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Craft In America: An Interview With Carol Sauvion

Apr 29, 2014

by Lisa Butterworth

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Ask Carol Sauvion, creator and producer of the PBS series Craft In America, if the handmade revolution is alive and well,  and she’ll answer with a resounding yes. And she should know — she’s been documenting it for seven years. She also lives it as a former studio potter and current owner of a crafts shop and gallery called Freehand in Los Angeles, California. Her series goes beyond the artist profiles to delve into the meaning of craft with episodes focused on themes including “Memory” and “Community.”

The newest episode is “Industry,” a topic Sauvion felt Etsy fit right into. “That’s the beauty of Etsy,” she says. “It’s creativity but it’s business.” The episode, which also features the quilters of Gee’s Bend, North Carolina’s Oriole Mill, and Lowell’s Boat Shop in Massachusetts, airs this week, so we caught up with Sauvion to talk about the “creative economy,” the thrill of making, and the staying power of craft.

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Mark Markley

Gee’s Bend quilters Lucy Mingo and Ritamae Pettway at the frame.

Lisa: In a nutshell, can you describe what Craft In America is about?

Carol: What the series tries to do is highlight artists, organizations, schools — places where craft is being practiced in our country. We know it’s everywhere, it’s often hiding in plain sight, and we think it deserves attention. Our mission is to bring a focus to the handmade, which some people feel is an anachronism, but we feel the opposite. It’s more necessary now than it’s ever been.

Lisa: Why do you think that?

Carol: We don’t need it to supply the objects that we go through life with, but we need [the handmade] to supply the essence of who we are as human beings. It’s more necessary than ever, especially with what’s going on right now in the world. There’s a lot of strife, there’s a lot of disagreement, and it seems like something we can all agree about, and that’s good.

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Mark Markley

Jeweler Shane Yamane of OneStoneNY at his bench.

Lisa: What parameters do you use when looking at craft in your series?

Carol: We had a wonderful person named Steve Fenton who was very involved in producing the first treatment for our series in 2000, and he said something that caused a lot of conversation. He said, “All craft is art, but not all art is craft.” And that’s kind of a topsy-turvy attitude because most people think that craft is a lesser art form, but what he was saying is that craft is essential to all the art forms, because craft is the making, craft is the skill. I mean, in German that’s what kraft means, it means “skill” or “to make something” so, we think that’s essential.

Lisa: Can you briefly explain what industry means in the context of this series?

Carol: If you read stories or the history of early American life, often work was referred to as industry. People were industrious. What I think we were trying to say is that craft is of its essence industrious; people who do it are involved in an industry. And then the broader meaning and context, which Etsy really is a great example of, is the industry — the business — of craft. How do you make a living at it? We wanted to talk about that. We wanted to point out the fact that craft is still a viable industry, that the creativity of it is essential to the greater economy of the country.

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Mark Markley

Jeweler Shane Yamane works on a diamond endless ring at the bench.

Lisa: How did you come to include Etsy in the upcoming “Industry” episode?

Carol: The effect of the Internet on contemporary craft, on the handmade, is huge. It’s not only a source of education for people, it’s also a way to sell their work, and if you want to talk about selling work on the Internet, the master of that is Etsy. When you are making an episode about the handmade in the creative economy — this is the ultimate creative economy.

Lisa: What have you learned from doing five seasons of Craft in America?

Carol: The audience for craft includes people from all backgrounds and all political points of view. It seems to be a common meeting ground where we can all communicate and it seems to lead to important conversations about other topics in our society, and I was surprised by that. I thought of it as a way to make things by hand, but more than that it’s a way to build bridges.

Craft is alive and well and thriving. It’s in even better shape than it was when I started the project. I feel like there have been exciting new events and people involved and that crafting’s still a main source of pleasure and production for Americans and that’s just exciting.

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Etsy’s Brooklyn office.

Lisa: What do you tell people who think that craft is dying?

Carol: I try to share with them what I’ve learned, which is that people still need to make things. That’s what it comes down to. It seems to be just built into our DNA; we have an urge, and not everyone has it in the same way. Of course nowadays there are lots of questions…we talk about craft beer and well-crafted films, so the word craft is as elusive as ever. But it has something to do with human creativity in some way and I think that is just as essential as it ever was.

