The word artisanal has become so shopworn that it’s almost devoid of meaning. (To wit: we once saw a pizza outlet on the outskirts of a small town in northern France that was fashioned in the style of an ATM-kiosk under the following sign: “Artisanal Pizza.”) In stark contrast to this sorry state of affairs, we would like to suggest a few items for holiday shopping made by some of the masters we profiled in 2019.
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?
While Scottish culture is branded by its famous Highland bagpipes, its neighbor across the water has long made a very different set of pipes that plays a much wider range of music. Our correspondent visits the indefatigable, obsessive masters of the uilleann pipes.
Centuries ago, a fleet of rowboats called Whitehalls plied the waters of the San Francisco Bay, helping the chandlers at their helms ferry goods to and from the giant sailing ships working the city’s port. Today, descendants of those early crafts are being built, rowed, and occasionally put to work on the same waters.
When a Disney film, “Coco,” spotlighted a small Mexican town where almost every shop makes guitars, it suddenly made ornate, white guitars famous. Underneath the new pop icon, however, lies a variety of much finer instruments—and a rich craft going back generations.
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.
Only a handful of artisans still practice the centuries-old craft of rust printing on fabric. Of those who do, even fewer use the traditional stone mangle, or press, on handwoven, raw hemp fabric, yielding textiles that last for centuries. The Marchi family print-works, in Italy’s Romagna region, may well be the only place left in the world that still produces authentic, rust-printed textiles that are fully handmade.
A Craftsmanship documentary short
Nand Kishore Chaudhary has built one of India’s most successful hand-made carpet ventures by forging close ties to a community that most businesses on the continent shun: the poor, largely uneducated caste of citizens long referred to as “Untouchables.” To help his business grow, he’s also had to develop an apprenticeship system around India’s chronic battles with child labor. To Chaudhary, navigating these issues is the only way to honor the true meaning of sustainability. During a visit to Jaipur Rugs Company, our correspondent tries to figure out how all these pieces come together.
Amidst the fashion world’s growing interest in the luxuriously soft fabric that can be made from South American camelids like alpaca, one member of this family with uncommonly fine fleece has been largely ignored: the guanaco, the alpaca’s feisty cousin. Enter Adriana Marina, who is fighting for the guanaco’s place on the commercial stage.
You’ve read the news: traditional 9-5 jobs are in decline; a patchwork, “gig economy” of contract workers is rushing in to take their place; and colleges can’t keep up with these changes. The resulting chaos creates at least one unaddressed challenge: In a world with fewer shared ladders for advancement, how do tomorrow’s workers build pathways to success?
In southern Norway, in a small workshop at the bottom of a verdant, postcard-perfect valley, Annemor Sundbø gathers remnants, paintings, and authentic reproductions of traditional Norwegian sweaters. Her collections—along with her six books on the subject—provide a window into the myths and meaning that were long woven into this legendary Nordic craft. Now she’s trying to bring back the sheep that grew Viking Norway’s unusually hardy wool.
On the Northeastern coast of Italy, not far from meccas of refinement such as Bologna and Florence, an unusual drug treatment community named San Patrignano has grown and thrived for more than 40 years. The program’s methodology? Teach addicts high-level artisanal skills, and slowly but surely, confidence and pride fill what was once a desperate void.
If you’re tired of smelling like everyone else when you go out on the town, you can finally say ‘No’ to the big perfume houses, and their over-priced synthetic scents. In a growing number of kitchen labs and small shops around the globe, small-scale perfume artists are bottling a world of intoxicating new scents. Some seem to give new meaning to the concept of time travel.
In a small, indigenous Mexican community in the mountains of Michoacán, a band of determined women led the overthrow of a criminal cartel. Their victory gave the town a new sense of purpose by reviving its traditional livelihood, its capacity for self-government, and its communal spirit.
Sometime in the 1800s, long after the Persians had beaten back the Crusaders, the technique for making the mighty swords that won those battles was mysteriously lost. In the centuries that followed, Europe’s best metallurgists repeatedly tried to revive this craft, with no luck. Then, in the 1980s, a lone horseshoer in Florida named Al Pendray started tinkering with steel recipes. A Craftsmanship Mini-Documentary
For 15 years, the world’s folk art makers and enthusiasts have gathered, en masse, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to celebrate the possible when it comes to indigenous craftsmanship. This summer, in just three days, some 21,000 people spent $3.3 million to show that traditional artisans still matter. A Craftsmanship PHOTO ESSAY.
