Artifacts: The Eco-Hippies

Welcome to the first installment in a series of posts about crafty relics with an ecological twist.

Mostly, I will be highlighting a history of methods and finished objects created with what would be considered sustainable materials by today’s standards. I think back to when it was just what worked. Also, there was no obvious investment income to be gained from having necessary project components fabricated in third world countries.

Regardless, you’ll be surprised by efficient techniques, simple tools, and sophisticated results you may never have been aware of. I’m sure at the moment though, you are dying to know all about the groovy metal trash can pictured here.

This first post may be a bit different from the rest, but is very appropriate indeed. Coming across the book Hippie Artifacts: Mind-blowing Stuff to Collect at the library, I thought I’d cop a laugh with the passing flip through, but it ended up coming home with me.

Despite the modern trivialization of hippie culture, their contribution to art, crafts and politics deserves a nod. Almost 40 years ago, a war was being protested, a government was corrupted, and creative minds were making their voices heard through cottage industry, which reverberated into commerce at large.

Books like Silent Spring by Rachel Carson spurred activists to take up the cause of ecological responsibility. A widespread symbol of the times was the Ecology Flag which is displayed both in the artwork on this trash can, and in the patch below. The Greek letter “Theta”, which is loosely associated with Earth Day presently, was nearly as commonplace as the peace sign back then.

Symbols are still powerful. Today we wear badges of activism on organic cereal boxes and Energy Star appliances. They are the end product of a quiet and slow cycle of supply and demand. To me that begs the question, “Are we expressing our concerns loud enough with the things we make?” Granted, wearing your politics on your sleeve has become a bit clichΓ©, but when the message is important enough, should making it blatantly obvious supercede vanity?

When I see a mini-van laden with magnetic cause ribbons, eye-rolling instinctively follows. The universally agreeable, politically correct flare available at gas stations today is, more than anything, mass-media driven.

Unfortunately, grass roots movements no longer drive mainstream trends, unless corporations choose to translate their urgency into something benign, generic, and seemingly uninspired. So, I send this closing thought out to the crafty cosmos: The hippies brought society out of a trance by provoking emotion through individual acts of creativity. Craft out loud for what you believe to be right, to spread awareness, and do not shy away from your First Amendment privileges.

Written by Autumn Wiggins

This 2008 interview pretty much sums it up:

1. How would you describe yourself?
An oddly situated performer of thought experiments

2. Do you have any anecdotes about your work (how you got started, frustrating moments, or funny stories)?
At this year's Maker Faire in San Mateo, I gave a presentation on how the trend of green crafting can ultimately address the problem of consumption and waste. Dale Dougherty,the publisher of Make and Craft, later had a gift delivered to me, a staple bound book of poetry: Music Like Dirt by Frank Bidart. This is the last thing one would expect to take home from an event so focused on renegade technology. To my surprise, it was an existential reflection on the human need to make things that I now find myself going back to whenever I need some inspiration to look beyond the materials and processes of crafting.

3. What kinds of things do you do for fun?
In my spare time I enjoy amateur astronomy, outdoor adventures, collecting domain names, and hanging out at coffee shops.

4. What interesting projects are you working on right now?
I'm working to organize community involvement in upcycling, and have a few top-secret website projects up my sleeves!

5. Where do you live? Kids, pets, spouse, occupation?
O'Fallon, IL, a suburb (and I mean a totally typical suburb) of St. Louis, MO. Rather than moving to the more culture friendly urban environment, I am staying put and annoying the heck out of Wal-Mart by throwing a massive indie craft show(Strange Folk) in their backyard. I have a husband, Doug, and two sons: a 7 year old mad scientist named Jack, and 6 year old Max, who we think is an aspiring tattoo artist since he's so fond of drawing all over himself with markers. To pay the bills, I do freelance writing, mural painting, and website design, sell my handmade crafts, teach art classes for kids, and work part -time at a local coffee shop.

6. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
The concept known as "Cradle-to-Cradle" is a blueprint for sustainability that states everything we manufacture should be either biodegrable, infinitely recyclable, or intended to be upcycled. This is the basis for many of my ideas of how the crafting community can be more widely involved in solving the environmental crisis.

7. What is your favorite food/color/tool?
granola/green/sewing machine!

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