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Seven Questions for Andrew Wagner

(Courtesy Andrew Wagner).jpgWhile other crafty magazines may give you step-by-step instructions for making a fetching windbreaker out of discarded FedEx envelopes or creating a kitschy fishbowl out of that Apple IIe monitor sitting idle in the basement, American Craft puts down the Mod Podge and focuses on the creators themselves. The magazine “celebrates the modern makers who shape the world around us” and in doing so, aims to connect the worlds of art, industry, fashion, architecture, and design.

Under the leadership of editor-in-chief Andrew Wagner (a founding editor of Dwell), the 65-year-old, New York City-based magazine has been reborn. The October/November 2007 issue marked the publication’s relaunch and full-scale redesign, right down to the new satin 60-pound paper stock on which it is printed. In answering our seven questions, below, Wagner discusses the American Craft of today, his forthcoming book of writings by the late Ettore Sottsass, and a recent scuffle with goldsmiths.

1. You’re the editor-in-chief of American Craft. How do you define “craft”?
I like to think of craft as the root of all creative endeavors — the very thing that gives life to ideas and techniques of making. To steal a few lines from a story by writer Marc Kristal from our last issue (“The Hand Meets High Tech,” April/May 2008), “craft has less to do with the tools of making than with the sensibility that controls them. Or, as [fashion designer] Natalie Chanin puts it, ‘Craft is a state of mind.’”

american craft cover.jpg2. What were the goals for the magazine’s fall ’07 relaunch and how did you go about achieving them?
American Craft is one of the longest running, continually published magazines in the United States. In it’s 65 years of publishing it has had seven editors. The last editor, Lois Moran, had been with the magazine for nearly 30 years and the last creative director, Kiyoshi Kanai, had been with the magazine nearly as long. When they retired I was brought in to take a fresh look at the magazine and to reexamine the how, what, when, where, and why of craft in the current global context.

Not surprisingly, craft was everywhere and on the tips of everyone’s tongues across artistic disciplines and professional boundaries. From food to fashion to art, architecture and design, people were really starting to gravitate towards the “making” of cultural output. How are things put together? Where do they come from? What are the materials? Essentially, it’s the question ‘how does what we consume end up in our hands?’ that becomes interesting when we have been so removed from that process for years now. To keep things short and sweet, I went about incorporating this very large idea into the magazine by being able to work with incredible people (writers, photographers, editors, etc.) who truly can “see the forest for the trees.” Also, I’ve been able to work with one of the most talented design teams out there, creative director Jeanette Abbink and senior designer Emily CM Anderson.

3. Do you consider yourself “crafty,” or do you make/collect anything?
My making has been mostly confined to writing, editing, and the overall production of magazines though I do play guitar (I haven’t played in a band in a while, however, and am looking to come out of retirement) and dabble here and there in filmmaking. As far as collecting goes, my wife (Heather Wagner) and I have a lot of art work that we love but our collection is quite eclectic and runs the gamut, from photography to small-scale sculpture to furniture. Maybe we need to get some focus here!

4. Last book you read?
The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Before that was Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle. Both are fantastic!

5. Best/most thought-provoking exhibition or artwork you’ve seen lately?
You know, I really loved this exhibit called “Street Level” at the ICA in Boston. Los Angeles-based artist Mark Bradford‘s work is just incredible. I had seen bits and pieces of it here and there but seeing so much of it all together was pretty special. Johannesberg-based artist Robin Rhode‘s work was very cool as well. I’m looking forward to seeing more of it soon!

6. Best/most memorable art, craft, or design-related encounter?
Getting to spend time with the late architect/artist/designer/writer Ettore Sottsass. He was such a huge influence on me. The way he looked at the world was just so completely unique. I feel really lucky to have gotten to meet him and know him a bit. I’m currently working on editing a collection of his writing that will be published in the spring of 2009 by Princeton Architectural Press. His writing is really incredible — short, funny, honest pieces that really cut through so much of what too often makes life so unnecessarily complicated.

7. Proudest art/craft/design moment?
Ruffling feathers at the recent Society of North American Goldsmiths‘ conference in Savannah with artist Bruce Metcalf during our presentation “D.I.Y, Websites, and Energy: The New Alternative Craft.” It’s always fun to get a lot of people really thinking and talking.

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