Thursday, May 30, 2024

About Art, Craft and Commerce;

About Art, Craft and Commerce
A few thoughts about ending Nice Threads and growing willow instead. 
I only ever wanted to be an artist. When I was in high school and college, I was always drawing something. I managed to get into RISD for a year but couldn’t find out who I was then, or how to express it. 

I did find graphic design though and spent 25 years doing art-adjacent work for good pay, and long hours. Yes, typography and layout can be art,  and I did some good work. But usually I hired illustrators and photographers to do the art part, while I designed the setting. After awhile, the graphic artist learns that art in the name of commerce is often not art, but manipulation. And it was never really my expression anyway, but some marketing screed made pretty.  

I gravitated to craft markets when corporate communications became as easy as buying an application and giving it to a low-wage employee. I much preferred the straightforward commerce of inventory for sale than design-to-order, so art fairs and craft shows were my sales environment. It felt closer to  making art. Clothing was a vehicle I longed to create in and wool felting was a freeform technique that appealed to me - so hands-on, it was almost sculptural. 

But Art to Wear is a terribly difficult niche to make money because not every person wants to wear unique clothing, clothing that makes you stand out from the crowd. I get  it - I am not my own best client either. Felt was also a challenge, because there’s barely any tradition of felting in the US, unlike Europe. Felt clothing doesn’t act like woven or knit clothing, and it takes some adjustment to get the right fit. Most folks also don’t want to think too much about their clothes. I get this too - I hate to buy special care clothing. But felt was the medium I loved to work in. 

There was also the issue that I tried to do unique techniques and designs, and didn’t want to stick to proven silhouettes. Red carpets aside, people with money are most often conservative.   The sad truth is, my best market was other artists, folks who, like me,  who usually couldn’t afford my work.  

So no surprise that being a fiber artisan is not a viable career; I needed  additional support from my ex. But I love making things, at it most basic, I am compelled to make things. It’s a hard realization that making and selling art to wear  in this country is so difficult, and cheap imported clothes have so dominated the market that handmade goods can’t compete. It’s a realization backed up in history though; the same result informed both the Mission movement and the Bauhaus, both attempts to bring artisan made, quality goods to the masses - only the wealthy can afford fine art, craft and artisan made goods. Only once you expand into larger markets at lower prices can your goods compete, and then you loose control. Capitalism is a harsh master.  If you see your work as an art form, you are absolutely going to starve if it’s your only income. 

So what is it about willow that I think will be different. For one thing, I will not be the artist in that medium, but the supplier of the raw material. I likely will make a basket or seven but won’t sell that work for a living, nor will I make them for myself or family. I already have over a hundred baskets, having inherited about half of them from my mom, who also collected them. I am an admirer of basketmakers, and will not spend my time trying to perfect my skills, but to perfect the growing, somewhat amazing, crop of willow. 

I am in love with willow, the same way I am in love with wool.  Growing things is creation, art, at its most basic level.  It’s just a continuation of a journey, where I start to realize the perfection of the world around us, that gifts us with these renewable resources, so productive and useful. Going to the heart of why handcraft is so important, in a way, for everyone to do. It connect us to the earth, history, our heritage. 

Handcrafts were originally just what everyone did to supply your family with what you needed. Selling craft as art is only a necessity when industry supplies that need and no one makes things anymore. Why carve a wooden spoon or forge a kitchen knife when you can go to Ikea?  Why spend $20 on that hand carved spoon when you can buy a plastic one for $3. All we craftspeople and artisans can do is keep the knowledge alive, by making, teaching, and showing goods made in  these ancient techniques.  

But you know what I see happening? A movement back to the land, back to making for yourself, gardens, foods, buildings, bee-keeping, and yes, all the fiber crafts. Making do with less, but making more from found and repurposed materials. I love the basketry of wild, found fibers. I love the British stick-work traditions like thatching, hurdles and hedge-laying that are from my own heritage and not borrowed. I love the re-making of new items from old. I love the use of the easily regenerated materials that serve so many purposes, like wool and willow. 

Anyway, it seems like a natural, logical transition to me. Farming has already proved itself to be hard but rewarding work. It feels like the next leg on my journey. 

If you are interested in the farm's progress, see the blog site at

If you are interested in the felt art-to wear sale, see the shop site at

You can still follow me on my Instagram account for the foreseeable future:  @NiceThreadsFiber

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