Wendy Van Wilgenburg: The Importance of Lifelong Learning and Crafting by Hand

Author Note: Wendy van Wilgenburg is a trained cultural and visual anthropologist, as well as founder and director of the Craft in Focus Festival, a festival aimed to give people a hands-on experience with the art of craftsmanship. If you happen to be in in Brooklyn, NY, check it out this weekend June 3-4.

Photo Source: craftinfocusnewyork.com/

Photo Source: craftinfocusnewyork.com/

When I studied cultural and visual anthropology I made my first film, about the construction of a violin. I was intrigued by the bodily knowledge of the luthier. The repetition of a certain movement, with tools that seemed to be an extension of his hands, the muscles that knew exactly what to do, the ears that could listen to the sound of the wood, the eyes that observed the grain, the nose that smelled the resin. All working together in a delicate balance to make the perfect instrument.

The years and years of practice, of learning as an apprentice from a skilled master, experimenting, with dedication and perseverance had made him a master violin maker.

Nowadays, these manual skills are in jeopardy. Children are swiping their smartphones, they build things in Minecraft, but no longer with their own hands. They do not see craftspeople anymore, because the studios have relocated to cheaper parts of the cities, outside of the residential areas. And craftspeople have a hard time finding successors. Since it does take years of training to be a master, not many people have the dedication and perseverance to be an apprentice for a long time. And in a money based society they will choose jobs that give them more financial security. Because for craftspeople finding their customers is also not a given. In a time of mass production, mass consumption is omnipresent and handmade quality products have a price that is not easily paid by most of the consumers.

In my opinion it is therefore extremely important and urgent that we revalue the skills of craftspeople, that we teach children the joy of making something beautiful with your own hands. That we spotlight master craftspeople, and that we bring them in direct contact with a large audience, to inspire them, to share their skills and passion, and to perhaps find a successor or customer. 

 

That’s also why Skillshare is such a positive force today. It lets craftspeople from all over the world teach their trades to curious students, making sure such important skills as sculpting, illustration, lettering, and so much more continues to thrive well into the digital age. 

Check out our catalogue of online illustration classes, and learn a new skill today!

My film about the luthier was an international success, and was the start of a career in making films on crafts. I have portrayed sculptors, wind mill restorers, felt makers, costume conservators, fashion designers, graffiti writers, basket weavers, rope makers, forgers and many more beautiful craftsmen and -women.

I founded the Craft in Focus Festival in 2013, as a relatively small film festival in the Netherlands, with around 200 people in the audience. In three years it grew into a very large live event, with film screenings, but also with hands-on workshops, master classes, lectures, demonstrations, an educational program, and a symposium. In 2015 and 2016 we attracted more than 15,000 visitors during the festival weekend.

Getting your hands dirty in a workshop where you can make something, learn from the master, apparently appeals to a wide audience. Adding new skills in a class by a world renowned master has value for students and professionals. And watching beautiful films from all over the world, and having discussions after the screenings and the guest lectures, inspires curious minds. 

Since I have been fortunate enough to know outstanding craftspeople in New York, and having observed the same challenges here, I decided to organize the event in NYC as well. It took over two years of preparation. And now it is happening. With Industry City as our venue partner and Popular Mechanics as our media partner. With great sponsors, partners and participants.  

So join us in celebrating the beauty of true craftsmanship, and get ready to get your hands dirty! The festival takes place in Brooklyn, NY this weekend (June 3-4).