the exhibition’s objects set within the California landscape for the show’s catalog. Through Moore’s leadership and savvy use of mass media, these images were widely reproduced in the nation’s leading lifestyle, design, and architecture magazines. Moore’s purpose for the photographs was not only to generate commercial interest in California craft and design, but to promote a “California” lifestyle based in a relationship to the natural environment. The artisan lifestyle Moore idealized and promoted was deeply entrenched in the philosophies of the Arts and Crafts Movement—finding joy in labor and a spiritual connection between the artisan and nature. Gross’s photographs allow for an examination of the craft object’s relationship to nature—through its materials and philosophical connections to the land. What emerges across the series’ images include a direct correlation between agriculture and craft as laboring over the land, the reinforcement of a settler colonial history and perspective, the appropriation of Native American motifs and thought, and the construction of whiteness through the handcrafted object. This presentation examines the complexities of craft’s material and philosophical connections to the natural environment. I challenge the settler colonial narrative embedded within the fantasy of California and untangle crafts’ connection to a “gentler” capitalist lifestyle.

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Fall 2021

December 1, 2021: The Industrial Handmade: Craft and Design in Pedagogy

10:00a – 12:00p EST
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Technical Artistry: The Industrialization of Ceramics Education in Meiji Japan (1868–1912)”
Daria Murphy · Independent Scholar

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Tokyo Vocational School was the foremost institution in Japan for educating the new generation in the scientific study of ceramics. Ceramic engineering students were trained under the tutelage of scientists, educators, and ceramic specialists to obtain a theoretical and practical education. Examining the pedagogical structure of ceramic engineering reveals that artistic training was also cultivated alongside scientific education. By contextualizing the methodology of ceramic pedagogy with quotidian endeavors—illustrated in photographs, extant ceramics, and written materials—I reveal that artistic education was interwoven with a student’s scientific study of ceramic engineering.

“Crafting Design Expertise Between India and the United States”
Vishal Khandelwal · Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh

This talk focuses on the work of textile artists Nelly Sethna (1932-1992) and Helena Perheentupa (1929–2019), who were affiliated with postcolonial India’s first and most innovative design training academy, the National Institute of Design (NID), established in 1961 in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. Trained at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan between 1958 and 1960, Sethna and Perheentupa inaugurated the NID textiles design program in 1968. The talk first elaborates the transnational context within which Sethna and Perheentupa borrowed from abstraction, minimalism, and global folk and vernacular arts to make designs for their everyday textiles. It then analyzes the Jawaja Rural University Project, a rural development program initiated in the mid-1970s by the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A), and in which Perheentupa was a core participant. As part of the Jawaja Project, NID designers such as Perheentupa and management professionals from the IIM-A taught rural populations in the western Indian region of Jawaja how to make new crafts products and market the same to domestic and international consumers. Attentive to the intersection between village crafts economies and urban academic knowledge, the talk discusses the successes and failures of the Jawaja Project to illustrate discrepancies between envisioned goals and design practice. Through the example of everyday textiles designed by Perheentupa and her NID students for rural Jawaja participants to weave, the presentation suggests that our understanding of minimalism and abstraction alters when we approach these through design pedagogy, crafts, and their marketing for consumers and tourists. The Jawaja Project exemplifies how conceiving forms, making crafts, and imparting skills overlapped with cross-cultural exchanges in design and management education during the mid-to-late twentieth century, leading to the configuration of the designer as a manager and mediator in postcolonial India.

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December 15, 2021: Material Knowledge

12:00p – 2:00p EST
Via Zoom

Parelmoerwerkers and Plasticity: Material Literacy in Early Modern Dutch Craft”
Cynthia Kok · PhD Candidate, Art History, Yale University

How is the process of making also a process of making sense? In seventeenth-century Amsterdam, unfamiliar resources like mother-of-pearl challenged the imagination of Dutch makers. Through handling such a material directly, artists learned about its plasticity—how it could be physically and conceptually manipulated. As the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) established global trade networks, mother-of-pearl became increasingly available throughout the Netherlands. Close study of how makers thought with mother-of-pearl complicates mother-of-pearl’s categorization as a natural wonder and re-situates the material as a commercialized resource, a researched specimen, and an artistic medium for the early modern. Craftspeople found ways to integrate the unusual plasticity of mother-of-pearl into a continuum of objects, from nautilus cups to still-life paintings, panel inlays to engraved snuffboxes. Examining the ways in which artists worked from the shell, we can better understand how tactile and sensory competency guided artistic methods and generated knowledge of materials.

“Art, Craft, Ecology, and Aesthetics: Ideas on Basketry in Japan”
Daniel Niles · Associate Professor, Geography, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto

This paper examines the intersections of craft, art, and aesthetic sensibility in general, arguing that these fields act together as an important mode of social communication. As a fundamental technology enabling many landscape-based livelihood practices, traditional basketry in particular expresses and conveys important material-ecological knowledge. Examining basketry in Japan, where its material record extends for more than 7000 years, this paper suggests that the persistence of certain basket techniques and types is linked to the persistence of bodies of material-ecological knowledge. I suggest that this ecological knowledge is often communicated in the aesthetic realm, which is not “decorative” or additional to other more substantial concerns, but instead acts as a kind of code indicating essential techniques of life in particular places. In this sense, aesthetic experiences act to unify sense of self, community, place, and environment in a tight set of overlapping complementary associations. I suggest that such experience is significant to cultural coherence, persistence, or resilience through time, and so also to the material crisis of the Anthropocene.

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Image Credits:
Top: Embroidered panel, Persia, c. 1610–40. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Bottom: Small egg basket, made by Ira Blount, late 20th–early 21st century. Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

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