Marino Menegazzo spends his days hammering gold leaf into sheets so fine that your slightest touch will make them dissolve. His workshop—a simple brick building hidden on one of Venice’s myriad piazzas—was once the home and studio of Titian, Italy’s immortal Renaissance painter. Come visit with the world’s last true master of handmade gold leaf—an ancient craft where the hand can still beat the machine, every time.
In today’s increasingly automated world, why bother toiling with hand tools and sawdust? And what makes someone a master craftsman, or craftswoman? In a new book, Gary Rogowski—a master furniture maker and the founder of Northwest Woodworking Studio, in Portland, Oregon—ruminates on the four decades he has spent “at the bench,” the “magic” in old tools, and the principles of mastery and creative focus, not matter what your calling happens to be.
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.
Gorgeous pens have always symbolized the art of writing at its finest—the quintessential combination of beauty, tradition, and skill. But did you ever think of the fountain pen as a tool of environmental consciousness? Our author certainly does. Considering the fountain pen’s myriad varieties, and the powers of vintage pens in particular, he also shops very selectively, cleans his pens regularly, and searches for (and sometimes even makes) the perfect ink.
Most artisans struggle to pay the bills, hoping for a little good press along the way. Ann Morhauser started with all of those odds, and then some, in a tiny studio near Santa Cruz, California. Today she runs a nationally renowned business, with glassware featured in stores across the country—and in the Smithsonian. What was her secret?
On December 31, 2017, the doorsl closed in North Carolina on Cone Denim’s White Oak plant, the first, and now the last, big textile mill in the U.S. to make vintage-style denim. When our correspondent visited, he discovered that the secret to classic jeans has long come from a strange mix of obsolete machinery and American mythology. And their future, it turns out, is not as bleak as you might expect.
When you put on a stylish jacket made of rayon, vegan leather, or even recycled plastic, are you sure you’re helping the planet more than if you bought one made of animal leather? In this journey down a very twisted rabbit hole, Alden Wicker—a frequent writer, blogger, and speaker on sustainable fashion—finds answers that may not be particularly comfortable for the animal rights movement.
In the middle of the Shenandoah Valley, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Hugo Kohl has pulled off what might be the ultimate act of sustainability—at least regarding jewelry. Through years of painstaking, costly, often fruitless detective work, he rescued an era of early American jewelry manufacturing technology that was on the brink of extinction. Now Kohl is one of the few people in the world making a class of vintage jewelry that is truly authentic. And he swears that the system in his shop is the only way to do capitalism.
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.
Since the communist revolution of 1959, Cuba has been on an economic rollercoaster. The country has lurched from dependency to self-sufficiency, in a bubble of isolation where technological time stopped. Our correspondent visits the artists and self-taught engineers who have kept Cuba running throughout its bizarre ride.
Bill Black, a master “rawhider,” has poured his life into refining a simple piece of horse gear called a hackamore. Sometimes used in lieu of a bridle, the device has largely fallen into disuse. But it can teach a horse to work cattle with unusual agility, grace, and sophistication—if managed by a knowing pair of hands.
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?
Anyone who knows bicycles knows Brooks—the legendary, iconic British company that has been making simple, old-fashioned leather bicycle saddles since 1882. In the ensuing years, many have tried to improve on these seats with new designs and new materials. Yet the consensus remains: Nothing can beat a Brooks, which celebrates the brand’s 150th anniversary this year. So of course we had to go see how these saddles get made.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Felipe Ortega has devoted his life to creating the perfect pot of beans—and an unusually audacious way of looking at culture. Over the years, Ortega’s journey involved such an unusual combination of the traditional and the non-traditional that it puts a very old question into very new light: What’s the right way to look at cultural progress? Should we put a fence around our unique traditions? Or should we share them, welcoming the opportunity to mix with new ideas?
An American woodworker’s love affair with “the best” (and perhaps least well-known) sculpture museum in Paris – and what the affair taught him.
What makes people devote hours to the frustrating task of gluing together pieces so small you have to pick them up with tweezers? And does this obsessive hobby even matter anymore? To find out, a devotee of the art dives into Revell’s world of plastic models.
A Photo Essay
A gastro-scientific investigation of why cooks believe food tastes better (note: much better) when it’s cooked in a ceramic pot. Tour guide: Paula Wolfert, the legendary queen of American clay-pot cooking.