Buy Fine Craft to Invigorate your Local Creative Economy

I hope that my message has beauty, soul, usefulness, and weight, like the handmade pie server I hold in my hand. I display it, rather than hide it in a kitchen drawer. The Pennsylvanian woodworker who made it demonstrated in this humble piece his respect for the medium, years of expertise, and what he has learned through trial and error. Before I bought this implement, I spent my life using two forks to serve pie.

PGC Board Member and artist educator Bob Antonishak demonstrates basket weaving as part of October 2020’s Lancaster First Friday. Photo by Erika Juran.For me, handmade objects have “sparked joy” long before Marie Kondo became a household name. A fine craft collector invests in the artist and the story of the artist. The artist’s journey to learn their craft is a part of that object. As many of us re-learned in 2020, our conscious choices to purchase local and handmade have reverberations through our community and country. Purchases for the home skyrocketed last year. Some of these purchases were from professional artists who worked tirelessly to replace income normally derived from fine craft fairs. They pivoted to sell online when they could not do so in person.

I serve the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen (PGC) as its Executive Director. Founded in 1944, and headquartered currently in Lancaster, PA, the PGC is one of the oldest and largest professional craft guilds in the country. The PGC was born out of an effort to promote wider awareness of the contributions that craft can bring to a community through the stimulation of achievement and enrichment of cultural, aesthetic, and educational interests. Its very existence was inspired by the recommendation of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to find ways of transferring wartime skills to peacetime work. Our state’s fine crafts are not just beautiful, useful objects; they also demonstrate Pennsylvanian practicality and authenticity, speaking to our state’s historical Quaker roots.

Master Artisan and artist educator Jessica Keemer demonstrates flameworked glass for visitors to PGC’s “Extragive” Open House in November. Photo by Erika Juran.

In the 21st century, the PGC exists to create opportunities for traditional and contemporary artisans, craft enthusiasts, and collectors through education, advocacy, and community. Our programs include “Fine Craft as a Business” and a jurying process to earn state Master Artisan status. The PGC has over 1,000 members in 30 states, stitching together a community far beyond our state boundaries. It hosts multiple fine craft fairs annually and educates thousands of collectors about the handmade art and tells the stories of its artist. The PGC educates our visitors at its Lancaster-based headquarters and store, which supports over 170 member artists. It serves an extended community by holding 400 in-person and online workshops every year for participants of all levels and ages. Some students drive two hours each way to enjoy well-spaced and safe workshops. Craft enthusiasts travel from all over the region to enjoy our fine craft fairs.

PGC Board Member and Master Artisan Dan Hayward’s stained glass classes fill up quickly, especially with COVID-19 protocols in place. Photo by Carla Good.The PGC’s true spirit is demonstrated in the life of its eleven chapters, which comprise a community of creators of all levels of expertise who support each other both professionally and personally. During the pandemic, PGC chapters reached new audiences and strengthened the creative drive of physically isolated artists. Online studio tours, Zoom meetings, holiday parties, small retail pop-up shows, and online fine craft fairs began in 2020. One chapter president describes her chapter as “a port in a storm”—a group that encouraged her early on to explore, question, and grow as a creator. Now she helps support a place that can protect others from the punishing winds of dramatic change and uncertainty, providing just enough support to grow as artists and small business owners. Even before the pandemic, she knew that if she needed help, she could look for answers among PGC’s membership.

March is National Craft Month, an initiative begun in 1994 by an organization known as the Association for Creative Industries. Creating is good for our mental health. Art sustained many of us emotionally and spiritually last year. It doesn’t matter where you start. We were all beginners at one time, and we are all constantly learning, especially from each other. When creators pass along their knowledge learned over time, craft is elevated to Fine Craft. As Glenn Adamson writes in Fewer, Better Things, “Craft, at its best, provides material evidence of the limits of human capability, often showing that we can accomplish much more than we might have thought. … It serves as a constant reminder of what humans can achieve when we put our mind to something and follow through.”