A Craftsman’s Legacy

I recently discovered A Craftsman’s Legacy on two of my local PBS television stations.  Show host Eric Gorges (which for many episodes, I heard as “gorgeous” and thought, “Oh yes, you are”) travels around the United States, visiting craftspeople in their studios.  He spends a couple days with them, interviewing them and learning the basics of their craft.  Gorges is a craftsman himself; he’s a master metalworker and makes custom motorcycles at his shop, Voodoo Choppers, in Detroit.  At this point, I’ve seen 12 of the 13 episodes in Season 1 and all four of the Season 2 episodes which have aired for the current Season 2.

The show’s website says, “Each episode will tell the story of an Old World Craft and its importance in the building of America.”  Towards this end, each episode starts with a short overview on the history of the craft, presented as pictures with voiceover by host Gorges.  This is the least interesting part of the show to me.  While I am interested in this background, I find the presentation a bit dry and rather tortured.  The main reason for this is that Gorges’ voiceover sounds bored.  This is not at all true during the rest of the show.  He clearly enjoys meeting and talking with the craftspeople.  He loves the tools and workshops and learning new things.  His obvious enjoyment of the process is absolutely charming and a big part of what makes the show so engaging to watch.

At some point in most episodes, Gorges asks the craftsperson, “Do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?”  Everyone has an immediate answer to this question; clearly each one has thought about the differences and similarities between the two words, and what the implications are as they pursue their work.  A few reject the dichotomy.  One or two think it depends on the task or project.  The rest are evenly split between the two categories.

Crafts highlighted on the show include glassblowing, stone carving, metalsmithing of various flavors, boat building, woodworking, and many more.  Season 1 included a Native American basketweaver; this is the closest the show has come to a fiber craft so far, but upcoming episodes in Season 2 include a weaver (Juanita Hofstrom) and a quilter.  I love the variety of crafts presented in the show.  I don’t expect to ever pursue any of these crafts, but I love to see the ways people have organized their lives so that they can make a living with their crafts.  I also love seeing the work spaces, tools, and processes used in the various crafts.  I find the show inspirational and it provokes me to think about my personal approach to the crafts that I love.

If A Craftsman’s Legacy is not available on any channels in your area, you can join the “Legacy Society” on the show’s website.  It’s free to join and this gives you access to full episodes of Season 1.  So far, they haven’t added any episodes from Season 2.  I’m not sure if they are waiting until the season ends or if they will add the season 2 episodes at some point before then.  However you access it — local TV or through the web — the show is absolutely worth a watch.

Love in Every Stitch by Lee Gant

Love in Every Stitch: Stories of Knitting and Healingarrived at my house a week before I left on the trip to India.  I brought it with me and read it while I was away.  When I preordered this book, I had never heard of the author and expected lighthearted, fun stories.  From the very beginning, it became clear that ‘lighthearted’ is not the best descriptor of this book.  These are stories of redemption and survival, and the circumstances that challenge us are never lighthearted!

Lee Gant (website, Facebook, Ravelry) is a knitwear designer and instructor.  She’s also a recovering addict.  A few chapters of the book share parts of her own story and the ways that knitting helped her as she struggled to overcome her addictions.  The remainder of the 29 chapters share the stories of other knitters whom Ms. Gant has met, mostly while working in various yarn shops.  The chapters are divided into 9 themes — changing, overcoming, grieving, mending, giving, discovering, living, sharing, and ending — with three or four stories in each category. The knitters and crocheters in this book ply their craft through addiction, abuse, death of close family members, or illness.  Each story emphasizes how knitting or crocheting helped the storyteller to survive and, eventually, thrive.  We also learn more about Ms. Gant’s story, through the dialogues in various chapters.

Once I better understood the angle of this book, I was concerned that the stories would be trite or manipulative.  I did not find that to be case.  For the most part, Ms. Gant writes beautifully and honestly.  She doesn’t try to wrap up every story with a neat bow (though there’s a couple that are) or imply that everything will be okay.  Crafting is a life raft that helps each person to continue taking the next step.  And the next.  And the next.

My biggest annoyance with the book was that Ms. Gant awkwardly inserted her reactions and parts of her own story into the middle of other stories.  The majority of the stories are written from her perspective.  The stories usually start with a brief set up of how Ms. Gant met the storyteller and at some point shift into long blocks of first-person dialogue from the perspective of the storyteller.  This worked for me as a way of getting into the story.  However, in many of the chapters, the first-person dialogue is interrupted with Ms. Gant’s own inner or outer thoughts.  At times, these transitions did not feel like a natural conversation, and pulled me out of the story of the chapter.  I was also left with a sense that the book was disjointed because we are getting Ms. Gant’s life story in bits and pieces.

Despite these problems, I loved the book.  From the first sentence (“I spent many troubled years standing in front of the mirror with my face pressed close to the glass, peering into each pull, trying to see all the way into myself.”), I was drawn into the book and did not want to put it down.  Part of the reason I was so drawn in is because I could write a story suitable for inclusion in the book — knitting kept me grounded through the deaths of 14 family members in 19 months, and the radical rearrangement of my life as a result of that time.  While I may not have faced the same challenges as the storytellers in this book, I understand how the repetitive, meditative, and social aspects of knitting can carry you through them.  I was inspired by the reminder, and by the fortitude of each storyteller.