15 July 2023

Review: Almost Lost Arts by Emily Freidenrich

Almost Lost Arts - Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping Them Alive by Emily Freidenrich book cover

I came across this book, Almost Lost Arts - Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping Them Alive by Emily Freidenrich by chance when looking through my library's catalogue for something completely different. Don't you love it when a book finds you, instead of the other way around?

Almost Lost Arts showcases 20 traditional arts, crafts and vocations through the work of individual artisans passionate about their work and dedicated to keeping these skills and practices alive.

Highlights for me included the globemakers, bookmender, antiquarian horologist, wood type printers, sign painters, woodcut printers, mapmaker and hatmakers. There was also a cassette tape manufacturer, the last of its kind in the world which was interesting.

Very few of the profiles gave the reader an indication of the skill or training required, which was a real shame. On the chapter about woodcut prints, Meguri Nakayama tells us:
"Carvers and printers train for five to seven years to reach the minimum level of skill required of artisans, and it takes more years of 'concentration, patience, and strong passion," says Nakayama, "before they are considered masters." Page 180
This is clearly impressive, and I would have appreciated more examples of the time and effort taken to attain the level of knowledge, skill and experience these artisans have achieved in each of their very specialised careers.

Stuff like this. According to Simon Vernon, World's End Mapmaking Company in the UK:
"Less than point one of one percent of people are still making maps the way I do," Vernon estimates." Page 187
Impressively, Vernon is one of only a few people in the world creating maps using the same skills cartographers used three hundred years ago.

Many of the artisans featured don't have apprentices or anybody to pass their skills on to which makes you worry they could die out if future generations don't embrace them. Many of the artisans seemed keen and sometimes desperate to pass on their lifetime of knowledge and experience to keep their chosen art form alive. This book is an ode to the past and has successfully captured skills that could disappear in the future if younger generations don't see their charm or value.

However, if the book was expressly written and published to entice the reader to pursue any of the vocations presented in the profiles, then I don't believe it succeeds. The choice to include 20 profiles and go into a little detail was better than choosing 10 profiles in greater detail, but still, there was much missing. I would have been happy to have seen smaller or fewer photographs if it resulted in more information being included. Some of the photographs were too stylistic or artistic and weren't able to offer much sense of the tactile processes involved.

Almost Lost Arts - Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping Them Alive by Emily Freidenrich is an interesting read and could serve as a jumping off point for some readers, however I'm glad I borrowed my copy from the library.

My Rating:

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