For nearly three decades after Aileen Osborne Webb and colleagues met in Shelburne, the craft movement in Vermont grew slowly and steadily. By 1965, a young generation of craftspeople had emerged, many drawn to the state as part of the back-to-the-land movement and trying to make a living with their hands. Living by “Making” examined the cultural roots of the nascent craft movement and considered parallels found by a new generation of craftspeople as they propel the movement forward, altering it with fresh vigor.
This theme explored the choices professional craftspeople face in sustaining an artistic career in a small rural state: how individuals obtained their skill through formal education, apprenticeship, or being self-taught; whether they focus on production work or one-of-a-kind art pieces; whether they work alone or with others; and the effects of technology on both craft production the way the work is marketed.
The interplay between traditional craft and expressive craft and a multiplicity of artistic influences provide a framework for understanding the diverse nature of contemporary craft in Vermont. Some artists are directly inspired by its pastoral and forested landscape, but for most the landscape simply provides a quiet place of refuge that allows creativity to flourish. Global influences can be found in the work of many Vermont craft artists: the aesthetics of Japanese ceramics and design of Swedish glass are two threads that weave their way through the work of many of the artists in State of Craft.
The values of individualism, political activism, and self-sufficiency found in the 60s continue to be embraced by many craftspeople today, reflected in where they choose to live and how they make their living. A new generation of craftspeople shows an idealism that is remarkably reminiscent of the counterculture era. It is manifested in their embrace of authenticity, environmental responsibility, re-use of materials, living simply, and a global perspective.
Communities of craftspeople developed throughout Vermont as creative individuals gravitated towards geographic regions for education, marketing reasons, or because of a strong artist culture. Recalling historic creative enclaves, the Weston Priory, where Brother Thomas Bezanson made his renowned ceramics, was established for religious reasons. Creative clusters formed near Goddard College in Plainfield and Windham College in Putney, both serving as counterculture magnets, while another group emerged near Marlboro College.
Today, craft guilds and media specific organizations bond individuals with a shared vision while providing information, support and group marketing efforts. Vermont galleries, shops and shows present Vermont craft as an exceptional product, while national venues for teaching and exhibiting raise the profile of Vermont's craftspeople. The most modern connection, the Internet, links craftspeople to each other as well as to new markets.