I come from a long line of craftspeople and you wouldn’t believe but musicians. The most identifiable part of my heritage is German and Swiss. Both my great grandparents hailed from Germany and came to the states very young with large amounts of their extended family, apparently because this is how it was done. My Great Grandfather, in addition to working for the Buffalo Grain Company for something like 50 years, was a decorative wrought iron worker, you know the black metal gates and things you find all over the place with curly-qs and ornamentation. There is a subset of blacksmithing where you create ornamentation that looks like such things as grape leaves and grapes as well as other items from nature. I’m sure these initially occurred because some dude somewhere wanted to show off his skills but it became in and of itself a true art form. I’m sad to say that the craft my great grandfather excelled in is dying. Much like the Micmac* basket making (a whole other subset of my mutt-like heritage) it’s going the way of the dodo. I suspect this is true because both of these crafts require hours of labor at their respective benches and years of skill building exercises to learn the skills needed to turn something flat into a hollow wrought iron ball.
Because my Great Grandfather worked for a large company little of his work is something that we still have in the family. There is a banded box, containing shot glasses and a “keg” for liquors, some shelf ornamentation that he created for my grandparents when they bought “the farm,” and several shelves at my great Grandmother’s home. One is spectacular and a showcase of his work, and I’m sure he was proud of it. It stands about 8 inches high and about 8 inches wide, he shelf reaches out from the wall about 4 inches. The base is dark black iron formed into hanging grapes and rippled leaves. The shelf is gorgeous in its ornate delicacy. At nearly 70 years old it looks exactly as it did when it was first made, a tribute to its fine craftsmanship. Someday I’ll get a picture of it and post it here. It’s one of those things that goes unnoticed when visiting family.
For those interested, I am 1/16 Micmac and I’m unsure of where in the family line the heritage comes from. When I was in college I wanted to explore this side of my family tree and went to several meetings and workshops held by the Maine Native American Basketry Council or as I came to call it the Maine “You-aren’t-native-enough” Basketry council. They were offering basket making classes free of charge to people with a Micmac heritage. All I had to do was travel to Whiting, Maine 5 days a week in the summer. I figured SCORE my parents live about a 30 min drive; I’ll just drive to the classes. When I inquired about taking the classes both on basic basketry skills as well as the more elaborate fancy baskets I was told, “You aren’t Micmac enough, and you can’t go.”
Part of me hates the council for that and part of me thanks them for that, as it has helped to form my theory on free and open education and is part of the reason I do both free and paid classes on my ning site, youtube as well as UStream. When your art form is dying it shouldn’t be held close to you but shared with many. Look at the bookbinding revolution occurring now. A couple of people publish a few really good books, people like me pick them up talk about them and everyone with paper and a needle is making books. It’s an amazing thing.