Design And Craftsmanship In An Industrial Society

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Design and Craftsmanship in an Industrial Society

Design and Craftsmanship in an Industrial Society


Shaping America's products perfectly captures the "designer-crafsman" ideal in postwar America, the idea that craft should be integrated into manufacturing as a way of improving quality and functionality. Wallance offers a series of profiles, from George Nakashima and Ray and Charles Eames to manufacturers like Heath Ceramics, Corning Glass Works and Jantzen, with each presented as an exemplification of the integration of design and craft. While Wallance's ideas were not unusual -- clearly derived from the Bauhaus theories sweeping the country after the War his book was unique in providing concrete instances of the "designer-craftsman" ideal in action.


The author defines craft as an item that fulfills a function, requires the use of the hands to create, and uses materials identified as natural. It is uncommon for people today to collect material from the land, shape the material into a practical item, and then use that item. Before the Industrial Revolution, such experiences were common and likely played a significant role in shaping people's understanding both of the world and of their notions of craftsmanship. Yet, current educators tend to facilitate activities that encompass broad notions of craftsmanship. These activities often involve skills associated with fine art, writing or journaling, or products made by technology, such as synthetic camping equipment. The informal polls the author has conducted in the university classes she has taught indicate that most students' schooling emphasized fine art-based activities, rather than craftmaking activities. It is estimated that fewer than fifteen percent of students have ever made a craft, and even fewer have ever experienced collecting materials directly from the land. Until the time of the Industrial Revolution, the fundamental human experience that influenced civilization was craftmaking. Today, machines create the items of everyday existence. People purchase commodities so they can interact with equipment they do not need to know how to make. The experience of craftmaking has drastically diminished. The loss of such valuable experiences should lead educators to critically analyze the outcomes resulting from the fine art-based activities that have replaced craftmaking experiences and the skills required to use high-tech equipment in comparison to the skills required to make the equipment. Some of Hahn's ideas will be used to explore such an analysis and support the character development resulting from craftmaking experiences that synthesize art and technology.

The Social Decline of Craftsmanship

Hahn frequently spoke about six social "declines" or "diseases" that occurred in his society, one of which was the "decline of skill and care" due to the weakened tradition of craftsmanship (Richards, 1981, p. 21). When Hahn explained this decline, he told a story of a boy who produced a very shoddy piece of work.2 When Hahn asked, "Now this is really awful-aren't you ashamed of yourself?" the boy grinned and replied, "It's the genius of the British race [sic] to muddle through!" (Richards, p. 21). This reply deeply bothered Hahn because he realized that the boy, in his innermost heart, believed that important contributions ...
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