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Craft as a powerful force for healing, connection and social change 

Craft is a potent healer, connector and catalyst for social change – not to mention an anchor of tangibility in our increasingly digital world.

Sculptural basketry by Minneapolis-based artist Martha Bird
Sculptural basketry by Minneapolis-based artist Martha Bird

To many, ‘tis the season to think about craft – as in, the diverse universe of handmade objects often made or purchased as gifts.

Handmade objects do make excellent gifts, but craft is also so much more. Craft is a potent healer, connector and catalyst for social change – not to mention an anchor of tangibility in our increasingly digital world. When social and political forces tend to tear us apart, craft brings us together. It’s time for the public perception of craft to catch up to the value it contributes to lives, communities, and societies.

Minneapolis-based artist Martha Bird first discovered the healing power of craft as a means to regain activity and health after a back injury. Today, her internationally exhibited artwork draws on the materials and techniques of traditional and sculptural basketry and her experience as a board certified holistic registered nurse and public health nurse. Martha’s exhibitions and related public speaking illuminate the health benefits of creating by hand and challenge the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

Craft is also a force for deeper connections. Drew Cameron, a paper artist and Iraq War veteran, transforms symbols of war into materials for creation. Drew creates paper from military uniforms and hosts “Combat Paper” workshops with fellow veterans and civilians across the country. These workshops create a space for communities to connect, share stories, and create together.

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Craft is a catalyst for change. Loriene Pearson uses embroidery to illuminate, among other themes, resilience and resistance to violence. Based in Minnesota, Loriene is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, whose relationship with the land and community inspire her work. Her work “MMIW: Break the Chain,” first exhibited at All My Relations Gallery in 2021, brings attention to the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women.

The process of working with one’s hands to transform materials into something new and unique – whether beautiful, practical or neither – counterbalances the disembodied nature of life in the digital age. Like many Minnesotans, I come from a family of people who make everyday things using materials and methods passed down through many generations: things like quilts, bread, finely knitted sweaters and wooden boxes. Looking back on my childhood, I see now that the culture of making that surrounded me was important in fostering the sense of agency I value so much.

Craft teaches us to make things well and to appreciate well-made things. Through its ability to heal, connect, and inspire change, it shapes our world in ways large and small. As we support craft artists and participate in our own making-centered traditions this holiday season, let’s open our eyes to the fullness of craft in all its richness, complexity, and social impact.

Andrea Specht is the executive director of the American Craft Council, a national nonprofit based in Minneapolis.