The Arts & Crafts is a place where you hang out and make things if you feel like, and talk about this and that—if you feel like. There are lots of materials around, and things other people made in various stages of done-ness. There are also things you made and things you left unfinished, and might or might not get back to. In a cubby on the wall, there’s a little box with your name on it, and it contains scraps of colored paper and pieces of wood you found interesting. You fool around, and maybe somebody shows you how to do something. There’s a back room that doesn’t have windows and the best materials are there, stores of them. Candy bars, too. The person who runs the place is a bit nuts and doesn’t fit in, and that’s exactly why you like to go there.
There’s little of significance anywhere. You are not engaged in anything “important,” although you are very engaged. You understand the blessed concreteness of tile ashtrays and lanyards, and the alchemical transformations of the enamel jewelry oven. You make things for your mother, as well as for yourself.
I spent all my childhood summers in a place like this. The happy chaos of the Arts & Crafts, its aura of permission, its lack of pretension, still compel my imaginings about what it really means to make art. What if I sprinkled my words with metal powders and let them coalesce without help in a special oven? What if I braided my lines and sentences like lanyard cord, and just left the long strings hanging when I get bored? What if I roamed from project to project, and copied what you were doing because I liked it?
What if I snuck into the back room when no one was looking, and made off with some fabulous stuff—because I knew the truth, that it was all there for me?
*”Doin’ Your Thing at the Crafts Shop” is the title of a song about the Arts & Crafts at Brant Lake Camp in New York State. Words and music by Irwin Cohen. The person who ran the place was Mike Ilgner. The painting, of the actual building, was made by my late brother, Joseph Starace, when he was a boy.