Informal History

10×10 Magazine published an article in November of 2001 titled “The Church of Craft, An Informal History (and one woman’s conversion)”

If you have been wondering what it’s all about you can take a look at a pdf of the article or read it all after the break:

In New York and San Francisco, people are gathering. In private places and public spaces they arrive with bags of yarn and scraps of plastic and implements of construction. They are people who own glue guns and bedazzlers, and who often look like they could or do make their own clothes. They look like artists and office managers and writers and designers. They look like you and me. We are the members of The Church of Craft.

The Church of Craft could be seen as a giant piece of art. Performance art of the very best kind, where the people involved don’t always know that they are making art. The kind of art that is endless and endlessly meaningful, that generates discussion and prompts action. Art that is deeply personal and yet rooted in the world. And if you see the Church that way I wouldn’t argue with you, and neither would many of its members or, indeed, its ministers. But the Church is also real–the kind of real that doesn’t need quotes or capital letters. The Church of Craft is, without irony or disclaimer, a church.

The trusted servants (and co-founders) of the Church are the Very Esteemed Callie Janoff (of the New York congregation) and the Reverend Tristmagista (Tristy) Taylor (of San Francisco). On each coast, Church meets once a month in the form of a Craft-on. In addition there are regular study groups (such as yarn study where people can learn to knit and crochet as well as deepen their practice of the fiber arts) and occasional special workshops (such as felting with Scott Boddener and dyeing with Diane Bromberg).

Many members speak of the church as a haven from judgement and anti-craft attitudes. The Church is a place that allows people to make things without thinking about either utility or artistic value. Says Johanna Burke, ” When I hobby-craft (knit,doodle, beads, other) I feel totally free and love the feeling of not being judged for what I make. Often times my artwork and work-work feel too public, so the crafting feels liberating…[Crafting is] a chance to take risks and innovate.” The art v. craft tension is present in many of the Church’s members’ lives, and the Church seeks to be a space where that tension can be released. For Callie, the line between art and non-art represents ‘one of those gray areas that I find magic,” while for Tristy “Art is craft and craft is art. I don’t care what the art schools say. Making things is making things. The act of creation is valid whether you are making a bird house or an abstract painting.”

I’ve come to the Church late. And I’ve needed it. I nearly lost my life to academia, and I understand alienation. I understand the theory and I’ve lived the reality. I’ve written about technology and modernity, and I’ve debated postmodern theology. I’ve taught students the works of Marx, and I’ve used the pun “dead as Adorno.” And through it all I have struggled to live rather than just survive. I wish it weren’t a struggle, and I entertain the fantasy of uprooting myself and moving to an unknown place, where I would live without conflict or exploitation, where the weather would be perfect every day and visitors would show up at convenient intervals, presenting me with everything I would ever need in the way of stimulation, communication and consumer goods. Maybe somewhere in Tennessee or Vietnam.

Meanwhile, I re-read the words written my dear friend Paige Baty (in the posthumously published e-mail trouble): “People need to get out more often and talk to each other. Not on phones, not at conferences, not using computers, but on summer lawns moistened with the dew of the evening or is it the morning, lying on our backs and watching the clouds and reading poetry for no reason at all and drinking a nice Chardonnay and just sitting there. People who make you want to picnic are a blessing: do not overlook them in these tired times.”

The community of the Church of Craft are people who not only make you want to picnic, they are people who picnic, and who make of picnicking an art form.

The Craft-ons began, informally, in the Bay Area in the spring of 2000: “I was having friends over and I would do a sermon and we would make stuff” recalls Tristy. Meanwhile, Callie had been asked to officiate at the wedding ceremonies of three couples with whom she was friends, and had become ordained as a minister in the Universal Life Church in order to do so. All through the spring and summer leading up to the weddings she thought of her actions as performance art. She thought this way until the moment that the ceremony began. At that point “it was happening and it was the most real and intense thing I had ever experienced…It was so devoid of irony…there was no artistic abstraction whatsoever.” Discussing this experience with a wedding guest after the ceremony, the words “Church of Craft” were first spoken. Callie knew right away that this could be a major act of creation–to foster an emotional and spiritual haven for people to make things and feel powerful and vibrant in their making.

