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The Craftsman
in an Industrial Society

Herwin Schaefer

The greatest difficulty in writing on this subject is its lack of definition: what is a craftsman in an industrial society? In all the possible variants of interpretation, our concept of the craftsman must perforce take as a point of reference the role of the craftsman before the Industrial Revolution, when he made everything that man used and enjoyed from the simple cup or chair to the most elaborate artistic piece of goldsmith work, and when there was no competition from a mechanical agency that produced things in a fundamentally different way: actually reproducing limitlessly an original model by means of mechanical energy and devices. Today in any definition of the craftsman there is still inherent this idea of the man who makes things by his hands, one at a time, with his skill, his tools, his intuitive gifts of form, colour and use of materials and techniques. The phrase 'the craftsman in an industrial society' immediately brings to mind the conflict, the competition, in fact the polarity between the two.

Through the craftsman spanned the gamut of production before the advent of the machine, from the useful to the object of virtu, the machine has in the course of time pre-empted primarily the production of the useful (through it is one of the causes of our disdain of nineteenth-century early industrial production that it enthusiastically and as a matter of course assumed it could also produce the artistic, in fact 'art'). The more industry took care of our needs in the realm of the useful and functional, the more the craftsman was denied his role as the maker of the necessary and useful and the more he became the maker of the superfluous, the costly, the extravagant. And when he sought—as William Morris did—to reinstate himself in the role of the craftsman who makes the useful everyday things of life, he was frustrated and defeated, simply by the inexorable logic of industrial economy.


The Society of Master Craftsmen was established on July 6, 2018 in order to celebrate the human experience.