New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A groundbreaking and endlessly surprising history of how artisans created America, from the nation’s origins to the present day.
At the center of the United States’ economic and social development, according to conventional wisdom, are industry and technology—while craftspeople and handmade objects are relegated to a bygone past. Renowned historian Glenn Adamson turns that narrative on its head in this innovative account, revealing makers’ central role in shaping America’s identity. Examine any phase of the nation’s struggle to define itself, and artisans are there—from the silversmith Paul Revere and the revolutionary carpenters and blacksmiths who hurled tea into Boston Harbor, to today’s “maker movement.” From Mother Jones to Rosie the Riveter. From Betsy Ross to Rosa Parks. From suffrage banners to the AIDS Quilt.
Adamson shows that craft has long been implicated in debates around equality, education, and class. Artisanship has often been a site of resistance for oppressed people, such as enslaved African-Americans whose skilled labor might confer hard-won agency under bondage, or the Native American makers who adapted traditional arts into statements of modernity. Theirs are among the array of memorable portraits of Americans both celebrated and unfamiliar in this richly peopled book. As Adamson argues, these artisans’ stories speak to our collective striving toward a more perfect union. From the beginning, America had to be—and still remains to be—crafted.
About the Author
Glenn Adamson's books include Fewer, Better Things, The Invention of Craft, and The Craft Reader. His writings have also been published in museum catalogues and in Art in America, Antiques, frieze, and other periodicals. He was previously director of the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, and has held appointments as Senior Scholar at the Yale Center for British Art, and as Head of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.
“A blow-by-blow chronicle of this country through the lens of craft . . . 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.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A rich chronicle of craft in America from Jamestown to the present day . . . Thoroughly researched and written with passion-and a bit of bite.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Chock-full of fascinating stories and interesting facts. Adamson collects nuggets from history, fiction, and even poetry to bring the world of the American craftsperson vividly to life.” —Tyler Anbinder, author of CITY OF DREAMS