Practices in Cottage Industry and Urban Guilding

Solo exhibition, The Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA USA, 2010

 

As early as the 1400s decorative art and domestic goods were produced in cottage-style home studios.  These small industries, also called workshops, were places where apprentices learned directly from master artisans. Skills were practiced, honed, and passed down through family guilds for generations. Studios of sewing, dress making, lace tatting, textile weaving/printing, decorative china painting, even flag making were most often made by women's hands and can be considered one the earliest forms of creative entrepreneurial acts.  Practicing these skills empowered women and their children economically, keeping them from falling prey to dabbling in prostitution as income generator.  

 

As home-styled workshops of light industriousness grew and flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries, these rural domestic enterprises became the model for "new" urban factory bringing about the rise of the factory and Industrial Revolution.  What distinguished the factory from the studio setting were not only the size of the output, but also the actual practice of making.  Factory methods implemented divided labor, created sweatshop conditions, and came to enslave those that inspired mass production out-putting — 75% of factory workers were women and children.  

The result of such bastardization was unprecedented growth and financial profit for factory owners while the worker toiled extremely long hours for very very little pay. The laissez-faire approach taken by the ruling government, advocated by economists, allowed such capitalism to flourish stimulating the factory owners to pursue whichever path was most profitable. New technologies allowed things to be produced rapidly, the products were many, but not necessarily well made, critically inferior to those created in the home workshop. John Ruskin, poet and proponent of the handmade stood by his statement, "The value of a building or artifact should not be based upon its beauty or its history alone, but rather upon that spirit which is given by the hand and eye.” The notion was that material culture was imbued with a spiritual force and, as such, was a reflection of the character of its maker.  Since handwork was considered more “honest,” so too did it embody complimentary qualities of happiness, spirit, and life, itself.     

Supportive of such spirit and life, the Romantic Movement in art flourished in spite of the Industrial Revolution by having the most widespread effects on the general population, with its artistic achievements still admired and emulated today.  A dreamy romantic vision was created by artists of the era, a sensual fantasy world in which humans lived in equality with each other and in harmony with nature.  This movement was directed towards the goal of removing people from the "ugliness and meanness" of industrial culture with its ultimate goal of producing beautiful objects intended to transform society into a socialist utopia, thus prompting the revival of cottage industries. 

After 150+ years we find, again, independent entrepreneurship and industriousness particularly fitting, especially in light of our current state of the economy and governmental approach to big business(es). The combination of both issues—the aesthetics of the object and the social welfare of its maker are contemporary. History is cyclical and tends to repeat itself.

 

"Putting-Out," was inspired, by Candy Depew's personal experiences gleaned from her 12+ years as a Teaching Artist working with hundreds of high school youth throughout Philadelphia and her unique, now three year old, educational initiative, "the StudioSchool of decorative art & design" that spreads the love of silk-screen printing to all that desire to embrace it.  Her work as an Artist-in-Residence at industrial factories in the Midwest as well as at specialized art/design production studios in the Netherlands and London provided her with sustained appreciation for the aesthetics of handmade art, the environments created by and around production, and the important role that a maker holds in contemporary society.

 

This functional installation features a painted wall mural of a pink "cottage-like" architectural form, delicate small framed paper collages and paintings and will be outfitted with a simple functional in-house model of silk-screen printing set-up, easily duplicatable in any home.  During the course of the exhibition, workshops in silk-screen fabric yardage printing, paper printing, sewing, and art-making will be given at select times.  The gallery walls will be adorned with silk-screened prints produced from the sweet spot affectionately named "the CandyCoated Center," her own form of cottage industry, combined studio/school/showroom and international residency project born out of Ms. Depew's love of and for all that is decorative.  Candy Depew is a devout promotor of decorative culture and its continued daily practice; she, like the Romantic movement is generally characterized by a highly imaginative and subjective approach, emotional intensity, and a dreamlike or visionary quality.