Rabbit Goody, Thistle Hill Weavers

“Craft, Trade, and Factory: the relationship of labor to process”

Justin Squizzero, The Burroughs Garret

"Crafting a Life"

How does one make a living using technology that's been obsolete for two hundred years? What does it mean to be relevant today while working within a centuries old craft tradition? In a time when social bonds have been replaced by social media, can Americans relate to each other by using objects without touch screens? Justin Squizzero will highlight the links between tool, technique, place, and tradition that are at the core of the textiles he weaves in Newbury, Vermont. Through corporeal objects we quite literally come into contact with others. From the indelible mark of the maker’s hand to the seasonal variation of natural fibers, handcrafted textiles are imbued with traces of the time and place of their creation. This matter matters, its character is as distinct and diverse as a fingerprint. By deliberately embracing small scale skilled hand craft at a time when tech is king, it becomes possible to bridge the digital gap and find the human connection between producer and consumer. If the Digital Age promises infinite stimulus for the mind, then the need for craft and its reverence for the hand has never been greater. 

Carol Cassidy, Lao Textiles

“Ancient Weaving for a Modern World”

For centuries, hand weaving has been an integral part of Laotian culture. American weaver and development advisor Carol Cassidy helped bring a new vitality to this heritage through building on the traditional designs and techniques of skilled weavers from Laos. 30 years ago she and her husband founded Lao Textiles, which has employed two generations of Lao women and contributed to the prominence of silk weaving in the world textile art market. Lao Textiles provides employee salary, pension and medical benefits bringing continuous economic empowerment and prosperity to Lao women. 

Nearly 20 years ago Carol assumed an advisory role of a weaving project for disabled land mine survivors. The “Weaves of Cambodia” studio has provided decades of employment and continues to thrive in the remote province of Preah Vihear. The studio is providing up-cycled, re-cycled creative fabrics to innovative social entrepreneurs. 

In this talk, Carol will look back and reflect on what challenges she has encountered and factors that have contributed to the success of these two hand weaving businesses in a modern, industrial world. 

Timothy Oakes, The University of Colorado Boulder

"Branded heritage: ICH and craft commerce in Southwest China"

This talk will explore craft commodity production – chiefly silk embroidery and silversmithing – among the Miao of Shidong, in Southwest China’s Guizhou province. A particular focus will be given to the relationship between popular conceptions of ‘authenticity’ in craft production, Intangible Cultural Heritage recognition, and the increasing wealth, connectivity, and state-level promotion of craft production in the region. During the 1990s and early 2000s, highly exploitative productions relations emerged around craft commodity production in the region. With the emergence of Intangible Cultural Heritage listings, attention shifted to highly skilled and entrepreneurial craft producers, yet the broader system of production changed little. As cultural authenticity has risen to the level of a state-sponsored development discourse and branding strategy, the idea of ‘craft’ in association with cultural heritage has become increasingly powerful economically. Ironically, perhaps, the thriving commercial tradition of craft production in China often finds itself at odds with a newfound construction of cultural authenticity as non-commercial. The tension between authenticity and commerce – both of which form essential discourses underlying the idea of ‘craft’ in China – has thus become a significant political terrain of cultural heritage practice in China more broadly and in Shidong specifically.

Karuna Miryam Dietrich Wielenga, Azim Premji University 

"Handlooms and the State in India: A historical exploration"​

India is a country where, despite mechanization, craft based livelihoods have survived and continue to form a substantial part of the economy. However, it would be a serious mistake to perceive them as unchanging, anachronistic survivals from the past. On the contrary, most of them have been fundamentally transformed in the course of the last two centuries. They now form an integral part of the capitalist economy and this has had significant implications for artisans. Handlooms are form the single biggest occupation in this sector.

This paper will examine the changing relationship between the state and the handloom industry over time from two angles. One, the state’s policies towards the industry as such and two, its policies towards weavers. Though it may seem strange to separate the two, I think it is useful to do so as otherwise the latter tend to get obscured by the former. The state’s policies towards handlooms (and crafts in general) needs to be seen in the context of its broader economic policies and therefore has changed over time. I will trace some of the significant shifts in policy from the late nineteenth century to the present. The other trajectory I will trace will be that of state policy vis-a-vis workplace rights and social welfare measures for weavers (and artisans in general). This, in turn, needs to be viewed in the context of the state’s broader policy towards labour. India has a very large informal sector and all crafts/artisans are part of this sector: a key hallmark of this sector being the absence of any form of legal protection for workers.  

I will argue that in envisioning any kind of future for crafts it is important not just to focus on the craft itself – preservation of its heritage and skill – but also pay equal attention to its practitioners, their rights and welfare. With the state playing a key role in the world of crafts, a historical excavation of it policies in this field would be useful in envisioning and strategizing for the future.