ISSUES and CONCERNS about Kentucky Crafts

The word "CRAFT" refers to both a PRACTICE and a PRODUCT, and in the most general sense, as a verb, simply means "to make."
In creating and organizing this Kentucky Crafts Encyclopedia, a clear goal has been to distinguish the two usages—
practice and product—wherever possible.

Furthermore the developer feels that crafts practices are most in need of ongoing documentation, since tangible craft products, however admirable, can only be dealt with as objects. At best, they are treasured objects, and huge markets exist for buying and selling them—especially so in the "popular culture" world of published and online "crafts"—but craft products are the end results of craft practices.

"Craft: Seriously, What Does the Word Mean?"

[American Craft Council: Universal; A Discipline; Action; Heritage; All Around Us; Complicated; Profound]

What's the difference between "craft" and "art?" See: The Arts/Crafts Controversy

UNIVERSAL acceptance of the term "craftsman." The assertion that one practices as a "craftsman" (or "craftsperson" or "crafter") in creating or repairing objects is common all along a spectrum of workers:

WORKERS: In the building trades, these are the least skilled group of laborers, valued for their physical strength and ability to provide support for the actual BUILDERS. Very few laborers are likely to call themselves "craftsmen."

BUILDERS and SKILLED WORKERS (construction): Boilermakers, plumbers, electricians, pipefitters, millwrights, machinists, masons, carpenters, cabinetmakers, glaziers, plasterers, sheet metal workers, and more. Many workers at this level may embrace the term "craftsmen," usually to emphasize specialized skills.

BUILDERS and SKILLED WORKERS (service): These workers often have specialized training and licensing: dental hygienists, chefs and head cooks, hairdressers, stylists, and cosmetologists, manicurists and pedicurists, bakers, shoe and leather workers, jewelers, auto body repairmen, and more. Like the skilled builders in construction fields, many workers at this level are likely to embrace the term "craftsmen," usually to emphasize specialized skills or to appeal to the notion that their work is high in quality.

HANDICRAFTERS: Creating or repairing objects with hand tools and often indigenous materials. "Handicrafting" is any of a wide variety of types of work where useful and decorative objects are made completely by hand or by using only simple tools. It is a traditional main sector of craft and applies to a wide range of creative and design activities that are related to making things with one's hands and skill, including work with textiles, moldable and rigid materials, paper, plant fibers, etc. Such workers proudly embrace the designation of "craftsman."

CRAFTSMEN: The deliberate and pointed identification of oneself as a "craftsman/craftswoman/craftsperson" is a highlighting of activities that may well be described as "handicraft." At this level the term emphasizes skill and heritage.

ARTISANS: Artisans are skilled craft workers who make or create material objects partly or entirely by hand. These objects may be functional or strictly decorative, for example furniture, decorative art, sculpture, clothing, jewelry, food items, household items and tools and mechanisms such as the handmade clockwork movement of a watchmaker. Artisans practice a craft and may through experience and aptitude reach the expressive levels of an artist.

ARTISTS: In the elite, formal, or academic world of crafts (especially "contemporary crafts" as opposed to "traditional" crafts), the terms "art" and "craft" become so nearly interchangeable (and arguable) that many institutions and organizations that deal with the skilled production of artworks simply and nearly interchangeably use both terms, e.g., the "Kentucky Guild of Artists & Craftsmen." Workers at this level often prefer the term "Artist" to that of "Craftsman," yet many acknowledge the manual skills and appreciation of a crafts heritage, even as they create objects in which novelty of expression is valued even more highly than utility.

Specific ISSUES arising from the topic of this online Kentucky Crafts Encyclopedia...

  1. Definitions (click for full text)

    • The developer's preferred definition for "crafts" is:
      ‘’Practices which employ manual dexterity and skill, and an understanding of traditional materials, designs and techniques to make or repair useful things."


[From: "Towards a Definition of Heritage Crafts," by Hilary Jennings - United Kingdom, c. 2011]

While no other proffered definition of "crafts" is intended to limit this encyclopedia, the short definition quoted above emphasizes the human dynamics of practice over the static view of the craft as product. The other key points—which are also attributes of human mediated practice rather than being apparent in the product—are "manual dexterity and skill," the "understanding of traditional materials, designs, and techniques," and the human-oriented purpose of the work, "to make or repair useful things."

2. Cultural Process Levels (click for full text)

    • The concept of cultural "levels" (simplistically labeled "folk," "popular," and "elite") addresses the transmission and learning of both crafting practices and the sale or sharing of resulting products/objects. In general:

      1. "folk" crafts are thought to be learned through direct oral transmission or by example

      2. "popular" crafts ideas and methods are transmitted via mass media

      3. "elite" or "academic" crafts are formally passed on to students by formal instruction, typically at schools of higher education.

3. Time/History Issues (click for full text)

Time/History Issues

      1. The march of time has made great changes in all aspects of crafts, in Kentucky and everywhere else. Craft practices changed greatly from prehistoric times through the 15th and 16th-century rise of printing technology (as well as later forms of mass communication); the advent of the 19th and 20th-century Industrial Revolution; the harnessing of electricity for both lighting and motors; and the vastly increased acceleration of shared/mediated practices and products enabled by the development of computers and the Internet. In 2021, Kentucky crafts range from pre-industrial skills and traditional handcrafting techniques, through mass-marketed popular items, to carefully curated exhibitions and sales of "the best" craft products presented at museums or in exclusive sales galleries.

4. Place/Region Issues (click for full text)

Should this online encyclopedia include crafts-makers from outside the state boundaries of Kentucky? Does it matter where a craftsperson was born, or lived, or was educated, or when he or she may have come to Kentucky?

        • Some outstanding craftsmen or -women included in this site came to Kentucky from other places, or moved away from Kentucky during later periods of their lives. For examples:

          • the exemplary Berea-based wood-turner Rude Osolnik was born in New Mexico and educated in Illinois

          • the founding president of KCHEA, Susan Goldstein, is a raku potter who now lives in New Mexico

          • an outstanding small company that produces handmade "Kentucky Derby Hats" and "fascinators"—HeadCandi Millinery—is actually based just outside the state border—across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, in New Albany, Indiana

          • a family company who make the round and oval Shaker-style kitchen boxes sold at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill (Mercer Co., KY) actually live and work in southern Indiana, and are members of the Kentucky Guild of Artists & Craftsmen

        • Do any of those issues of "place" matter in a broad consideration of "Kentucky crafts?"

        • Some craft practices—as with raku pottery—are relatively modern techniques adapted from other cultures or countries.

        • Even the "products" of crafts practice may bear ambiguous or misleading names. Gunsmiths residing all over America, as well as in the Bluegrass State, produce exquisite examples of the "Kentucky longrifle" — which is also known widely as the "Pennsylvania longrifle."

5. Tool Use Issues (click for full text)

Does it make a difference if the tools used by craft producers are powered? Or based on programmable computers, lasers, CNC machines, or other "modern" technology?
See: Tools Used in Crafts

6. Scale and Scope of Craft Production (click for full text)

How many people work together to create craft products? At what point does craft production become an "industry"? See: SCALE & SCOPE of CRAFT PRODUCTION