Tradition retooled Celebrating the old ways carried on in the present day
BY JO-ANN GREENE, Books Editor
Today, handmade goods are a luxury. Yesterday, they were a necessity.
"What we celebrate today as 'crafts' were once the means of everyday manufacture," begins a new book by Michael Emery and Irwin Richman, affiliates of Landis Valley Museum.
Their "Living Crafts Historic Tools" uses a wealth of pictures and just enough text to highlight classic hand tools, the people who use them, and the handsome products of their skilled labor.
Many of the tools, artisans and artifacts featured are associated with the state museum in Manheim Township, which specializes in preserving and portraying Pennsylvania German culture. Fittingly, the book cover features Henry K. Landis, whose collection became the basis of the museum, working in his wood shop circa 1930.
Inside the book are many more historic and contemporary photographs and illustrations, including color photos of costumed blacksmiths, weavers, potters and others who demonstrate their skills at the museum.
The authors note that today "most accept, expect and welcome the ascendancy of the mechanical or the electronic; anything that makes a product or a project easier to complete -- or simply less expensive."
It wasn't always so. They toss in a "tale" from the Middle Ages of a Leipzig ribbon weaver who invented a flying shuttle that would allow for a power-driven loom. His fellow guild members, recognizing a threat to their livelihood, promptly strangled him to preserve their way of life. When "the time and the place were right" -- in 18th century England -- the flying shuttle's second inventor became a wealthy manufacturer rather than a murder victim, they write.
Ease, economy and convenience persuade the masses, but certainly not everyone, they note. Those who value tradition and quality are willing to learn more, do more and pay more for handcrafted goods.
Showing how handcrafts have come to be valued, the book draws lines from the Luddites and the Arts and Crafts Movement, to millionaire antiques collectors such as Ford and duPont, to Williamsburg and right back to the Landis Valley Museum.
Following the overview in the first chapter, the book devotes succeeding chapters to metals, woodworkers, pottery, textiles, and leather and paper. Brief introductions are followed by captioned pictorial examples.
A fancier of traditional redware, for example, will find an explanation of the process of making it and the tools used. Pictures show sites in the region where potters historically worked, today's craftsmen using time-tested methods to throw and paint pots and plates, and the gleaming, finished products.
Most interesting might be a bill of sale and an advertisement from a century ago: Pie plates, all sizes, were just 10 cents instead of $75.
The authors will sign the 160-page, $29.99 softcover from Schiffer Publishing Friday and Saturday during the Landis Valley Museum's Herb & Garden Faire, which runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 2451 Kissel Hill Road. Book sale proceeds benefit the museum.