Tourists and Trade
Roadside Craftsmen and the Highway Transforming Craft
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How two roadside craft shops in upstate New York transformed American crafts into a fine art.
Amid the economic turmoil of the Great Depression, in 1929, Clarence Wemett, an upstate New York petroleum merchant, underwrote a craft shop bordering U.S. Route 20 and, a few years later, a different one fifteen miles away. At precisely the wrong time for such things to happen, the improbable idea of selling discretionary goods targeted to a consumer market characterized by twenty-five percent unemployment at a rural highway's roadside achieved traction: the first shop was in business for a quarter century, the second for nearly forty years. More significant than their surprising longevity is the shops' long-lasting contribution to a nascent, national movement that spans crafts personally created for individual use to the commercial work that sees craft elevated to a fine art—craft objects moved from pantry shelves to museum vitrines and craftworkers from hobbyists to professionals. The roadside shops introduced a business model that, 70 years later, is widely experienced on a very different but equally "super" highway, the Internet, and their story is a chapter in the pre-history of the modern crafts movement.
Bruce A. Austin is Professor in the School of Communication at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is the author of A Symbiotic Partnership: Marrying Commerce to Education at Gustav Stickley's 1903 Arts & Crafts Exhibitions and Frans Wildenhain, 1950–75: Creative and Commercial Ceramics at Mid-Century; and editor of Imagine this! RIT's Innovation + Creativity Festival.
"This book will be of interest to scholars and collectors of the Craft movement, to scholars interested in the history of leisure travel and the development of automobile tourism, and to both scholars and general audiences interested in the history of Western New York." — Tamar W. Carroll, author of Mobilizing New York: AIDS, Antipoverty, and Feminist Activism
"Connects the dots, literally on a map, of regional crafts after the first quarter of the 20th century. Along with specifics of two craft 'shops' and the craftsmen who populated them, the author highlights the impact of highway tourism on the shops and beyond and the unlikely 'angel investor' who owned a chain of gasoline stations and brought the "see it made" idea to roadside craft sales." — Grant Hamilton, Publisher, Neighbor-to-Neighbor News, Inc.