When we went looking for the next member of our new and growing family—“Craftsmanship’s Young Turks”—Jack Mauch was an easy choice. At the age of 32, he’s already creating breathtaking examples of craftsmanship in everything from furniture-making to ceramics and metalwork. If this kind of range is what it takes to become a master artisan in today’s world, God help the rest of us mere mortals.
Almost hidden on a funky old pier along San Francisco’s waterfront, Autodesk, a world leader in digital tools for makers, is running a prototype shop that seems more like a high-tech playground for grown-ups. In between contracts to make, say, a steel ship propeller with a massive 3-D printer, the company takes in sculptors, engineers, and architects who are pushing the boundaries of their own work. The effect of all this energy is a level of innovation that is expanding—and perhaps redefining—the meaning of craftsmanship.
A year ago, we published the first guide to America’s best residential summer workshops for a variety of crafts, from woodworking and glass blowing to pottery and boatbuilding. In the process, we discovered a range of craftsmanship’s rising stars. Meet three of them: Maria Zamudio, “Rocky” Boikanyo, and Angela Robins.
In a corrugated tin shed that somehow survived California’s massive fires in Sonoma Valley, Gary Freeman labors to keep old VW Beetles and vans—the cars that defined the counterculture of the 1960s—still chugging. Some become great “daily drivers” for as little as $15,000; in Europe, some get auctioned for more than $200,000. It’s all part of one man’s quest for automotive immortality.
Across the U.S., scores of schools and other programs offer courses and workshops in everything from boat-building to glass blowing to knife making. But no one has created an informed guide to all these courses—until now. If you’ve always wanted to become a better woodworker, make and smoke your own sausage, or fix your grandfather’s antique violin, here are detailed descriptions of the nine best programs we could find.
In Providence, Rhode Island, Janice McDonnell started one of the unlikeliest of revolutions. On seven empty lots in the inner city, she set up a new kind of playground—places where kids could build anything they want, break anything they want. Her larger goals? To fight the disappearance of play brought on by the relentless testing that’s become the norm in today’s schools—and to spread playful opportunities beyond rich white families.
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.
Ross Shafer made his mark creating a popular brand of mountain bikes, called Salsa, and a line of small but crucial bicycle parts that no one had brought to the market before. Now he’s making what might be the world’s most beautiful “pedal steel guitar.” Might Shafer’s relentless eclecticism offer a model for a kind of second Renaissance?
Now that manufacturing wages in Asia are starting to rise, some U.S. industries have started to bring their businesses back to our own shores. Many others remain skittish, however—of our tighter regulatory environment, of the high cost of U.S. labor, and of the paucity of workers who know how to make things anymore. Can that spiral be reversed?
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?