Swamped with commissions and finishing a book, I took a pile of quilt pieces, an iron and an ironing board into our sitting room last night to watch the second season of the wonderful PBS show Craft in America while still getting a little work done. As an aside, I am working on a full-bed-size version of our Lace quilt, which is one of my all-time favorite quilts to make. As I’ve been working on it this week I’ve been astonished by the idea that this quilt is one of three for a client on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. I still can’t get over the power of the internet and how someone who lives on the Isle of Man knows that Bill and I make quilts in our little home studio in Oak Park, Illinois. It just kind of boggles the mind that people just find us but we’re ever so grateful that they do.
Anyway, the whole Isle of Man thing does factor into my perceptions of Craft in America. I loved the first season and really appreciated the way in which the show celebrated people who make things with outstanding craftsmanship in a variety of media. The show shows the people behind the craft and their love of what they do. The show is so well done and cannot fail to garner admiration for the artisans from the viewer. The second season also showed educational settings for craft which was also wonderful to see. If you haven’t seen this series yet I envy you. You have an amazing treat in store.
I’m hoping that there will be a third show and that it will cover the realities of being an artisan because that’s where I get nervous. You can’t help but watch the show after a bad day at the office and want to ditch it all to become a book artist or weaver. The show does not reveal the reality that we’ve lived in dealing with such tedious but potentially business-breaking issues as marketing, cash flow, technology that doesn’t work, dealing with clients and the number one hassle of anyone who is self-employed in America–the high cost and availability of health insurance.
Money is never mentioned in the series, which extends the myth that there are deMedici-like patrons who support these artisans. While we do some work for very wealthy people, we have also sold quilts to people who have saved up for seven years to buy one. Several of the people featured on the show were university professors who undoubtedly receive a salary and benefits form their employer but others appeared to live in beautiful houses in lovely places with large and well-appointed studios, giving the impression that financial issues never get in the way of their work.
I worry sometimes that after a show like that we’ll start getting more of the calls and emails we frequently get from people who have good jobs but are tired of their bosses. They have seen an article on us and think we have a lifestyle that they too would like to have. While I never want to discourage anyone I wish that just once someone would tell it like it is for most craftspeople. It’s a financial and emotional roller coaster at times but you love going to work everyday so you don’t want to get off. We actually love applying our creativity to our business model, but we have met many artisans who don’t want to deal with the money part.
Ten years in business in a bad economy, we’ve been saved by the internet and the people from all over the world, like the lovely woman on the Isle of Man, that still feel that our work is worth the amount that we charge for it. I’d love to see the next Craft in America also show technology and how it’s changed the craft world. Although the making of the wrought iron gates in South Carolina may not have changed much in the past 70 years, many other artisans use technology in fascinating ways to both make and market their work.
So I hope that you’ll watch Craft in America and then be grateful for your 401k.