Lisa: What advice do you have for the next generation of people who are pursuing creative work?

Carol: To definitely keep at it. Don’t let small setbacks dissuade you. Your life will be filled with meaning and filled with great experiences if you are able to actually live it producing art, making art. I think that’s the ultimate joy in life is to create something that expresses who you are and makes a contribution to society.

Craft In America’s “Industry” episode premieres May 2 at 10 pm on PBS. Check your local PBS listings for additional air times.

Photos courtesy of Craft in America.

69 comments

  • PaperAltar

    PaperAltar from PaperAltar said 3 years ago

    Just put it on the calendar.

  • BarDulce

    BarDulce from BarDulce said 3 years ago

    Good story...I'm going to have to check out Freehand, too!

  • JewelrybyDorothy

    Dorothy from JewelrybyDorothy said 3 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this!

  • aSmaOriGinal

    Asma from AsmaOriginal said 3 years ago

    Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing :)

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 3 years ago

    “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master” ~ Ernest Hemingway

  • SomeKindOfPretty

    Catheryn Dallenbach from SomeKindOfPretty said 3 years ago

    Great story! :-)

  • ArtisanSoapInVegas

    Cristy Ramos from ArtisanBathandBody said 3 years ago

    Bookmarking!!

  • castlecatstudio

    Nathalie and Tim from castlecatstudio said 3 years ago

    Nice article!

  • BagsAndLabels

    Lynda Harrison from BagsAndLabels said 3 years ago

    Thank you! Loved everything written, such wonderful inspiration.

  • expressyourself

    Natalia Snemis from expressyourself said 3 years ago

    Amazing creation!

  • sarahbibi

    sarahbibi said 3 years ago

    Hi, Etsy! I love that you're using my photo in this post. Mind giving me a photo credit, though? It's Sarah Gainer. Thanks!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 3 years ago

    Wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • minipotterybyanita

    minipotterybyanita from potterybyAnita said 3 years ago

    I agree that there is an innate need within us to MAKE something, whether it's a child making mudpies or a teenager sewing a dress or crocheting a scarf! It just feels good to have something in your hands that you've actually crafted--for me, a beautiful object from a piece of Earth! Thanks for this article! ♥♥♥

  • Ebruk

    Ebruk from Ebruk said 3 years ago

    Great story !

  • fieldtrip

    Amy from fieldtrip said 3 years ago

    What an inspiring article. You put into words what I feel a lot of the time - a strong desire to create things and to be creative - and I do experience it as a need as I think many people do! It has a wonderful grounding effect that has drawn me in since I was a small child.

  • FieldsOfVintage

    Fields Of Vintage from FieldsOfVintage said 3 years ago

    Great article, thanks for sharing!!

  • RockArtiste

    Rock Artiste from RockArtiste said 3 years ago

    Love this! Thanks!

  • MyFiberFolly

    Betsy Alspach from MyFiberFolly said 3 years ago

    I agree that the desire to create things seems to be innate, and there is no fighting it! And that as adults we can look back to childhood and find that the things we want to do now were also sometimes the things we wanted to do then.

  • catchaleaf

    eva andrews from catchaleaf said 3 years ago

    Profound simplicity - Thank you!

  • opendoorstudio

    Martha Layton Smith from opendoorstudio said 3 years ago

    wonderful

  • lauraprilltoo

    Laura Prill from lauraprilltoo said 3 years ago

    " I think that’s the ultimate joy in life is to create something that expresses who you are and makes a contribution to society." Carol, well said :)

  • nriemer1

    Nancy from Nittywitter said 3 years ago

    I'm so happy to see this subject draw serious attention.

  • FiftyFourTenStudio

    Mary Lee from FiftyFourTenStudio said 3 years ago

    Yeah PBS! Thanks for including Etsy in this series. I'm programming the DVR right now. I think we need to create by hand more even more now because so much of what we are surrounded by is mass produced. When we make things for our home, we make our living space unique, personal and interesting.

