V&A/RCA History of Design MA Dissertation Research
Manifesting Destiny: The American Craft Council, the Society of North American Goldsmiths and the influence of craft communities on the contemporary jewelry practitioner
In 1939 American philanthropist Aileen Osborn Webb founded the Handcraft Cooperative League of America from an affiliation of East Coast regional craft groups. This national organization would become the American Craft Council: a community of craftsmen and educators that would mold the very definition of craft in America, going on to found The World Craft Council, the American Craft Museum (now the Museum of Art and Design in New York) and the School for American Craftsmen; the blueprint for post-secondary craft education in the United States. The Council fostered within emerging craftsmen the values of material mastery, efficiency in design and production as well as intelligent marketing and responsible pricing: principles which the organization’s leaders believed would insure the survival of the American craft tradition.
The Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG), founded in 1969, formed, like the Council, from an initiative to insure the survival of a discipline— now within the fine art institution. SNAG quickly became a driving force in the rapid development of the contemporary jewelry practitioner within the fine art paradigm by encouraging critical discourse between makers, educators and the public.
Craft practitioners today face a dominant fine art institutional and art theoretical narrative that favors discussion of craft as ‘an idea’—robbing the craft practitioner of his agency and alienating him from his own practice while feeding a stigma surrounding commercial success and cooperation with industry, isolating the craftsman from the market. At what point in the history of craft in America did the need arise for craft’s legitimacy to be proven within the fine art narrative? This dissertation seeks to combat the dominant craft theoretical narrative by addressing contemporary craft from a historical perspective in order to expose the institutional myth-making that has become such a critical impediment to the emerging contemporary practitioner.
The full text of this dissertation is available to the public through the Victoria and Albert Museum's National Art Library, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like to know more, or would like to request the full text.