As individuals who’ve prided themselves on not being patriotic, it’s been a struggle to connect things to nations, but as we’ve grown closer to craftsmen all over North America and more intimate with their work, it’s hard not to feel compelled by the potential in the current swell and push for “American Made”. From media efforts by ABC news to larger brands such as Martha Stewart, Jeep or Levis to the smaller American Craftsmanship Project recently funded on kickstarter to a host of websites devoted to makers – The Makers Project, Sight Unseen, Grain and Gram – many are seeking to discover, expose and enrich this renaissance. According to one article on American Furniture Design: the New Frontier, a multitude of factors – recession and unemployment, China’s booming manufacturing and export industry, inflating costs of foreign production, carbon footprint and sustainability – are driving a renewed sense of nostalgia, pride and patriotism in America.
But nostalgia for what?
It’s worth noting that whilst jobs have, American manufacturing output has not decreased over the past 60 years. In Making it in America a visit to a manufacturer of car parts, reveals why it makes sense to produce certain high precision items close to home. It may explain Google’s recent experiment to produce their Nexus Q in America. But large scale manufacturing will always be driven by competitiveness and profits, not nostalgia. Arts and crafts, essentially anti-industrialist on the other hand, stand to benefit more from a local, smaller scale, reversion to the way things used to be. But this benefit will require a commitment both by suppliers – through micro-industry collaboration for example – and consumers – through a change in the perceived value of objects that reflects durability – where less is consumed at a higher price.
The point is it’s not clear what type of value or production any current nostalgia would support, that it’s not necessarily in line with the reality of manufacturing anyway, and that the many exceptions to the rule who’ve produced the same way for a number of years in North America are a reminder that they are forgotten, not gone.
Despite this, American Made and American Craftsmanship stands to benefit from the current times and the more this nostalgia can be translated into lasting rather than trending consumption through an understanding of the makers and production behind quotidian objects, the more patriotism will eventually lend itself to economic sustainability. Craftsmanship’s suitability, after all, as the act of doing something well for its own sake builds on the individual, the company, the country and can be seen as patriotic by its very nature.
Image from Jeep advertizing Campaign by Wieden and Kennedy