Dina Nazmi Khorchid, "A Msakhan Ceremony" (detail)

SDA Book Club: Intelligent Hands reviewed by Faith Hagenhofer

Intelligent Hands: why making is a skill for life by Charlotte Abrahams & Katy Bevan

This examination into numerous places where craft and hand work is alive, well and serving people of all kinds is strictly British—beginning with a discussion of tacit knowledge as well as the purpose of practice and repetition of tasks in the arts and specifically in craft work. Intelligent Hands is comprised of case studies of these places, with information about the organizations and movements providing support. It is an argument against the decline of applied and creative education and a praise song for the many ways that hand work skills have been and continue to be passed along. There are numerous biographical sketches of people for whom a range of craft works has been central. In a discussion of apprenticeships, Daniel Carpenter, Executive director of Heritage Crafts says “Person-to-person teaching is vital to saving endangered crafts because there are so many skills that simply can’t be articulated through language or recording. And the best form of person-to-person teaching is the apprentice model- one master craftsperson with one trainee, hands on in the workplace” (p.60). In Britain there is a system of conferring Master status and numerous programs that pay the Master to pass their knowledge along to an apprentice. 

Intelligent Hands is also an argument for the often unmeasurable values that hand work brings to its practitioners. And you, the reader, are likely to be hand work practitioners, so the people and situations discussed in here will be familiar. Full disclosure, I am an alumni of the unfortunately defunct Oregon College of Art and Craft; I found myself curious to research the many programs Abrahams and Bevan write about, and envious as well, wishing the United States had the same positive regard for the traditions of hand making, with the infrastructure to match.

There’s a wonderful quote by Walter Gropius who, at the Stuttgart Building Exhibition in 1924, spoke about the work of the young Bauhaus: “How will we live, how will we settle, what form of community do we want to aspire to?” (p.80) He was sowing the seeds of a creative community, which became The Bauhaus, but he was also making a philosophical template for creative hand/craft work communities of the future—a future that has become our now. 

–Faith Hagenhofer 

  • Publisher: Quickthorn (buy it here)
  • Date: February 2024
  • ISBN: 978-1739316020

If you’ve read this book, leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Do you have a recommendation for a recent fiber-related book you think should be included in SDA’s Book Club? Email SDA’s Managing Editor, Lauren Sinner, to let her know!

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