Resurrection of the dying arts: The craftswomen of New York

By Former Agent

Remember the days before online shopping, tailored interior decoration services, and brunch delivery? If we were truly honest with ourselves, I think the answer would be, “No, not really.” For most of us, instant gratification is a natural part of life — and certainly one of the perks of living in a city like New York.

But not so many years ago, next day shipping and late night taco trucks weren’t the norm. New York never slept thanks to the craftsmen and women that helped to keep a city known for its hustle, hustling. Milliners, seamstresses, cobblers, sign painters, print makers, florists, bakers (and so many more), were all local and on hand to ensure that the city looked and felt its best.

Over time though, things have changed. It’s only natural that these artisan skills would fall by the wayside, collapsing under the weight of technological progress and quicker, smoother machine-driven processes. As a result, these highly-specialized skills have largely been lost to the average millennial. Lucky for us, New York is a city of constant growth and part of that comes from a desire to respect and preserve history, even as much as we’re drawn to innovation.

Enter: the craftswomen of New York.

In seeming synchronicity, a crop of women (and men) around NYC have started re-learning the meaning of true craftsmanship — taking on vocations and side hustles that allow them to work more closely with their tools, to shape from nothing, and to bring back artisanal handiwork. Myself included. Just over a year and a half ago, I went to my first sign painting class with industry legend Mike Meyer. He opened me up to a vein of creativity that took me away from a computer and into a world of artistry that was considered a trade profession for much of its existence. Particularly because I always identified as a big picture person, I found the experience revelatory.

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And that’s what this underground rumble of a movement is all about: drawing back toward reliance on yourself to create and away from the instant gratification of the ready-made, at least enough to know you can. With this new wave of craftspeople comes a wealth of ways for you to get inspired to create.

Over the coming months, we’ll be delving deeper into the world of the New York craftswomen who create locally and work to keep the traditions they love alive through the teaching and sharing of their skills. From hand calligraphers to sign painters to fiber artists and pottery makers, we’ll be showcasing the oft forgotten skills of the women who help keep traditions alive, who give the dying arts new life and a role in today’s society. Keep your eyes peeled.

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Cover photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Initials by Kelly Tokarz, March 2018