In the 1960s, Shinola, the venerable American shoe-polish company that became famous for a World War II soldier’s crack, “You don’t know shit from Shinola,” shut its doors. The move was a fitting bookend to the golden age of American manufacturing. Then, in 2011, a Texas developer revived the name as a maker of watches, leather goods, and retro bicycles in the broken heart of downtown Detroit, where, the company says, “American is Made.” Is making things in America again that easy?
By LAURA FRASER
When an American made, battery powered, quartz watch costs $1,500, and its counterparts from other countries, including Switzerland, range from $50 to more than $50,000, what’s the difference between them all? A quick dive into the eternal appeal of wrist sculptures.
By TODD OPPENHEIMER
Boutiques selling hip shoulder bags seem to be all the rage these days. Some look rustic enough to take into the woods, some more suited to the streets of Manhattan. With all these offerings, how does an eager consumer judge quality? Herewith, a visit with four contrasting American leathercrafting shops. And a little story about Marv Obenauf, a former firefighter turned master artisan of leather dressings.
Story by TODD OPPENHEIMER
Photography by ROMAIN BLANQUART, SCOTT CHERNIS, SHAWN LINEHAN, and courtesy of L.P. STREIFEL
In the 1500s, a Spanish bishop turned a collection of pueblos around the Mexican town of Patzcuaro into a center for craftsmanship. The people here are still making and marketing their wares in much the same way they did hundreds of years ago. Now they have to overcome tourists’ fears about drug traffickers, real or not.
Story by LAURA FRASER
Photography by JANET JARMAN
As the economy’s reliance on innovation grows, the commercial offerings of toys for girls remains, well, somewhat less than innovative. Fortunately, a few women who are educators, engineers, and entrepreneurs are starting to figure this problem out by reviving the time-honored principles of tinkering. But how could we have gotten so off track? One writer goes searching for the answer.
By DAVID MUNRO
When Bob Kramer decided it was time to make his own cutlery, he had no idea that his career turn would take him deep into the secret lives of knives. Now he’s established a reputation as one of the most revered bladesmiths in the world–playing David to the Goliath cutlery manufacturers of Germany and Japan.
Story by TODD OPPENHEIMER
Photography by MICHAEL MATISSE and MARTY NAKAYAMA
Every few years, some new razor system hits the market pledging to save your face and your pocketbook. Virtually all of them miss the boat, because the golden age of shaving occurred 50 years ago. The good news is that all that vintage gear is still available, and a few entrepreneurs are now making beautiful modern versions. A visit with the American craftsmen who are making what might be the best of those razors.
Story and photography by TODD OPPENHEIMER
If you’re curious about the offerings beyond (or before) today’s over-priced, plasticized, landfill clogging shaving gear, we’ve got you covered. A collector of traditional shaving tools, and a prolific writer on the topic, offers a primer—and some very wise buying tips. Male readers in particular, beware: It is very easy to get hooked on this stuff.
By MICHAEL HAM
Welcome to Craftsmanship’s inaugural gift guide, where we list the best (or at least the most unusual) items that we could find during our first year exploring the artisan world. Our discoveries include fine kitchen knives, cooking pottery, guitars, harmonicas, alcoholic drinks, and, of course, some real children’s toys.
By JOHN MARCOM