Here’s Looking at You

What or Who is a “craftsperson”?

While the figure of the craftsperson has held a presence throughout global history, the status and identity associated with a craft profession became codified in the mid-nineteenth century with the emergence of the Arts & Crafts movement. Originating in Britain with a constellation of bohemian figures, the Arts & Crafts movement was organized around a general thesis that the Industrial Revolution had caused a perceived social and cultural deprivation in the United Kingdom. William Morris, who stood at the movement’s helm, widely advocated for a return to more traditional means of production and celebrated the individualism of the craftsperson and the handmade object.  

We are able to historically identify Britain as source for the Arts & Crafts movement as well as the taxonomy of the “craftsperson.” However, the ideas and ideals of Morris and his fellow craft enthusiasts were globally disseminated and integrated in making and teaching practices. In each iteration of “Arts & Crafts” the fascination surrounding the maker and their craft seems to oscillate between the handmade object and the hands that made it. Between the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century the figure of the craftsman became firmly linked with an ideology of self-determinism. And within these centuries the circulated images of craftspeople served as an index for a specific lifestyle.

Re-Presence or Representation

“Handmade Worlds: An Annotated Guide to the Craftsperson’s Body” seeks to place the body at the center of an analysis of the craftsperson’s performed identity as it appears in images. Though this study begins with William Morris and unfolds in a chronological progression, I prefer to view the genealogy of the “craftsperson” as an ongoing system of citation.1 Morris is a useful opening figure for the ways in which his creative presence was performed, publicized and propagated. This site serves to demonstrate that from Morris’ moment onwards, the identity of the craftsperson has been articulated as both a personal and a political means of living.  

This project has been informed by several overlapping frameworks derived from the scholarship of Edward Said and Deepali Dewan. I make annotations in the spirit of their scholarly contributions, explicating representations of bodies for interpretive and contextual information. The “hotspots” within each image seek to clarify the ways that drawings and photographs are consciously constructed references to bodily and cultural conditions within and outside their given frames. This in mind, my dissection of representative systems will be guided by a series of questions.

Framing Questions:
  • Who is doing the looking? What do we know about the intended purpose of the image? What can we observe about the craftsperson just by looking?
  • To what exterior conditions or understandings does the image refer? How do those conditions illuminate or complicate the image?
  • What is communicated about the craftsperson’s lifestyle and beliefs via representations of their process and/or their engagement with their work?
  • What qualities of the craftsperson get carried over through time? What qualities get left behind?
Annotated What? How to Use this Site!

Each image featured on this site is interactive. Hovering your mouse over an image will reveal elements that I have highlighted for closer analysis. Clicking on the hotspot that appears will expand the heading into a short explanation illuminating the annotation.

William Morris portrait by Frederick Hollyer, 1884 and Larkspur wallpaper, c. 1874. Victoria & Albert Museum. 
  1. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Radom House, 1994).