"Craeft" - Book Review

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Our generation is bombarded with all manner of objects and advertising that purports to be authentic craft. Many of these are made by large manufacturers looking to capitalize on what is perceived to be authentic. Witness big breweries that produce beers for mass consumption that purport to be "hand-made," when actually they gush from huge pressurized storage tanks. Websites offer game memorabilia that they say is  "authentic craft." No wonder there is confusion. 

I recently came across the book "Craeft" by Alexander Longlands, an English archeologist who has turned his attention and his hands to things and environments made by hand. He does this in part to understand the nature of the artifacts and the human landscape that archeologists have uncovered, and what efforts went into shaping them. Although Longlands considers himself not highly skilled, he tries his hand at a number of crafts, from weaving baskets, to firing a mammoth kiln. In the process he examines the effect that craft has on the maker as well. He titles his book "Craeft," deliberately using the archaic spelling, to explore the long history of handmade objects and environments.

As a passionate maker myself, I was fascinated by his explorations. Although he does not consider himself a master craftsman in any of his endeavors, he has the curiosity to pursue many crafts employed by our ancestors. He interprets craft broadly, looking at what it takes to flake an arrowhead, weave a basket, or thatch a roof, and what effect craft has on the land.

Craftspeople found their materials locally, he says, and they used these materials not only to create objects for use and for changing their environments and the look of the land. Earlier humans were successful in part because they were able to hand-turn forest land into arable land for growing food. He maintains that the stone age might well have been called the stick age if the evidence of the wood and fiber they used had not long since turned to dust. Whereas stones have endured, sticks, weaving, and fabrics have been lost. With that in mind, for instance, he explores the larger implications of basket weaving. This leads to habitat construction in the form of woven sticks and fibers. He even observes that early boats and dwellings were made the same way that baskets were made. All of this centers around the understanding and employment of materials readily available.

The Platinum Izumo Bamboo Weaving Gozame #15 Benikabairo is mystifying. I find it difficult to see where  the joins are in the woven fiber, a sure sign of master craftsmanship.

Some objects provide hard archeological evidence. But for those for which there is only soft or flimsy evidence, this archeologist is aided by hands-on experience. From here he takes us to fruitful speculation about materials such as vines, shoots, and fibers, and how they could have been employed to make life better for prehistoric peoples. "Craeft" is a fascinating read for those who value how we have evolved as makers and gets to the fundamentals of authentic craft. 

See part two of this series, Craft Today, a Sequel to "Craeft" - Book Review.

John Mottishaw

Author: 
John Mottishaw
Publish Date: 
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

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