In Our Brutal Modern World, Science Shows Our Brains Need Craft More Than Ever

SUSAN LUCKMAN, THE CONVERSATION

28 JUL 2018

 

At a time when many of us feel overwhelmed by the 24/7 demands of the digital world, craft practices, alongside other activities such as colouring books for grown-ups and the up-surge of interest in cooking from scratch and productive home gardens, are being looked to as something of an antidote to the stresses and pressures of modern living.

Crafts such as knitting, crochet, weaving, ceramics, needlework and woodwork focus on repetitive actions and a skill level that can always be improved upon.

According to the famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi this allows us to enter a “flow” state, a perfect immersive state of balance between skill and challenge.

With what is increasingly referred to today as “mindfulness” being a much-desired quality for many people, it’s not surprising crafts are being sought out for their mental and even physical benefits.

Craft as therapy

For over a century, arts and craft-based activity have been a core part of occupational therapy that emerged as a distinct health field around the end of the first world war in response to the needs of returned soldiers.

This includes many suffering from what we now refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder, but then referred to as “shell shock”.

Knitting, basket weaving, and other craft activities were commonplace in the repatriation support offered throughout much of the English-speaking world to the returned veterans of the two world wars.

This was as both diversional therapy (taking your mind off pain and negative thoughts), as well as skills-development geared towards re-entering the civilian workforce.

More recently, research is seeking to better understand just how craft is so beneficial for the body and mind. Interestingly, much of the focus has been on the mental health and well-being brought about by knitting.

large-scale international online survey of knitters found respondents reported they derived a wide range of perceived psychological benefits from the practice: relaxation; relief from stress; a sense of accomplishment; connection to tradition; increased happiness; reduced anxiety; enhanced confidence, as well as cognitive abilities (improved memory, concentration and ability to think through problems).

In more clinical contexts, introducing knitting into the lives of hospital patients with anorexia nervosa led to a self-reported reduction in anxious preoccupation with eating disorder thoughts and feelings.

Some 74 percent of research participants described feeling “distracted” or “distanced” from these negative emotional and cognitive states, as well as more relaxed and comfortable.

Over half said they felt less stressed, a feeling of accomplishment, and less likely to act on their “ruminating thoughts”.

In another study, knitting was found to reduce workplace stress and compassion fatigue experienced by oncology nurses.

Quilting has been found to enhance participant’s experiences of well-being as they move into older age.

Research reports quilters find the work challenging, cognitively demanding, it helps to maintain or generate new skills, and working with colour was found to be uplifting, especially in winter.

While knitting and other textile-based activities tend to be female-dominated, similar benefits have been found for men in the collective woodworking, repair and other productive tinkering activities of the Men’s Sheds movement.

Participants reported reduced levels of depression.

Why does craft make us feel good?

What unites almost all of these studies, is that while the practice of craft, especially those such as knitting, quilting, needlework and woodworking, may at first appear to be relatively private activities, the benefits also substantially arise from the social connections craft enables.

These have even been reported across whole communities impacted by disaster, such as the recovery following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

One of the strengths of craft practice, especially as a contributor to well-being, is precisely that it can be both solitary and collective, and it’s up to the individual to decide.

The research into the physical and mental health benefits of craft remains largely qualitative and based on self-reporting.

And it especially explores its capacity to generate positive health outcomes through positive mental health.

While there’s much more work to be done here, it’s clear craft continues to play a key role in enhancing the quality of life of those who participate in its practices.

Susan Luckman, Professor of Cultural Studies, University of South Australia.

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I just put these up for sale on my etsy site for those of you who want some wood fired work. http://www.etsy.com/shop/bloomer4

Here are  a few of the pieces from my recent soda firing here at Cobb Mountain Art & Ecology Project. I had some pretty successful pieces come out of this and will be sending a few off to a vase show at Red Lodge Clay Center and posting some on my Etsy Shop as I get images edited.

A associate of mine recently shared this with me and I am posting this because Vivian Westwood has been such a inspiration to me over the years. Her involvement in fashion design, music, and protest culture has been amazing over the years. I found her work through my involvement with punk culture while growing up. She has important thoughts on culture, DIY attitude, blatant consumerism and consciousness in decision making with your life.  Anyway, enjoy.

HP

I will be posting new work in my etsy shop all weekend. Please go check it out.

HP Bloomer Etsy Shop <-click here

I am always looking for ways to stay engaged and active in my work. Sometimes this means restricting my palette, other times it means altering my narrative or adapting new motifs. Recently, spurred on by curiosity about making a more easily marketable and producible line of my work, I began looking into Mid Century Modern Ceramics and Bauhaus Ceramics. I was not surprised to find a wide variety of ceramicists and important makers. I was however surprised to find a name that I had seen in work that was still in production. Edith Heath who founded Heath Ceramics here in California in 1948 with her husband Brian. Some of you may be more familiar with her work and accomplishments than I was but those of you who aren’t really should be.

Edith Heath was born in Iowa in 1911 and was a child of the depression which strengthened her resourcefulness. After taking a art education course in the 1930’s she redesigned a treadle powered sewing machine into a potters wheel and started making work with her husband in California. In 1943, ever the student and always curious, she partitioned the University of California Berkeley’s extension program to host a yearlong course in clay and glaze chemistry where she learned to engineer her own clay bodies and glazes. She focused her work on developing simplistic forms and glazes which were instep with popular aesthetic of the modernist architecture which was in full bloom at the time. She would become known for her use of local California clays in the production of her wares. These clays were rich in unrefined ores which created dark speckles that shone through her unique glazes.

In the late 1940’s she was active in the ceramics community, exhibiting at the Syracuse Ceramic Nationals (from 1946-1950) and working in her own studio. She was fortunate enough to be asked by Gumps (which is a luxury home furnishing and decor retailer founded in 1861 in San Francisco) to supply a line of her work for their stores. While she took on a few assistants she continued to actively participate in the production of her line and by 1949 Heath Ceramics was producing 10,000 pieces a year. Before his death in 1959 Frank Lloyd Wright had even been taken with her wares and commissioned several sets for specific projects of his.

Amazingly her “Coupe” line of ware has been in production since 1948 and has built a tremendous base of followers and collectors. Also important to her success was the development of a line of tiles for architectural and commercial use. In this line she embraced variety and eschewed uniformity by hand making the entire line. This line of tiles won her the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal. She was the first non-architect to win this distinction. Architects such as Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard, William Pereira and others specifically designated the use of her tiles for a number of projects. In her life time she exhibited and won awards from the de Young Museum, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and others.

Edith Heath died in 2006 at the age of 94 only selling her ceramic business in 2003 to Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey who are currently running and operating under the original name of Heath Ceramics and are continuing to win numerous awards while moving the pottery forward.

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Sources:

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Edith-Heath-renowned-ceramicist-2507635.php

 

Bray, Hazel V. (1980). The Potter’s Art in California 1885-1955. Oakland, CA: The Oakland Museum Art Department. p. 62. ISBN 0-295-96200-3.

 

Klausner, Amos (2006). Heath Ceramics, The Complexity of Simplicity. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, LLC. p. 20. ISBN 0-8118-5560-0.

 

http://ecosalon.com/heath-ceramics/

 

http://pmcaonline.org/exhibitions/edith-heath-tabletop-modernist/

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