Common ground between crafts collectives and conservation: Protecting natural resources through artisan production

Jennifer Jade Wilhoit (2005)

The formation of collectives that focus on crafts production is a survival strategy for artisans in remote areas both domestically and abroad. In many cases craftsartists are influenced by their rural environment and use images of and resources from nature in their work. Some of the cooperatives are situated near protected areas with local residents as members; others draw membership from a larger regional area and have no strong tie to a protected area. Yet in a number of crafts cooperatives in developing countries, members have incorporated a formal environmental agenda into the cooperative's bylaws. This research explored crafts collectives in the United States in order to learn how craftsartists understand conservation in this country. I conducted my study with members of the Gallery Shop in rural Pennsylvania and the Southern Highland Craft Guild's Folk Art Center in North Carolina. My inquiry focused on the artisans' perceptions of their work, the collective and their community in regard to conservation. The results showed that individual artisans place a high value on, and are very knowledgeable about, their local ecology but do not take formal environmental action as a collective. In response to the findings, I propose a model for integrating the ecological, economic and sociopolitical actions of artisan members. The implications of this research for those concerned about crafts and ecology are significant; there is potential for collaboration between artisans and conservationists.