  • tishalee2

    Tisha Lee from TishaLeeSmith said 3 years ago

    I love the last piece of advice on this - to just keep at it because it will add so much more meaning to your life. I wholeheartedly agree.

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 3 years ago

    Oooo I can hardly wait to see it!!! I enjoyed reading this interview. Keep on Crafting!

  • myneedlehabit

    Carla Hansen from myneedlehabit said 3 years ago

    So Great, Can't Wait!

  • 2Crafty4You

    Renate from 2Crafty4You said 3 years ago

    Great Article , thanks for sharing!

  • AGORAA

    AGORAA from AGORAA said 3 years ago

    Amazing ! Thank you

  • MooseCarolQuilts

    Carol Ann Johnston from MooseCarolQuilts said 3 years ago

    excellent interview! Will definitely watch

  • lindyjean

    Linda from bitsokits said 3 years ago

    great article....i can't believe that, as much as i watch PBS, i have never heard of this series...will check to see if and when my local station carries it at some odd hour of the day... i have long said that even if i had no outlet to sell my crafts, i would still do them. it feeds the soul to be creative, whether it's an idea that you've come up with on your own, or by using a pattern created by someone else. i agree that it's innate to want to make stuff---whether it's a house, a doily, a doll or a hydroelectric power plant. sometimes i feel like a little kid, holding out one of my little things, and saying, "hey, look what i did!". if others like it, too, wow, it's such a perk, but not the sole reason for what i do.

  • FableAndLore

    Chelsie from FableAndLore said 3 years ago

    Ooh! I'll have to watch!

  • fewfiner

    Christine from fewfiner said 3 years ago

    Craft In America is a great series

  • muchandquick

    Kalisa L. from MuchandQuick said 3 years ago

    Cool, tossed a Season Pass onto my TIVO! It would be wonderful if this opened up the wide, wide world of crafting to new people or folks that were afraid to dive in!

  • jmayoriginals

    jean from jmayoriginals said 3 years ago

    i enjoyed reading this. thanks.

  • recycledwares

    Nerrissa W from RecycledWares said 3 years ago

    Looking forward to the PBS episode. Sounds wonderful.

  • carolendicott

    Carol Endicott from carolendicott said 3 years ago

    Great article, can't wait to see this program, even better that it's on PBS!

  • ChatTeam

    ChatTeam said 3 years ago

    Past episodes and clips of this wonderful series are available on its PBS site, if you haven't seen them, or want to revisit: http://video.pbs.org/program/craft-in-america/

  • EngravableCharm

    Ellen from EngravableCharm said 3 years ago

    Life would be empty without craft!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 3 years ago

    Very interesting! Looking forward to the show!

  • woodiphonecases

    Wood Iphone Cases from WoodiPhoneCases said 3 years ago

    Our hands are beautiful and our minds are creative

  • BeaconMills

    Patrick from BeaconMills said 3 years ago

    For many, making things of fine quality (that ultimately represent who we are) is our only legacy. It's what drives us and feeds our passion.

  • GeauxMelange

    Melissa and Robert Shelley from GeauxMelange said 3 years ago

    Very very excited!

  • ASHYL

    Kerime Sevilen Mustafaoglu from ASHYL said 3 years ago

    Great article, thank you for sharing!

  • Agasart

    Aga from AgasJourney said 3 years ago

    Fantastic project!

  • dlkdesigns

    Dana Klopfer from dlkdesigns said 3 years ago

    love this! thank you-

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 3 years ago

    I choose to be childless for the sake of the planet. For me, making something beautiful that will survive after I'm dead (& hopefully, be treasured) is my only shot at anything like immortality. I love the idea that in 100 years, 200 years, someone will be holding something I made, using it & loving it. However, the drive to create is so strong that if everything just ended up in a box under the stairs I'd still make them!

  • YOURDAILYJEWELS

    norah downey from YourDailyJewels said 3 years ago

    Can't wait for the show. Thanks for the link to the other episodes Chatteam. I have noticed growth in handmade crafting has grown with great momentum as our awareness of the need for reusing and repurposing increases, A great direction for everyone.

  • PillowcaseHeaven

    Kathy Johnson from KathysLittleAttic said 3 years ago

    Definitely going to watch!! Thanks for sharing!

