Introduction 4.1

It is an honor to include, in this issue of  The Journal of Modern Craft, an interview with Dame Antonia Byatt.  This statement of practice, transcribed from a conversation that we had with the novelist last year, introduces several themes that run through the other contributions in these pages.  The most obvious link is with Elizabeth C. Miller’s discussion of  “slow print” in the work and thinking of  William Morris. Byatt’s most recent novel,  The Children’s Book, sensitively examines the ethical and personal considerations that attended craft at the end of the nineteenth century. Miller and Byatt alike are interested in the fragility of these hopeful ideals (Morris’s death is briefly noted in The Children’s Book as a symbolic loss of innocence), and also their continuing resonance today.

Yet Byatt is also supremely pragmatic, and suspicious of falling too deeply into an idealized dream state. In the interview she offers a lovely example of utopianism gone astray, on the occasion of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:  “We were going to have a new Elizabethan age and people were going to write verse plays, Shakespeare was going to come back, and energy and color and beauty were going to return to Britain. Buildings that had been painted green, cream, and a certain dirty brown were suddenly painted a very hopeful pale blue.  This was before the Clean Air Act and they very quickly became dirty.”  This is the sort of observation  —grounded in hard, sometimes unpleasant, material facts—that gives her fiction its grounding.

Sarah Fayen Scarlett’s article on the craft of patternmaking looks at a similar down-to-earth movement. She examines the career of American furniture-maker Charles Rohlfs (who, interestingly, began as a Shakespearean actor), pointing out that he could never have realized his magically ornate chairs and desks without long experience as a carver of patterns for a stove manufacturer—a professional training he later tried to hide. Here is one idealistic Arts and Crafts maker whose skills were nurtured within the context of industry. Fayen Scarlett argues that we should take this lesson to heart, not only paying attention to the craftspeople who work in factories, but also the part that their often-invisible skills play in shaping our mass-produced environment.

Joshua Stein also argues for the relevance of craft in an unexpected production context: computer-assisted architectural design. He applies the theories of David Pye and (a writer perhaps less familiar to our readers) Manuel De Landa to show how architects can shift across vastly different scales—from tabletop models to full-scale buildings—using digitally-fueled craft as a connective tissue. Stein finds in this method a way to invest even indirect operations with “material intimacy.” It is a phrase that Byatt might like. In the interview, she vividly describes the process of inventing her characters with her body:  “I sit there and I think their fingers with my fingers.  And if they get hurt I feel it.” It is a suggestive parallel with Anselm Stern, the beguiling puppet-master in The Children’s Book, and also with Stein’s architects, who try to invest their structures with tactility through remote control.

A final inclusion in this issue of the JMC is worthy of note: our primary text, an excerpt of Jean Baudrillard’s 1973 book The Mirror of Production. Here we have a writer who is definitely not reminiscent of Byatt—her carefully observed, empathic humanism finds little place in his critical theory. Interestingly, however, this passage shows him engaging in his own puppet act, manipulating craft for his own theoretical purposes. Baudrillard presents the artisan as a figure who inhabits a symbolic realm, outside of modern productivity. His target is orthodox Marxist thinking, which treats all work as exchangeable labor—rather than as an irreducible experience unto itself.  Against this conception Baudrillard offers a vision of craft that is completely contained within community and materiality—which are, in fact, two primary concerns of Byatt’s. Readers might be surprised to find some common ground between these two powerful, and very different, thinkers. But then, for both, common ground is what craft is all about.

The Editors
The Journal of Modern Craft

Table of contents 4.1

Journal of Modern Craft 4.1

The first issue of 2011 is now out, with writerly reflections on the nature of utopianism in craft.


Editorial introduction

Sustainable Socialism: William Morris on Waste by Elizabeth C. Miller

The Craft of Industrial Patternmaking by Sarah Fayen Scarlett

Speculative Artisanry: The Expanding Scale of Craft within Architecture by Joshua G. Stein

Statement of Practice

Interview with A.S. Byatt including Tanya Harrod and Glenn Adamson (PDF)

Commentary by Glenn Adamson

“The Artisan,” from The Mirror of Production by Jean Baudrillard

Exhibition Reviews

The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942–1946 reviewed by Bibiana Obler

Japanese Sashiko Textiles reviewed by Moira Vincentelli

Book Reviews

Made in Newark: Cultivating Industrial Arts and Civic Identity in the Progressive Era reviewed by Ellen Paul Denker

KnitKnit: Profiles and Projects from Knitting’s New Wave reviewed by Sue Green

Craftivism: A Special Issue of Utopian Studies

Guest editors, Maria Elena Buszek (University of Colorado Denver)
and Kirsty Robertson (University of Western Ontario)

Coined by artists and collectives in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the term “craftivism” relates to creative, traditional handcraft (often, assisted by high-tech means of community-building, skill-sharing, and action) directed toward political and social causes. For this special issue of Utopian Studies, we invite practitioners, scholars, and curators to submit work related to the history, criticism, and myriad practices of craftivism. Subjects and strategies might include: historical or present examples of activist practice that uses craft; issues of production, manufacture or use that might intersect with craftivism; discussions of the successes or limits of craftivist practice; considerations of feminist craft practice that traverse (or are collapsed into) wider social issues and movements. Papers might also take a wider frame, looking at craft and economic globalization, NGO work or the use of craft in cultural brokering. Please note that this issue’s editors are interested in praxis as well as scholarship, and encourage makers to submit statements, manifestos, and/or imagery for consideration.

Utopian Studies is a biannual, peer-reviewed journal publishing scholarly articles on a wide range of subjects related to utopias, utopianism, utopian literature, utopian theory, and intentional communities. All submissions must be sent by JANUARY 17TH 2011 via the journal’s online editorial manager at: Utopian Studies’ submission guidelines are also available online:

Queries concerning the issue’s theme and guidelines may be directed to the guest editors via e-mail: Maria Elena Buszek: [email protected] and Kirsty Robertson: [email protected]