In 1964 Aileen Webb and Margaret Patch, cofounders of the American Crafts Council, decided to expand their interest in crafts and craftspeople to other countries of the world. They invited to New York craft leaders from 52 countries to attend a congress that has helped change things for craftspeople everywhere -- from the lacemakers of Czechoslovakia to the metalsmiths of Ghana, to the potters of Colombia.
This event brought craftsmen together in face-to-face meetings where they could learn from each other. In what had become a highly industrialized and complex world, the meeting brought a sense of education, recognition, and brotherhood to people in the arts and crafts.
The concept of the World Crafts Council grew out of first successful congress at Columbia University. Since then the organization has sponsored biennial conferences for world craftsmen in such centers as Dublin, Mexico City, Toronto, Kyoto, Lima, and Vienna. The next such assembly will be held early in 1982 in West Africa.
Various countries began to thwart the trend toward automation and mass production through the formation of national craft societies and the founding of schools to keep their country's traditional crafts alive. In the past few decades, more people have sought a simpler, more self-sustaining life style, and have mastered hand skills as a means of making a living. Others have used their additional leisure time to take craft courses and read some of the hundreds of how-to craft books now available, thus making themselves more competent and more cognizant craftspeople.
Over the years, industry itself has accepted the talents of artist-craftsmen as modelmakers for the finest of goods. Craft shops and galleries have grown up in many parts of the world. Museums have recognized the crafts as an art form by giving exhibition space to well-designed and executed objects made by hand.
New craft schools have been initiated and old craft schools have been renovated and improved. Craft fairs have flourished and new marketing plans have taken the crafts into department stores and specialty shops. Fartraveling entrepreneurs have searched out native crafts in the nooks and crannies of the world and placed them before the most sophisticated consumers.
Most important of all, an awareness and appreciation of the craft movement has steadily grown. Today, connoisseurs of fine craft objects exist exactly as they do in the fine-arts field. These are the cognoscenti who perceive the quality, value, and beauty of exquisite craftsmanship and want to live with it in their homes and offices.
The current dimensions of the global craft movement would be difficult to estimate, but it is known that hundreds of thousands of craftspeople now practice their skills and that what they produce complements and humanizes a mechanized, computerized world.
Today, the World Crafts Council has 86 member nations. It works only through the leading craft organizations in each country, not with individuals, and its small staff, headquartered at 22 West 55th Street in New York, is under new leadership and is again setting new goals.
Keith J. Nighbert, recently appointed secretary-general, is working to raise new funds through foundations, patrons, corporations, and agencies of the United Nations. Both he and the assistant secretary-general, Ruth N. Barratt, have taken on the multipronged tasks of management, fund raising, and project development. They both work with council president Marea Gazzard of Sydney, Australia, and with an executive board made up of vice-presidents from the five continents.
Mr. Nighbert, in an interview here, said he felt his first commitment was to see that new secretariats were funded for each of the continents -- North America, South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa -- with an assistant secretary-general in charge of each to handle the projects and problems involving crafts people in those areas.
A second and longer-range goal, he said, was to establish international craft study centers on each of the continents, which would have both teaching and exhibition facilities and would be resources for upgrading the quality of regional crafts.
A third goal, Mr. Nighbert Said, was to set up, fund, and administer an exchange program for craftspeople which would include travel grants, scholarships, study grants, and one- and two-year in-service internships.
He also wants improve the council's communications with its far-flung membership through United Nations and other telex systems, and through a satellite project that would enable television to be used to demonstrate craft techniques and to show craft exhibitions to viewers all over the world.
Other projects, now under way, are development of the documentary Arctic Crafts Album and sponsorship of the Arctic Crafts Exhibition. The World Crafts Council has also asked UNESCO for a "Craftsmen's Bill of Rights" that would ensure craftsmen the same status as those in the fine arts and the performing arts.
The objectives of the World Crafts Council are:
* To maintain, strengthen, and ensure the promotion of the crafts as a vital part of cultural life universally.
* To support the pursuit of quality and commitment in the crafts.
* To maintain and strengthen the right of craftspeople to earn their livelihoods in their crafts with dignity and personal integrity, and in good conditions.
* To promote the human values inherent in the crafts and a sense of fellowship among the craftspeople of the world.
* To offer encouragement, help and advice to craftspeople and to foster wider knowledge and recognition of their work;
* To serve as an agency for cooperation, assisting with the interchange of experience, knowledge and ideas through a world network of crafts organizations;
* To encourage and support the development of education and training opportunities in the crafts.