The Church of Craft was officially born in October 2000, when Johanna Burke brought Tristy and Callie together. According to Tristy “the two of us, talking together in Johanna’s pink boudoir hatched the Church of Craft idea, and Callie immediately took me down to the basement and ordained me over the Internet. It couldn’t have happened the way it did, without both our ideas and thoughts and vision”

It is ironic that the Church would not exist without the Internet and could not go on without email. Whether or not these “times” are tired, certainly everyone I know is exhausted. Overworked and overstimulated and overcommitted. News of the church arrives in my in-box, a welcome change from meeting minutes and offers of viagra. The Church, for me, fulfills the promise of the Internet. It brings people together. Not online, but in person.

The Church is as much about community as it is about crafting. But if you are at a craft on and you are not crafting, Callie is likely to pull an EZ craft out of her bag of tricks–such as a leather purse kit, or a lanyard. She does this because she believes that it is more fun to be at a craft on making things than watching. But she is also drawing people in to the power of craft. Crafting doesn’t have to be spiritual–but it can be. Says Tristy about the SF congregation: “Some folks are really into the spiritual side of making things, and others just come for the nice atmosphere and crafty vibe.” Diane Bromberg, in New York, says that she loves the Church because it is a “safe place” a place where there is “no judgement” about being someone who crafts. Callie again: “So much of our lives is about consumption, about amassing. It’s easy to get lost….At Church you are surrounded by a community of people who have similar values. You can be led or taught by someone who is committed to your spiritual betterment.” And Tristy: I really do feel that the ‘gestation’ occurred over our entire lives, in that we wouldn’t be who we are without all the experiences we’ve had and books we’ve read and art making we have done. And I think our soul connection with each other and our desire to gather and make a community really helped this idea come together.”

After growing up surrounded by artists (children who not only made things but made things well) I came to believe that I was a thinker, that the only thing I could put into the world were ideas and energy. That I could be a prime mover but not really a creator. When I contemplated what would be asked of me, in the utopia after the revolution (“From each according to his means, to each according to his needs.”) I believed that I would be asked for ideas and more ideas, and that I would be given the (grateful) minions to carry out my plans, to make things happen. Meanwhile, however, I was left to my own devices, to think and talk and write things down. And to live in limbo.

Then I became a member of the Church of Craft. And I became a doer, a maker, a creator–a crafter.

Diane, who considers herself an artist, says that for her there is not always a distinction between art and craft, but when there is, it is a line that is sometimes about utility (this is a toaster cover while that the function of that piece of sculpture is much less clear), and sometimes about portability: craft is something you can take with you and work with on the subway. This distinction reminds me of the distinction that someone once made between poetry and novels: that poetry is a literary form open to the poor and the oppressed. It can be written on scraps of paper and carved into stone, it can be remembered with the help of rhythm and rhyme, it can be spoken on the street to passersby. Novels, on the other hand, require vast resources including space, time and energy, to create, to distribute and to consume.

For some, the decision to write a poem or a novel is a personal aesthetic choice. And perhaps in some future utopia, it will be this way for everyone. And in my mind, an element of utopia would be the erasure of a hierarchical distinction between art and craft.

For me, craft is meditative and rewarding in and of itself, but it is also, paradoxically, about multitasking. Don’t just watch the tv, craft. And although I get asked about my crochet–what I’m making, why I’m making, how long does it take, how did I learn, I also find that I have my head down and my eyes on the project at hand rather than on my fellow subway riders. Craft opens lines of communication and community, but it also allows you to build a world of your own–to make your world.

When I was in L.A. I found it very disturbing that people kept saying that you could build your own world, that you were not reliant on those around you, that the city was only what you made of it, that you didn’t have to interact with it or be affected by it any more than you wanted to be. I found it even more disturbing when a friend referred to la la land as “a city of interiors.” To me, a city is not about the agora, it is about the polis–the public space, the meeting place. And as much as the interior of my home is important to me (and it is very important), I am rejuvenated by the city, by seeing the people on the streets, and the beauty of the buildings, and the miracle of public space. I go home to prepare myself for going out, for being a citizen.

I am at the Craft-on. It is mother’s day, but it is not only the motherless who have shown up today. There are knitters and crocheters and quilters. There is also clothing design and feng shui planning and writing. Callie is wearing her satin jacket and matching apron, both festooned with the Church of Craft logo. She moves from group to group, offering encouragement. New York, and my world, just for the moment, is as beautiful as I know it can be.

Question: Do you think there is a relationship between crafting and changing the world? Answer: Yes.

From 10×10 Magazine, “The Church of Craft: An Informal History.” by Kirsten Hudson, November 2001

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *