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State of Craft Interview

Martha Fitch

Fabric artist, Director Vermont Crafts Council, Founder Artisans Hand
Dates Active: 1970s on


It was, I think, an obvious thing to be an organizer in the arts community and that was just not something I had to think too much about.

I don't know how old I was, but, you know, in a sunny room with plastered walls, and I could see my mother's knee, and the air was filled with the scent of turpentine and linseed oil, which I thought were wonderful smells. So the arts focus was there for me, as well, and, you know, I was pretty good at it and people sort of assumed that that was what I was going to do, but I was not as interested in what we now call fine art.

I can remember going (to an early craft show) and seeing, batik and, I felt like, you know, those pictures of when you want to show that somebody's really feeling something deeply, in the movies, and they do a really rapid close-up of the person's face and they blur everything else, except for the object of the person's desire. And that's kind of how I felt about looking at this work. I wanted to know how to do it. I craved the knowledge for how to produce this kind of fabric.

One thing (Goddard College) was known for was their arts program. They had an architectural program and they had a glass blowing studio and a pottery studio and a weaving studio. They really, you know, had it all. And unusually, had it all. And there were people that were living around Plainfield who had gone to Goddard or had a connection with Goddard.

The Artisan's Hand started in 1978. That was the sort of official beginning, but there had been, you know, a lot of thinking and meeting and working stuff out before then, I think there were about 20 people involved at the beginning, Jennifer Boyer was one of 'em, Rob Green, Dana Hunt, who's since moved to California, Elizabeth Roman, Liisa Reid, who's now in Arizona, Steve Noyes, Bill Butler, Terry Allen, who went on to be, you know, sort of an activist, who was a potter, and also Mary Azarian was part of that group. Georgia Landau was and Paul Kelton. It was a very homogenous group in terms of our viewpoints, political viewpoints. I mean, they were, you know, if anything, they were--I don't want to say radical, but darn close.

We didn't know what we were doing! And it was, you know, it was--it was exciting, on the one hand, but laughable on the other: we knew nothing about merchandising, we knew nothing about, you know, responding to a customer base, or how to do advertising or how to build display cases. We were just, you know, taking the information that people were getting when they went to these big craft shows and bringing it back and trying to incorporate it in this small shop.

I know the Artisan's Hand has helped create Artisan's Gallery in Waitsfield and it's also helped create the Northeast Kingdom Artisan's Guild. And along the way we discovered that there were a recipe or parameters that made for successful cooperative that included, you know, that people involved could live no more than 50 miles away. And that, you know, that there needed to be a reward for your investment in the store, since you weren't investing money, but you were investing time and you were investing your skills.

When I first had had my, amazing experience with being confronted with batik and wanting to learn how to do that, there had been, right where the Arts Council is now, something called the Arts and Crafts Service, and Peter Wendland was there and Dianne Fago, and they had a slide registry and a number of other things that they did, and I was very excited about this because, here was this great resource, and as soon as I got around to wanting to use it, bam! it wasn't there anymore. Instead, it had been subsumed into the Arts Council and the Arts Council was saying, well, you know, yeah, we did take over the Arts and Crafts Service, but now we're not really supposed to--we have no mandate to serve your community; we just don't.

After having looked at ETSY, the ETSY site, I'm thinking: No way in the world is anybody going to know what I mean when I say "craft." It totally is not being used anymore the way that I once knew it to be used and it's no wonder--I mean, you know, "crafter" is in great circulation now and it really applies to those people that are, you know, these sort of hobbyists.

If you are in contact with the materials, sensitively in contact with the materials, you become articulate, you know, through the material and, there's a feedback loop where you're getting information and you're responding. It's a response of relationship with the materials and that is what is, I find, the most valuable and distinctive part of defining a master craftsperson.