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Monday, Oct. 20, 2008

Community of Craft

A hands-on life

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I grew up in the days when DIY (do it yourself) was a necessity rather than a hot topic in the art world. Knit one, purl two; carve a bird; construct a whatzit; stitch a sweet sampler-then sell them at the church bazaar to raise funds for new oak pews. Back then, art, craft and design were one and the same. Macramé owls and beaded sandals had yet to emerge, as had T-shirts depicting someone flipping the bird. John McCain was a kid.

In 2005, Faythe Levine and Kim Kisiolek unfurled the sails of Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery on South Howell Avenue. It's become the place to go for items fashioned by hand.

Now comes a book, Handmade Nation(The Rise of DIY,Art, Craft, and Design), authored by Levine and Cortney Heimerl for Princeton Architectural Press. The pea-green back cover describes "community" as being the heart of this new wave of craft. The publication includes informative essays, intimate interviews and fun photographs. Twenty-four crafters from across the nation is a lot to cover in 56 pages, but where else could you find a record of the work of Jennifer Hart, a lady from Austin, Texas, who eschews smarmy embroidery in favor of funky stitched odes to Iggy Pop and Marianne Faithfull? The tools are familiar: embroidery hoop, needle and thread. It's the concept that rocks.

Niftily divided into five geographical segments, the book showcases Milwaukee's J.W. & Melissa Buchanan, who pump out punkish silk-screen prints that would make your grandma shriek. Madison's Emily Kircher cranks out purses and rugs from recycled materials. This "wave of the new" is a poke in the eye of tradition, which makes me doubt that it would fly in the small towns where it all began. The locals might snipe that it's city-slicker stuff. It is and it isn't. It's a hybrid.

Heimerl co-directs Fasten, a Bay View design collective. Levine earned her chops by founding the successful, local "Art Vs. Craft" event, and has fashioned a documentary film to boot. She's been interviewed by TheNew YorkTimes, and will show her work as an "emerging artist" for the Nohl Fellowships exhibit at Inova/Kenilworth (Oct. 10 to Jan. 18, 2009). On Oct. 22, Levine will talk DIY in the UW-Milwaukee Arts Center Lecture Hall. There will also be a book-signing at Café LuLu on Oct. 25.

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