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A groundbreaking and endlessly surprising history of how artisans created America, from the nation's origins to the present day. At the center of the United States' economic and social development, according to conventional wisdom, are industry, commodities, and technology-while craftspeople and handmade objects are relegated to a bygone past. Renowned craft historian Glenn A groundbreaking and endlessly surprising history of how artisans created America, from the nation's origins to the present day. At the center of the United States' economic and social development, according to conventional wisdom, are industry, commodities, and technology-while craftspeople and handmade objects are relegated to a bygone past. Renowned craft historian Glenn Adamson turns that narrative on its head in this innovative account, revealing how makers have always been central to America's identity. Examine any phase of the nation's struggle to define itself, and artisans are there-from the silversmith Paul Revere and the revolutionary carpenters and blacksmiths who hurled tea into Boston Harbor, to today's “craftivists.” From Mother Jones to Rosie the Riveter. From Betsy Ross to the AIDS Quilt. Adamson documents how craft has long been implicated in debates around inequality, education, and class, as well as America's failures to live up to its loftiest ideals. Yet artisanship has also been a site of resistance for oppressed people, such as enslaved African-Americans whose skilled labor might confer hard-won agency under bondage, or the Native American makers who built traditional arts into businesses that preserved cherished folkways. Theirs are among the array of memorable portraits of Americans both celebrated and unfamiliar in this richly peopled book. As Adamson argues, these artisans' stories speak to our collective striving toward a more perfect union: from the beginning, America had to be-and still remains to be-crafted.


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A groundbreaking and endlessly surprising history of how artisans created America, from the nation's origins to the present day. At the center of the United States' economic and social development, according to conventional wisdom, are industry, commodities, and technology-while craftspeople and handmade objects are relegated to a bygone past. Renowned craft historian Glenn A groundbreaking and endlessly surprising history of how artisans created America, from the nation's origins to the present day. At the center of the United States' economic and social development, according to conventional wisdom, are industry, commodities, and technology-while craftspeople and handmade objects are relegated to a bygone past. Renowned craft historian Glenn Adamson turns that narrative on its head in this innovative account, revealing how makers have always been central to America's identity. Examine any phase of the nation's struggle to define itself, and artisans are there-from the silversmith Paul Revere and the revolutionary carpenters and blacksmiths who hurled tea into Boston Harbor, to today's “craftivists.” From Mother Jones to Rosie the Riveter. From Betsy Ross to the AIDS Quilt. Adamson documents how craft has long been implicated in debates around inequality, education, and class, as well as America's failures to live up to its loftiest ideals. Yet artisanship has also been a site of resistance for oppressed people, such as enslaved African-Americans whose skilled labor might confer hard-won agency under bondage, or the Native American makers who built traditional arts into businesses that preserved cherished folkways. Theirs are among the array of memorable portraits of Americans both celebrated and unfamiliar in this richly peopled book. As Adamson argues, these artisans' stories speak to our collective striving toward a more perfect union: from the beginning, America had to be-and still remains to be-crafted.

