As one of the last (though certainly not least) gifts of 2022, we had the opportunity to speak with Carol Sauvion, a true advocate for craft and the Executive Director of Craft in America, a multi-faceted project dedicated to promoting and advancing original handcrafted work through educational programs in all media. Notably, Sauvion is the creator of the Peabody Award winning PBS series Craft in America, a documentary series that celebrates American craft and the artists who bring it to life. In this interview, she discusses what we actually talk about when we talk about craft and her hopes for its future.
Textile Society of America (TSA): Please share a bit about the work and mission of Craft in America?
Carol Sauvion (CS): Craft in America, a nonprofit organization located in Los Angeles, California, is the result of a need that was felt to make the crafts more visible and to help craft artists be more recognized and appreciated. Craft has been described as “hiding in plain sight.” Because it is so ubiquitous, it is a unifying and humanizing force. At this moment, it offers the opportunity for makers of all backgrounds and beliefs to come together to communicate, learn, and create.
TSA: Speaking of opportunity, how do you imagine craft as benefitting from our tech driven media environment?
CS: The tech-driven media presence affects craft in many ways. Although the concept is seemingly counterintuitive, high tech equipment and processes have been used in the crafts for decades in the fields of jewelry, ceramics and plastics, to produce both prototypes and functional objects. Other high tech inventions, such as the internet, have made craft information and technologies available to everyone. This democratization has led to a new golden era for the crafts, filled with innovation, variations and discoveries.
TSA: Craft in America also exists as a very real physical space, please share more about the Center and its ongoing work.
CS: After the first Craft in America series aired on PBS in 2007, it was decided that Craft in America needed a “bricks and mortar“ location that truly reflected the physical nature of craft. The Center fulfills that need in a modest storefront on popular West Third Street in Los Angeles, providing a place to experience the crafts in person, with exhibitions, occasional special artists’ workshops, artists’ talks and outreach to Los Angeles Unified School District students. The library provides a quiet and nurturing place to learn about craft history and techniques while sitting at a Mira Nakashima table.
TSA: That image of learning about craft sitting at an example of superior craftsmanship is so satisfying! How would you define the role that crafts and craftspeople play in our society at large?
CS: Craft artists are both the practitioners of tradition and the source of innovation. Contemporary craft makers are aligned to craftspeople through the generations. They apply contemporary technologies and narratives to age old traditions. They are the thread that produces the fabric of our time. They are honest in their use of materials and honest in their goals.
TSA: Do you encounter any misconceptions about craft that you encounter and how do you address these?
CS: The word “craft” is a charged word, with a myriad of definitions from the humblest to the most advanced human practices. The word is often misunderstood. Craft in America is steadfast in its dedication to the word “craft,” its vast, important history and the contemporary practices this noble word defines. The discussion carries on, and so does craft.
TSA: How do you imagine that humanity might engage with textiles or craft in the future?
CS: Textiles are as important and pervasive now as they were millennia ago. We are swaddled in textiles at birth and wrapped in cloth for our final departure in death. The decades of our lives are intimately tied to textiles for warmth, for ceremony for adornment and for the sheer joy of self-expression. The future will introduce new fibers, uses, and techniques, but always we will depend upon textiles. So it is with craft. As long as there are functional needs for objects and the human urge to create, craft will thrive, especially in the future when the crafts are the indication of our humanness.
TSA: Are there any current or upcoming Craft in America projects that you are excited about?
CS: We are especially excited about a nationwide project that is being planned for 2026 that will celebrate craft in the year of our Semi-quincentennial, the 250 Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We plan to document the important place of craft in our history and our contemporary culture with a special focus on under-told or overlooked craft stories. Essentially, the initiative will be the story of Handmade America. Work has just begun for the project and we welcome ideas.
Carol Sauvion is the creator of the Peabody Award winning PBS series Craft in America and Executive Director of the Craft in America non-profit organization. For over 40 years she has been the director of Freehand, her Los Angeles gallery specializing in functional craft. Prior to opening Freehand, Sauvion was a professional potter for ten years. Sauvion has her degree in Art History from Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. She has served on the boards of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund and the American Craft Council.
CRAFT IN AMERICA, Inc. is a Los Angeles-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to promote and advance original handcrafted work through programs in all media. CRAFT IN AMERICA includes the PBS documentary series, websites, Craft in America Center, ongoing exhibitions, educational programs, and publications.