The New Artisans: Craftsmen Communities

A new trend of craftsmen communities is taking center stage worldwide.

Forget plastics, the future is in craftsmanship. The world over, former clock-watchers and desk jockeys are leaving their traditional 9-to-5 jobs to make functional, artisan quality pieces for the home. Even Popular Mechanics picked up on the trend and gave it a sexy spin by dubbing it a hidden underground of craftsmen communities.

I prefer to think of them as New Artisans, neo-traditionalists who dropped the commute and took up tools to pursue a more sustainable way of being. We reached out to five such artists – a couple of engineers, a magazine editor and former academic among them – and discovered that they are not so much a part of an underground phenomena as they are heralding a new trend.

Here’s our prediction: as clients seek out more local – and thus green – craftsmen and women, the future of the New Artisan is a burgeoning one. With the exception of Hendzel + Hunt who are crafting it up across the pond in the UK, all of the artisans featured here are from the U.S. which is particularly good news: we’re actually starting to make things again.

Quentin Kelley of Infusion Furniture

“I could never sit in front of a computer all day long.”

“Coming out of school, I was really interested in international development work and that was my career path at the time. But woodworking had always been in the back of my mind. The work is always challenging and never boring because I wear many hats: designer, builder, mechanic, marketer. And it just blows my mind that you can take a pile of lumber and turn it into a beautiful piece of furniture.”

Alyssa Ettinger of Alyssa Ettinger Design

“I like plain, white things. Modern Country.”

“I’d been a magazine editor for many years, and I lost my last magazine job in 2002. I looked and looked for new positions, but couldn’t find any. In the meantime, I joined a friend at her ceramics class, something I’d not done since college. Once I was back at the wheel, I was hooked. Mostly, I take items I like in real life and find a way to translate them into porcelain.”

Donna Brady of Re-Surface

Are you a new artisan? “Yes, I likely fit the bill.”

Based in Brooklyn NY, Donna Brady opened RE-SURFACE, a boutique factory and design studio, when so many other businesses were shutting down. “My impetus for leaving the 9-5 world was the change in the economic landscape after 9-11.” Until then, Brady, who studied architecture at Columbia, was working as a freelance graphic artist and web designer. “Freelance work almost completely dried up for me.” So she opened up shop and now produces hand-crafted lighting and interior décor objects with “Art at heart, and design in mind.”

Jan Hendzel of Hendzel + Hunt Studio

“I have always been into creating objects.”

“There is nothing more satisfying than making your ideas become reality. And then seeing the reactions of people engaging with our products, it is a very rewarding process. A little quote by Thomas Edison: ‘Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration.’”

Sean Schieber of Myrtle Grove

“I entered my late 20’s still unsure of what career path I would take. In my mind I knew I was biding time in corporate America.”

“I have an undergraduate degree from Hampshire College and a Masters in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University, where I studied Classics. My head was in books, especially poetry books. I enjoy designing and building furniture for some of the same reasons I enjoy writing. There is an ongoing process of refinement, of seeking the most sculptural line to construct a coherent whole. It is at once meditative and active, requiring attentiveness to the smallest details.”

Image: AntwerpenR

K. Emily Bond

K. Emily Bond is the Shelter Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in southern Spain, reporting on trends in art, design, sustainable living and lifestyle.