30 review for Craft: An American History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    Craft by Glenn Adamson is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-November. American craftsmanship is presented as kind of depleting in quality and skill, describing the demise of folk art, comparing pilgrim survival-based crafts to the advancement and colorful animist qualities of Native art, currency, and toolmaking, metalwork and mechanics, sewing & needlework, and invention as craft, handmade goods, woodwork, printing, brewing, and pottery, before going on into exhibitions, vocational schoo Craft by Glenn Adamson is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-November. American craftsmanship is presented as kind of depleting in quality and skill, describing the demise of folk art, comparing pilgrim survival-based crafts to the advancement and colorful animist qualities of Native art, currency, and toolmaking, metalwork and mechanics, sewing & needlework, and invention as craft, handmade goods, woodwork, printing, brewing, and pottery, before going on into exhibitions, vocational schools, large-scale manufacturing, and DIY.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want a deep dive into the history and importance of crafts and artisans in the United States. Librarians/booksellers: From pre-colonial to times to "craftivism," Etsy, and the maker movement, this is an all-encompassing view of American craft history. The importance of African-Americans to American craft history--particularly in slavery and Civil Rights times--is significant, and eye-opening to read. Readers wanting a comprehensive look at American crafts will be rewarded. Many than Read if you: Want a deep dive into the history and importance of crafts and artisans in the United States. Librarians/booksellers: From pre-colonial to times to "craftivism," Etsy, and the maker movement, this is an all-encompassing view of American craft history. The importance of African-Americans to American craft history--particularly in slavery and Civil Rights times--is significant, and eye-opening to read. Readers wanting a comprehensive look at American crafts will be rewarded. Many thanks to Bloomsbury USA and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a history of craft in America that extends from colonial times until the present, even including some COVID-19 issues. It covers a lot of material and many of the common distinctions drawn that include the idea of craft, such as between hand-crafted and manufactured, handicrafts and factory goods, custom or bespoke versus mass production. Looking at US history as the march of progress, mass production and marketing, and the rise of consumerist society, one can see the general decline of This is a history of craft in America that extends from colonial times until the present, even including some COVID-19 issues. It covers a lot of material and many of the common distinctions drawn that include the idea of craft, such as between hand-crafted and manufactured, handicrafts and factory goods, custom or bespoke versus mass production. Looking at US history as the march of progress, mass production and marketing, and the rise of consumerist society, one can see the general decline of “craft” related industries although there remains some residual aspects of craft even as modern society takes over. For example, the most mass produced goods and high volume technologies will display a custom made side to how the production environment is built and maintained. Cars are mass produced perhaps, but car factories are custom made and embody lots of craft knowledge. At one level, craft is an orientation towards production - does production proceed on a small batch basis, or is it oriented to large batch or continuing manufacturing. Lots of businesses shifted to mass production early whereas other (shipbuilding, leather making) did not adopt scale processes as easily. For some activities, it gets murky. For example, the most successful airplane production in WW2 was not on an assembly line (Ford) but in a large batch environment (GM). Ideas of craft have long been associated with how work is organized in America and the credit/value/ or pay received on the basis of quality and skill credentials. As Adamson shows, these issues also readily run up against issues of race, gender, or other demographics in the workforce, including temporary or what we today call “precarious” workers and jobs. It is surprising how common it has been from craft distinctions to be wrapped up in broader political agendas. There are other aspects of craft in Adamson’s book. These include “do it yourself” approaches to tasks as well as home products for hobbies or children’s schooling. Craft can also include a number of activities geared towards historical remembering, for example Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactments and historically based local museums, including “living history” sites. This can lead easily into various niches of the antiques business as well as variations of arts and crafts for homes. If I have any misgivings about the book, they relate to the unbelievably broad range of meanings that have come to be associated with “craft”. I would have preferred more consideration of how craft ideas can inform our thinking about various services in businesses, even if they do not produce specific things. For example, the task of management could well be looked at as a craft and there are broad business areas such as consulting and related “advisory” services for which craft models make a good deal of sense, down to the training of apprentices. This would also include skilled work in the more traditional “professions” such as medicine, engineering, or even accounting. But craft is not just a way of looking at how to produce something. Adamson argues that it is also a social construction that ties the history of a society into how tasks are organized. This is why crafts have frequently been political, even down to its importance in primary socialization organizations such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. But it is already complicated to see how different industries have been organized, whether on mass production or small batch production. Choices that are made at the beginnings of an industry can have strong influences deep into the future. It is hard to get ones hands around all the ways in which production choices come to be embedded in society. Maybe some disentangling would have been helpful. Maybe that can be another book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mystic Miraflores