  • kathyjohnson3

    Kathy Johnson from kathyjohnson3 said 3 years ago

    Everyone is good at something, its amazing what talents I've seen over the years on Etsy, watched people grow and change and expand their talents. What was just a hobby for me before, is now the way I make a living, and being able to stay home and just utilize my creative talents, keeps me grounded and very happy. I hope everyone has a chance to tune into the show and be amazed! Thanks for sharing!

  • debvasbinder

    Deb Vasbinder from BabyCuteBaby said 3 years ago

    Great Article -Thank you for sharing!

  • anotherghostquilts

    Nancy from anotherghostquilts said 3 years ago

    Great article! Wonderful to see some quilters. Thank you.

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 3 years ago

    Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing :)

  • Parachute425

    Terry from Parachute425 said 3 years ago

    ". . . because craft is the making, craft is the skill." Yes!

  • madaket27

    Bill McKenney from BillsRetroRobots said 3 years ago

    I love working with my hands. I love being my own boss. I 'm just not cut out for a 9-5 job. There are plenty of us out there.

  • EggMoneyQuilts

    Vivian from EggMoneyQuilts said 3 years ago

    Great article-looking forward to seeing the program!

  • MissEmmasCloset

    Alison from MissEmmasCloset said 3 years ago

    just marked my calendar. can't wait to watch this episode. thanks for the article.

  • RomanceCatsAndWhimsy

    Darlene Jones from RomanceCatsAndWhimsy said 3 years ago

    This was a very uplifting and encouraging article - it really hit the spot! Thank you! I'm going to check out the program.

  • PennyBirchWilliams

    Penny Birch-Williams from PennyBirchWilliams said 3 years ago

    Here's hoping more people find Etsy through this Craft in America episode! There are still many people who haven't heard of this venue, so reaching more folks is good for us all. Yes, the need to make must be in our genes somewhere because it does seem to be really strong in some families. But anyone can be creative, I believe, though I've met plenty of people who think they have no creative talents. I think I was born with a crayon in my hand. By age four I was making little ceramic animals with my sister on the back porch, at ten I taught myself to decorate cakes using a Wilton book, and fell in love with acrylic painting at fifteen. I'm so happy to have found Etsy. So glad PBS has found Etsy too. Looking forward to seeing the episode!

  • lisasparks

    Melissa Haner from MelissaLynnHaner said 3 years ago

    so cool! i cant wait to watch it. it looks beautiful!

  • countrygirljtl

    Janet Lucey from AnythingGoz said 3 years ago

    Will have to see it, I am an occupational therapist and the beginnings of our 100 yr old holistic profession is based on the understanding that being occupied with meaningful activity,the act of "doing" has deep healing powers. Give an ill person a meaningful craft and it can change their life,actually keep them alive and their sole happy. Thank you for the article.

  • pixestreasurechest

    Michele Delp from pixestreasurechest said 3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful article with us! I love Craft in America, (and PBS), have been watching it for years!

  • illuminativeharvest

    Jennifer Presler from IlluminativeHarvest said 3 years ago

    What a wonderful article. It truly appreciates the work of an American craftsmen.

  • airdrome

    susie bauer said 3 years ago

    What a fantastic article! Craft in America is a favorite of mine and this episode looks very interesting!

  • WHEATSHEAFwithlove

    WHEATSHEAFwithlove from WHEATSHEAFwithlove said 3 years ago

    Nice article!

  • KrysPettitArtwork

    Krys Pettit from KrysPettitArtwork said 3 years ago

    Great piece, thank you!

  • sighfoo

    Jennifer Syfu from sighfoo said 3 years ago

    Great series! Cool seeing Shane in this post. He designed my lovely engagement ring.

  • Nesliart

    Neslisah Veldet from Neslyart said 3 years ago

    Your collection is very beautiful. congratulations, yours!

  • janwilhelmi

    Jan Wilhelmi from JanWilhelmi said 3 years ago

    I have a great respect for craftsmanship, this was great to read, thank you!

  • korenkwan

    Koren Kwan from GarasuWonderland said 2 years ago

    creative and beautiful too!

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