... less an examination of traditions and techniques than a blow-by-blow chronicle of this country through the lens of craft, from the European settlers to the maker movement and so-called craftivists of today. That no one has ever previously attempted this may be because when we bother to think about craft at all, it is usually through a gauzy haze. Yet Adamson manages to discover 'making' in every aspect of our history, framing it as integral to America’s idea of itself as a nation of self-sufficient individualists. There may be no one better suited to this task ... This is, however, no feel-good quilting circle of a book. Craft aims to reckon with the shameful way we have treated and viewed those who handbuilt the country: Indigenous people, African-Americans, women and the working class.
With an academic’s eye for detail, Adamson examines the ways that crafts like needlework or carpentry provided opportunities for many Americans to achieve a measure of independence. But he also expounds upon the dark side of that trade: When a product that originates in individuality is subsumed by industry, it often leads to the exploitation of workers, including children ... And while Adamson delineates the tension between crafts and business, including the destruction of natural resources and other challenges that persist today, he highlights the effectiveness of crafting within social movements.
... long and roving chapters ... Adamson is a curator and some of the book’s most lively moments come when he is describing an object ... From enslaved craftspeople inciting rebellion to the ubiquity of the postwar amateur craft craze, from wampum to studio pottery, this is a celebratory history of craft’s potential to liberate America from its racism, xenophobia, and sexism.
... rich ... Adamson displays his vast knowledge of crafts, artisans, and political and business figures who have helped or hindered craft’s advancement ... Adamson leads us on a chronological journey through American history, pointing out along the way—sometimes in lush detail—the various craft movements and ideas that were prominent at certain times. The text swarms with interesting anecdotes and names—some well-known and others who will be less familiar to most readers ... Throughout the narrative, the author displays a sensible sensitivity to various cultural, racial, and gender issues that remain with us ... The author offers welcome details about such topics as repressive schools for American Indians (e.g., Carlisle Indian School) and Rosie the Riveter ... Thoroughly researched and written with passion—and a bit of bite.
... erudite and immersive ... With lucid prose and exemplary research, Adamson brings intriguing new details and unusual perspectives to even the most familiar story lines. The result is an elegant, detailed, and functional history worthy of its subject.