After a sold-out, standing-room only viewing of the new Handmade Nation movie in San Francisco, I got in touch with director Faythe Levine (author of a book by the same name) to discuss the evolving role of craft culture in today’s changing commercial landscape, and where to begin looking for handmade goods if you’re a novice to the scene. Levine is a lifelong “maker” with a passion for creating and encouraging others to take joy in doing the same.
Who would you say the target audience is for the film? What was your goal in complementing the Handmade Nation book with a big screen presence?
I have been amazed at the interest and audience this film has drawn. My intention when working on it was not only to make a film that would appeal to the maker community but also educate those outside it, and it seems like it has been doing just that. And even though that was my plan, I wasn't expecting the film to be shown in museums and schools, as it has been already. The fact that people are using it as an educational tool is amazing and encouraging. I really just wanted to show that you can create your own artistic vision, and DIY allows you to do that. There are no rules!
I’ve received a ton of feedback from all types of people saying they weren't expecting to relate or care about the documentary, but that they walked away feeling motivated to create, or support artists who are doing so. And a lot of artists who needed a reminder that the creative process isn't just about selling your work, it's also about the empowerment of making creative decisions.
How do you feel about the internet's ability to disseminate craft to a huge audience? Do you feel like having such a wide reach-- and having to produce things in mass quantities-- changes the nature of craft?
I am very thankful that the Internet has allowed like-minded makers to connect and I feel it has played a huge roll in the resurgence of handmade and DIY culture. I don't think people are necessarily producing things in mass quantities just because work is reaching a wide audience; it just depends on the work. And I think the Internet is changing the nature of craft by redefining and reshaping what craft means to people.
Do you feel that in this economy people are looking to craft to gain more of a personal connection with their goods, and hoping that the things they buy will mean more than just a retail product from a superstore?
I will simply say yes, one hundred percent.
How do you feel that craft edging into the mainstream changes the intrinsically independent nature of the movement, if at all?
Well, the craft aesthetic has been inching into marketing and media since the whole "indie punk" look began to be popular in the early 2000s. However in the past few years it's really exploded. People are looking for that personalized look: rough unfinished edges, handwritten type, silkscreened and off-center. In a way, I think commercialization makes the indie movement more approachable. Uninformed consumers might first encounter the hand-printed style on a shirt at a chain store, but if they then see a similar picture on a flyer for a local craft fair, they may be more likely than before to check out what local artists are up to. So the co-opting of that handmade aesthetic makes it more familiar and accessible. On the other hand, of course it affects sales when someone can get a cool looking handbag at Old Navy for $22 and a similar handmade one could cost $45. Personally, I try to look at it from both angles. Bottom line: those indie business who want to stay small will stay small.
Etsy's online shop.
You started the Art vs. Craft fair. Do you feel like there is a delineation between the two? Should there be?
I'm not interested in discussing the art vs. craft debate. I use the words interchangeably and also throw in the term "maker" which drives some people nuts. I do, however, think the dialog is important to have. My focus is to get people to appreciate creativity and remind them that taking the time to make things is very important. Personally, I need to walk a fine line between promoting the idea that anyone and everyone can make something, and being a curator. But my main message that is if you want to create, you should follow that urge because it will make you feel good.
One thing I found inspiring about the movie is the sense of real camaraderie amongst crafters, of the shared experience of creating and a genuine enthusiasm for what they do. Do you feel there is any sense of regionalism in these groups, or different attitudes towards crafting in different areas of the country?
Because of the Internet there aren’t really any regional trends or attitudes. Obviously urban areas have a larger market for craft fairs and crafting groups, but otherwise we are all connected through the world wide web.
What are your top recommendations for someone looking to get involved in buying craft? Making crafts?
If people are interested in learning more about what is going on with handmade goods and the scene surrounding it, I would suggest starting with these websites and clicking on links that appeal to you.
There is also a list of craft fairs on the Handmade Nation blog, which would definitely be helpful.
Do you have a favorite crafter right now? Anyone whose work we should be paying attention to?
There is so much amazing work being produced by so many amazing artists, but a few of my current favorites are:
You came from a creative family, quite unconventional in that your mother is an organic dairy farmer and your father is an astrologer; would you say making things and taking an interest in others' crafts was a natural progression for you?
It's true, I am super fortunate. My parents, both self-employed, were one hundred percent supportive of my artistic ways and always encouraged me to follow my creative path. We are so lucky to live in a time when there is so much information available at our fingertips.