By Regina Connell.
It’s a funny thing, but it seems to me that the prevailing vibe of the craft community is generosity. Respect, even.
OK so it’s not all “kumbaya”, and there’s the usual frustration about craft not getting its due, etc…but there’s really so little bitchiness and backbiting of the kind that exists in certain other creative communities.
What does exist, when you get makers and artisans together, is a certain geeky joy that comes out when people compare notes on pushing the boundaries of materials, and a deep and mutual appreciation of what it means to work and work and work and still have that piece of glass shatter, that fabulous bowl crack in the kiln, that earring just…not come out right.
A lot of this empathy and sharing takes place at workshops, in large studio communities, and at shows. But that’s all pretty limited, not to mention kind of expensive, and who has the time these days?
Enter Crafthaus, an online community where makers and artisans come together to share their latest work – along with their ideas, obsessions, and technique quandaries.
Now say “community”, and what inevitably comes to mind is sprawling, faceless, unruly–and exclusively virtual–Facebook.
Well, this is not it. (Of course it’s not, we’re talking about the craft community here.)
Crafthaus feels more like a real community that happens to use digital tools to bring it together. It’s active, with a good deal of give and take, fresh content, and frequent posts. It has a wide range of maker community-relevant features (ways for artisans to post their work), discussion forums (anything from Tips, Tricks, and How To’s, to Business Perspectives), job, grant, and workshop listings, and interest groups (furniture to metal clay). Crafthaus maintains a little bit of a gallery feel to it, showcasing artists latest work (very diverse), online exhibits and more. And it’s global.
Sounds great, yes? But Crafthaus has something else: a living, breathing person (a community manager, in social networking parlance) who chooses who gets into the community, how they’re behaving, and works to build and nurture it, both online and off.
But it’s not just that there’s a human being involved. It’s that this human being is the inventive, entrepreneurial, energetic, wildly generous, plain-speaking Brigitte Martin, founder, and heart and soul of Crafthaus.
Born in Koln, Germany, Brigitte currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. She trained as a goldsmith in Germany, (prior to which she worked at Sotheby’s, among other places) then moved to the US with her husband.
She continued to work in metal, and also set up a gallery. But she was still restless. So she started Crafthaus in 2008 when she realized that she wanted to break out of the isolation of the studio practice and get connected to what people were interested in.
From a small group, it’s grown to a couple thousand members, and has become, effectively, a full time job for Brigitte. (Oh, and in her spare time? She’s writing a book on humor in craft.)
Part of the secret is the high quality of the artisans Brigitte lets into the Crafthaus community. “I’m careful and selective as to who I let on. It’s not a free for all. I look at the work that they’re doing, try to figure out what they add to the community. I also thoroughly monitor the images that go up on Crafthaus. People can do what they want on their own websites.”
The here’s the thing that really drives Brigitte: a passion for the people. “I want people to be successful, I want them to be collaborators. I want to help them make their goals possible. I have no desire to grow incredibly big. I feel I would be losing the intimacy that I have right now. Then the community doesn’t work anymore.” She goes on to add, “Crafthaus is not a commercial thing. I’m not doing any kind of promotional work. I don’t want to make it commercial, so I don’t take ads.”
She also clearly thrives on the energy of the community. “I’m so excited about seeing how connections are being made, that the members are getting in touch with each other. What I like to see is people connecting through an appreciation of each other’s work. There’s a mentoring aspect to Crafthaus. People talk to each other (in groups) about technical questions. On Crafthaus, we are all nerds. We all want to know how things work. It’s not about gaining an edge, to out-do each other. It’s about breaking out of the isolation of our studios and communicating in a meaningful way.”
It seems to us that this collaborative approach is what’s necessary to help contemporary craft thrive. And you’d think that with all the great networking technology out there, it would happen organically.
But it doesn’t. And that’s why you need a force to be reckoned with–a Brigitte Martin–to make those connections and keep them going strong.
All images courtesy of Crafthaus