Though I only just thought to do it, I realise I've been waiting to start this site a long time. I'm not an expert in the field, I don't own a business or work with artisans myself, but on learning embarrassingly late the term 'material culture' I was thrilled to discover that what has fascinated me my whole life has a name, and that so many others are fascinated by it too.
A specific love of textiles had been growing steadily for a couple of years before my husband and I visited Yunnan in southwest China. Along our route we saw many beautiful examples of Bai, Yi, Naxi, Tibetan and Han textiles, but so many available for sale were either antique, of uncertain origin or perhaps just blighted by our ignorant tourist paranoia about being sold something inauthentic in a foreign tongue. While I was wary of mass-manufactured goods being marketed as handcrafts, I was also increasingly discomfited by the possibility that people were selling their family heirlooms to survive. Our guide explained that most of the vendors wouldn't see it like that because the skills required to make a new one just the same are still extant; the value with which some cultures — mine being one — imbue the age of an item comes from the certainty that the skills or equipment or need behind its manufacture are no longer current and thus an identical one will never again be made. This idea was reassuring until it occurred to me that in the combined shadows of globalisation and mass-production, those skills would soon wither and die in China too, as in myriad other cultures.
I haven't stopped thinking since about the future of traditional craft skills and how I can, in however small a way, help it to thrive. In researching this I have been overwhelmed by the increasing number of brilliant enterprises working to bring the fruits of so many traditional artisans' labours to market, in a way that is fair, sustainable and appealing to a global market.
While I would love to join them, my life just isn't set up that way right now. But, have internet, will blog. So, here is my effort: this blog and the directory I hope to build over the coming months is intended as a showcase and celebration of all these companies, organisations, cooperatives and individuals working to keep traditional handcrafts alive in cultures all around the world. In this way I hope to create a hub via which consumers seeking beautiful crafts created authentically and fairly can find and purchase these products with confidence.
Please get in touch to participate, suggest or query.