Photo: Samantha Rastatter

Which craft? This question surfaces in faculty and student conversations often. When we encounter a crafted object, we experience aspects of a complex craft ecosystem, but we don’t see the whole picture. An object on a pedestal is a bit like a place setting in a restaurant: it’s not a secret that someone made the plate from porcelain, or that someone else sourced the clay, but it’s not spelled out, either. At Warren Wilson College, students are encouraged to rewind material narratives that interest them back to the point before they were categorized. The stories we think we know about objects, makers and marketplaces shift as new narratives draw from different kinds of knowledge.

MA candidate Samantha Rastatter is taking on just such a project by investigating the social and material history of wool, elk ivories, and beaver pelts in Wyoming. The acquisition of each material was a flashpoint of conflict as consumer demand from East Coast and European fashion industries grew during the 19th century. Rastatter is examining three conflicts that occurred in Wyoming between 1820 and 1910, tracing the dynamics that shaped the region, its people, and natural resources as desire for these materials marked the Mountain West. By looking at objects and archival material, and by interviewing a wide range of indigenous and non-indigenous experts—from makers and artists to hunters and ranchers—Rastatter is developing a novel body of knowledge about a distinctive American craft economy whose story is still unfolding.

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