The first Baltimore winter craft market - a carefully selected show of the work of 400 craftsworkers from all over the Eastern seaboard - will be held next Saturday and Sunday in the Baltimore Civic Center.
The show is just the latest evidence of the continuing growth of the crafts revival in the last 20-odd years - and early manifestation of the current populist movement.
Joan Mondale - a potter, and, of course, the Vice President's wife - plans to visit the Baltimore show. Mrs. Mondale is looking for ways to make a collection from the best of contemporary American craftsworkers for the Vice President's mansion. Such a collection, for an administration that a vows a people's perspective, would be a fitting replacement for the expensive, though much-admire, formal American art that decorated the Vice President's residence during Nelson Rockefeller's term.
The White House and the State Department diplomatic reception rooms are devoted to American antique craftsmanship of the period before 1830. This collection, by Clement Conger, curator for both, has greatly increased the reputation and value of American decorative objects and furniture of the period. But the work of the major American artist/craftsworkers of today is not represented in any of this country's great official entertaining rooms. Perhaps Mrs. Mondale's project will help remedy this lack and give American craftsworkers the recognition they deserve.
(It would take some sort of fund-raising organization, because many fulltime craftsworkers still live on the edge of financial disaster, and shouldn't be asked to give their work away.)
Mrs. Mondale, with her gift two weeks ago to Margaret Trudeau, wife of the Canadian prime minister, of a ceramic cup she made herself, may have set a useful precedent. Why shouldn't all our ceremonial state gifts to foreign governments be American crafts? The object could be exquisite, valuable, one-of-a-kind works that still would not cost anywhere near the price of some of the gifts given in past administrations - to cite extreme examples, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo Landau, Cadillac and Lincoln Continental that President Nixon gav to Soviet party chief Leonid Brezhnev on three occasions. (Often these state gifts have been chosen, it would seem, because a corporation was willing to make the donation.)
But best of all, crafts would be representative of our do-it-yourself, power-to-the-people, get-out-and-walk culture. There is a great spirit to an object that bears the mark of the hand, not the machine. Handmade gifts would help other countries realize the value we put on human labor.
Today, for the first time, American crafts in certain categories - for instance the glass crafts shown at a recent fair in Frankfort, Germany - are the best in world. We can say without fear of falsehood that New World craftsworkers are most often the equal of the old. We should be proud to give such evidence of ourselves.
A good survey of the state of the crafts, at least on the East Coast, is the first Baltimore winter craft market, organized by the Northeast Craft Fair, Ltd., at the Baltimore Civic Center.
Among the 400 of the Atlantic seaboard's top craftsworkers exhibiting at the Baltimore show are 148 potters, 84 textile craftsworkers, 24 glassworkers, 28 leathercrafters, 60 jewelers, 30 forged iron and bronze workers, two tinsmiths, one coppersmith, six pewter craftsworkers and 24 woodworkers, including 14 furniture makers, six musical instrument wokers and 15 toymakers, and an assortment of one-of-a-kinders such as a basketmaker, broommaker, scrimshaw worker, feather duster crafter, hammock stringer, knifesmith and a few whose identify isn't so easy to name. The market is a juried show: 2,000 craftsworkers submitted work from which the 400 were chosen.
The show marks a first effort to reconcile two major factions in a sort of War Between the States in crafts. For the first time, members of the Southern Higlands Handicraft Guild, the Kentucky Quild of Arts and Craftsmen and the West Virginia Artist and Craftsmen Guild will show with the Northeast craftsworkers.
For some time, the Southern craftsworkers have felt that the Northern craftsworkers looked down upon their work as being "traditional," otherwise translated as "old hat." The Nothern group has suggested that its work is more innovative in technique and contemporary in design. Mason-Dixon line straddlers tend to the opinion that neither area has a monopoly on either traditional or contemporary designs and methods. In any case, both sides have been speaking from both ignorance and prejudice. The Baltimore show just might help bring about an armistice.
The value cannot be overestimated of craftsworkers coming together, seeing each other's work and exchanging craft methods, according to Ralph Rinzler, director of the Smithsonian Institution's Folklife Festival, the biggest of the traditional folk culture events in the country. "So many of these people work in relative isolation during, it's really like a family reunion. It's especially great at the Folklife Festival to see the young people so awestruck by some of the older craftsmen." Thus the fairs have educational as well as economic benefits to the craftsworker.
The craftsworkers who are showing at the fair aren't the only ones who benefit. Today, the biggest news in crafts is that everybody is into them. Many people who got to such events are there not only to buy, but to learn how they can use craft techniques at home. Crafts today are not the news they once were - they are settling down to an accepted and expected part of life, much as they used to be before the machine age.
A recent Louis Harris survey, for instance, showed that 43 per cent of Americans engage in some form of crafts production, from weaving to ceramics. The American Crafts Council, founded in 1943 by Mrs. Vanderbilt Webb, now has 37,000 members. Paul Smith, director of the ACC's Museum for Contemporary Crafts in New York, says 1,500 schools teach crafts and 1,800 shops sell crafts.
As Smith suggests, the future of American crafts may not be in the expensive, one-of-a-kind object locked away in a millionaire's collection, such as the Tiffany lamp that recently brought $44,000 at auction. It may instead be the medium-priced, useful as well as beautiful bowl, made in multiples by cottage-industries. Smith sees a return to the small factory, or craftatelier if you prefer, where the master craftsworker employs five or six apprentices who learn and earn.
Such craft studios could make creative crafts more economical, while keeping up the standards and passing on the skills. Studios like this could also help give employment to handicapped workers, who could function well in a small group where their problems could be understood and allowed for.
In any case the Baltimore show should attract a good crowd. Mrs. Webb, the 84-year-old founder of the ACC, will be hostess Thursday at an invitation champagne breakfast with the new ACC chairman, Barbara Rockefeller, daughter-in-law to the former Vice President. Center Stage and the Baltimore Museum of Art are sponsoring benefit previews Feb. 17 and 18. Thursday and Friday daytimes will be reserved for the wholesale buyers. Thursday night, beginning at 5 p.m., the preview will include wine, cheese, dinner, dancing to the Anything Goes orchestra and ice skating. Friday's preview will include a Dave Brubeck concert. Tickets are $6. More information is available by calling (301) 3966310.