To learn something about crafts and craftsmen is to learn about the history of the race. Each craft is a natural resource of many years of practical experiments and knowledge by men and women whose very lives were shaped and improved in value by the work of their hands.
More than wars, more even than literature or the events arranged of kings and great men, the crafts reflect our past. They also demonstrate, with beauty and precision, how generations of creativity went into developing and to free hundreds of regional variations that are only now combined, losing their identities.
Many of the crafts appear to be distinctively British-Irish, Welsh, English, Scottish- because they are the ones I am in the best position to describe. But it should be known that most of these same crafts were carried with emigrants from the Old World into the New, from Ireland to Australia, from Germany to Pennsylvania, from Africa to Brazil. And while they may have survived longer in one place than another, thatching, for example, may still going on in Devon but be extinct in Massachusetts.
It is fair to say that the crafts were once common very widely indeed, in places where machinery has long since driven them out. In the hollows of Appalachia, for example, where the old ways linger, crafts dating back to Elizabethan times or earlier survive to this day, identical with the practice of a craftier in the Highlands or a peasant craftsman in the valley.
Of course many variations developed depending on local conditions: many an English countryman made a profession of coppicing because he could easily sell the forest products within the local community, but a settler in Ohio, with no such market, produced entirely for himself and his family.
To become superbly good at one of the crafts is not easy. Many a young person tries it and fails in the attempt. The old-fashioned apprenticeship system was the best system for young people and for master craftsmen too. The young person was subjected to fairly rigorous discipline, maybe in some cases too rigorous, but by this he was taught not only his craft but also the habit of hard work and discipline that would, later, enable him to enjoy life and prosper at this trade.
For the master craftsman is a happy man. He feels a state of great gratification in his skill and his work, drinks his wine or his beer with a keen enjoyment, and looks forward to his food and sleeps well. He is a stranger to boredom. If he looks back over his life surely he doesn’t regret the hard apprenticeship that qualified him for being what he is?
Surely it is better for a young person to be subjected to some pretty hard discipline, and earn low wages, for a few years, and then spend the rest of his life as a respected and self-respecting craftsman, then to tumble straight into factory work. I include the “professions” in my appraisal; a good doctor or a good dentist is a master craftsman too and should be treated as one, no more, no less. There is nothing higher than a master craftsman on this planet that a man can be.
Nowadays craft projects are practical items such as a photo album or picture frames, jewelry, greeting cards, holiday decorations, toys, and gifts. Once you decide on exactly the right project for you, get out all the supplies you will need and have fun!