“A glass jug, a wicker basket, a coarse huipil… beautiful objects, not despite their usefulness, but because of it. Their beauty is simply a gratuitous gift, like the perfume and the color of flowers. It is inseparable from their function… the result -almost invariably an unintentional one- of the secret relation between [the object’s] form and its meaning”
Thus the distinguished Mexican poet/philosopher Octavio Paz, in his thoughtful and provocative essay, focuses our vague intuition of the importance of the handcrafted object in a world in which the useful and the beautiful have otherwise been separated.
In praise of hands is a unique celebration of contemporary handcrafts. It is a dazzling display of objects (all made since 1970) in varied craft areas -textiles, needlework, glass, ceramics, wood, jewelry, metalwork- drawn from fifty-four countries on five continents. Some pieces are the work of sophisticated designer/craftsmen breaking new ground in their media; others are the creations of anonymous craftsmen whose works are part of an enduring tradition. The objects illustrated (complemented by colorful and informative array of documentary photographs) were gathered for the great international exhibition of contemporary crafts at the Ontario Science Centre in 1974. James S. Plaut, Secretary General of the World Crafts Council, which organized the exhibition, has provided commentary and a Foreword assessing aspects of the crafts situation today.
But this book is not an exhibition catalogue, nor is it an encyclopedia of the crafts or a technical manual. It is, rather, a powerful statement of the universality of the craftsman and his central place in contemporary society. “The return to hand craftsmanship in the United States and in Western Europe” writes Octavio Paz, “is one of the symptoms of the great change that is taking place in our contemporary sensibility. We are confronting in this case yet another expression of the rebellion against the abstract religion of progress and the quantitative vision of man and nature”.