In recent blog postings people have talked about how the advent of Pinterest has ushered in a new era of DIY. In a simplified and certainly not scholarly observation, I feel comfortable stating that the Arts and Crafts movement was spawned as a rebellion or push-back against the machine and mass production and the value and ideals of those who created that world. Focus was on individual craftsmanship Many of the those modern-day thinkers felt that a return to craft as practiced during the middle ages was the ideal.
I have thought a lot about this as I see the rise in the DIY movement of this generation through the internet. We have truly become a technology-based culture and the speed at which it changes is head spinning. I can see why there may be a wish to return to simpler times similar to the longing that many had at the turn of the century. I’m a tale-end baby boomer and part of the generation that has in many ways had unparalleled income and abundance. Focus for my generation was on work and getting ahead. Both mom and dad worked, many could afford a housekeeper, and everything you ate pretty much came delivered or from a purchased jar or box of some kind.
Enter our children’s generation. Isn’t it typical for children to eschew the values of their parents? Many young couples are simplifying so that one of them can stay home with their children. The focus is on nourishing and whole food meals with hundreds of mommy blogs detailing recipes and activities like how to “put up” food through canning. These young women and men are learning and blogging about how to sew, build furniture, and do their best to upcycle, recycle and remake because of their moral and ethical values of taking responsibility, respect for the earth and stewardship of it. It seems to be a return to stronger and old-time values.
I also think there is another factor in the DIY revival and I don’t think it necessarily has to do with values. The economy. When the financial bubble burst there was further impetus for people to start getting involved with DIY. They simply can’t afford to buy new. I’ve seen this with weddings. As a wedding planner for 18 years I keep up with trends and right after the big burst the trend in weddings changed to “self expression”, DIY, and simplicity. Today, mason jars, burlap and wooden logs are all the rage for wedding decor. The same is true for many DIY projects which I find focus on cottage style or “vintage” shabby chic style. It’s funny to hear my daughter and her friends talk about the “quality” of things made in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s in comparison to our throw-away generation products now. There is truth in it but what strikes me is that I suspect these conversations are very similar to the ones had by followers of Ruskin and William Morris a hundred years ago.
During the Arts and Crafts era individuals like William Morris, inspired by the middle ages, spent their lives chasing the goal of producing hand-made products for the common people. Morris did not achieve this goal due to the fact that these “by hand” produced items were expensive and only the wealthy could afford this work. When Arts and Crafts ideals reached America a DIY movement was born. During this time women in the family purchased needlework kits or decorated pre-made pottery and it was the husband or son of the family who might have created the frame or table pattern they got from a magazine. Quality and workmanship were prized.
I see something similar happening today. Owning a piece of Stickley or even a hand made arts and crafts tile can be out of reach for many people. It’s true there are affordable pieces out there and you just might stumble upon a garage sale wherein the elderly owner drags a Stickley rocking chair that sat in the attic for a hundred years out onto the front lawn to put a $25 price tag on it. But I do think that many Arts and Crafts era pieces and even some revival pieces created by today’s artisans may be out of reach for the average joe. If price-wise you’re faced with the choice between a piece of furniture and a car (albeit not the best on the car lot), practicality, is going to win out. Through Pinterest, blogs, YouTube videos and the internet in general, people are able to learn skills and create items that are inspired by those who created before us.
As I said on my About page I think it is time to re-think what authenticity and ideals of the arts and crafts philosophy mean in our society. What I see happening is that Pinterest and other internet sites allow all of us, “the common people”, to see some of the beautiful Arts and Crafts era rarities that we would never have been aware of any other way and to be inspired by them. Learning and participating in modern day DIY in an Arts and Crafts style allows us to make things with our hands, express our tastes and in many ways to follow in the footsteps of great artisans like William Morris, Gustav Stickley, and Charles Voysey who were similarly inspired by the generations before them. I think William Morris might be pleased by what we see around us today and perhaps this is the fulfillment of his wish to see a resurgence of common people producing their own art & home decor products.
If you’d like to read more on this topic check out:
The American Craftsman: A Contemporary Revival by Nate Mucha
Do it Yourself: The Modern Arts and Crafts Movement by Nate Mucha