cover image Craft: An American History

Craft: An American History

Glenn Adamson. Bloomsbury, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63557-458-6

Curator Adamson (Fewer, Better Things) puts artisans and their craftworks at the center of the American story in this erudite and immersive account. Defining craft rather broadly (“whenever a skilled person makes something using their hands, that’s craft”), Adamson covers roughly four centuries of history, from the German and Polish craftsmen sent to train unskilled colonists at Jamestown to contemporary “maker spaces” and 3D printers. He highlights the work of female, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian-American craftspeople, including Gullah basket weaver Lottie Moultrie Swinton and Dave the Potter, a South Carolina slave who etched short verses into the clay vessels he made, and argues that in today’s atmosphere of deep polarization, craft can help bridge social divisions by providing common grounds for mutual respect. Adamson also notes links between craftmaking and the “utopian impulse” in America (Shaker furniture, Amish quilts), critiques the “top-down” structure of the Arts and Crafts movement in the U.S., and dissects Martha Stewart’s “positioning [of] craft achievement as an ever-receding horizon” to be sought but never attained. With lucid prose and exemplary research, Adamson brings intriguing new details and unusual perspectives to even the most familiar story lines. The result is an elegant, detailed, and functional history worthy of its subject. (Jan.)