As far back as around 300 C.E., there were organizations of craftspeople, almost secret societies that regulated apprenticeships and standards of production and trade, usually under the auspices of a local magistrate or monarch. In medieval Europe, sovereigns supplied letters of patent that authorized craft guilds, the forerunners of workers’ unions and even cartels, to regulate almost every aspect of the production and trade of hand- and machine-made goods. Large cooperatives like the Hanseatic League provided security and standardization for groups of cottage industries operating in Northern Europe, but many craft professions had their own organizations as well. Great cathedrals were erected by guild members, much as buildings today are constructed by craftsmen and construction companies with standardized and specialized qualifications. It was a great honor to be admitted to a guild and entitled to attend meetings, vote in the Guildhalls and show enough profit to contribute money (guilders) to the common treasury.
So it is today. Look online and you can find names for guilds that you might want to employ in the videogame World of Warcraft, directly referencing the medieval guilds of Europe, but you can also find present-day active embroidery, quilting, pottery, food, beverage, knitting, spinning, art, jewelry, gold- and silversmith guilds: guilds for almost every product and craft imaginable. These descendants of the early craft guilds supply each other with databases of resources, plan organizational meetings, enter trade shows and other markets, conduct social events and provide each other with current information about supplies and marketing of products.
Here in Carlisle, a small, but growing group of craftspeople has joined together to form the Carlisle Artisans (see www.carlisleartisans.com). Most are familiar to those of us who shop the Carlisle Farmers Market: Deborah O’Kelly of Golden Girl Granola supplies customers not only with homemade granolas, but also pastries and other baked goods. Barbara Lewis of Full Moon Fabric Sewlutions produces fabric purses, wine bags, holiday gift bags, apparel, and other original fabric objects. Karen Alexander of KSA Creations creates original illustrations printed onto cards, as well as murals for residences. Karen Lemmermann is a potter with a line of hand-thrown vases, bowls and other clay craft. John Walsh, a photographer who specializes in local scenic photography, is also a group member, as is Cindy Kraft, whose Subito Farm offers hand-spun yarns, hand-knitted and felted items, original knitting patterns and kits and handmade soaps. Kathy Mayers, who makes stained glass art, rounds out the present group, along with Françoise Bourdon and her original art.
Originally, the group organized itself with an open meeting at O’Kelly’s house to discuss, as Cindy Kraft put it, “ways to create opportunities to sell [the artisans’ wares] and become known.” Like the guilds of history, the Carlisle Artisans, each artisan a cottage industry, began to concentrate the group’s activity on the business of sale: sharing information about local fairs and markets, analyzing which are the most likely to produce a return, which are the best “fits” for the kinds of items they have to sell and what to charge for their items and developing a clientele list. As a modern guild, they are also mounting a comprehensive resource database and building and enhancing their website. They also work together on marketing their goods, sharing methods to present them, working on signage and graphics and providing keys to networking and online outreach.
Gradually, the artisans have begun to fan out over the local area, appearing, as Lewis says, at the First Religious Society’s Harvest and Greens Fairs and other church fairs, but also the Job Lane Craft Fair in Bedford, the fall festival in Harvard and further afield. You can find contact information for many of the Carlisle Artisans listed in the Red Balloon telephone book as well as on their website. Look for them in person at the final Farmers Markets of the season, and at fairs, bazaars and festivals here in town and, more and more, in other venues across the state and New England as well.
“You need space in your life to pursue your [creative] passion,” says Lewis, “but you also have to pay attention to what you learn about the business of marketing and selling from all your experiences and contacts and incorporate it into your practice.” That seems to be the essence of the “studious artizan” who can look forward to a “world of profit and delight.”∆