    The early history of craft in the US is something new to me, concerning the cobblers, carpenters, woodworkers, seamstresses, weavers, silversmiths, etc. What is sad is that a lot of this "craft" manufacturing has gone to factories in China. However, as a quilter, I am very familiar with the craftivist movement. Working and creating with our hands is not such an unusual activity to many people in my circle. After I retired from a research and analytical career with the federal government, I start The early history of craft in the US is something new to me, concerning the cobblers, carpenters, woodworkers, seamstresses, weavers, silversmiths, etc. What is sad is that a lot of this "craft" manufacturing has gone to factories in China. However, as a quilter, I am very familiar with the craftivist movement. Working and creating with our hands is not such an unusual activity to many people in my circle. After I retired from a research and analytical career with the federal government, I started running a local chapter in the Washington DC area of a national non-profit which serves children. Our volunteers make, collect and distribute handmade quilts and afghans and other types of blankets to sick, traumatized and needy children. So now almost everyone I interact with is involved with creating with their hands for this good cause. Right after the COVID-19 started, I and my friends pivoted and started making face masks. Most of us have gotten tired of being mask factories and were relieved when we could return to the creative activities for which we have a passion: making blankets for children. So now crafting is not my hobby anymore, it's my life's work.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    This is sold as book about the history of crafting...it is, sort of. Really it is a book about history through the lens of crafts. The Crafts that enslaved Africans brought to America on slaving ships, the crafts that African Americans learned to either escape from slavery, or to become individuals that are given their rights within a very prejudiced society. The history is interesting, the way that craft weaves itself into society in ways that most people no longer remember is deeply interestin This is sold as book about the history of crafting...it is, sort of. Really it is a book about history through the lens of crafts. The Crafts that enslaved Africans brought to America on slaving ships, the crafts that African Americans learned to either escape from slavery, or to become individuals that are given their rights within a very prejudiced society. The history is interesting, the way that craft weaves itself into society in ways that most people no longer remember is deeply interesting. The history, the people, the abuses, etc. are tragic and disheartening. If you are looking for a book that focuses mainly on craft and how craft has woven itself throughout The United States, then this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a history book that looks at atrocities committed and how craft helped some escape these atrocities then this is a good book for you. If I were looking for a history of The United States then this would be a book I would pick up, for learning about the history of craft I will have to search on.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    NYT Review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/bo... Excerpt: “Craft” aims to reckon with the shameful way we have treated and viewed those who handbuilt the country: Indigenous people, African-Americans, women and the working class. “Craft” tracks a legacy of extermination, decimation, oppression, forced assimilation and marginalization. Even on the upside, Adamson argues, when we try to do better by craft and its practitioners through philanthropic support and education, we are often guilty of i NYT Review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/bo... Excerpt: “Craft” aims to reckon with the shameful way we have treated and viewed those who handbuilt the country: Indigenous people, African-Americans, women and the working class. “Craft” tracks a legacy of extermination, decimation, oppression, forced assimilation and marginalization. Even on the upside, Adamson argues, when we try to do better by craft and its practitioners through philanthropic support and education, we are often guilty of idealization, appropriation, fetishization, commercialization and exploitation. Hrm. Is this one really going to be for me? Well, I'll take a look at the library copy, when they get one.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Molly Nelson

    This book is a nice survey of American craft, but I wish it centered stories of those marginalized by the mainstream craft movement and spun out broader discussions from there. Still I learned a lot and appreciated the up-to-the-moment discussion.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa Fernandez

    I love this book so much. A wonderful overview of the importance of craft throughout American history and its varying significance according to the era.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Theodore Kinni

    Adamson tracks the role and influence of craft and craftspeople in the US from the Colonial Period to the present day. Read an advance copy; pub date Sept 2020. New title: Craft: An American History; new pub date: Jan 2021

  10. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    Did not finish. Not what I thought it was going to be about. More history than craft info.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Pcox

    .5 Lots of good information.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Evan

  13. 5 out of 5

    Scotty

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shara Alpern

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sim

  16. 4 out of 5

    Donna J

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  18. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

  19. 4 out of 5

    Vampire Fruit

  20. 4 out of 5

    CL

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bill

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nickie Neary

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marg Corjay

  26. 5 out of 5

    Penny

  27. 4 out of 5

    Spicy Gaming

  28. 5 out of 5

    Peony

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

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