A rising number of indigenous crafts worldwide are now in danger of becoming extinct or endangered, largely as a result of their time-consuming nature, and fewer craftspeople who possess these specialized skills.
In Britain, a Red List issued by the Heritage Crafts Association notes the number of critically endangered crafts there biannually, from scissor making in Sheffield to watchmaking in London. The number has more than doubled since 2007.
But efforts to promote these disappearing crafts as hobbies or souvenirs are underway in some destinations, particularly by areas with specific historical ties to specific traditions.
Geetika Agrawal started Vacation with An Artist to provide a platform for travelers to book mini apprenticeships with master craftspeople around the world, to help “crafts under threat.”
“We’ve all heard of endangered species and forests — now imagine global crafts at risk of going extinct,” wrote Ms. Agrawal in an email.
Aging populations are not able to pass the traditional skills down, she said, as younger generations are now pursuing other professions. “We are at risk of losing important global heritage, culture and wisdom.”
Here are four endangered crafts, and the destinations that are keeping them alive.
Hispanic embroideries, engravings and more
The Traditional Spanish Market in Santa Fe, N.M., is the largest and oldest juried traditional Hispanic arts show in the world. In 1925, the Spanish Colonial Arts Society was established to promote and preserve crafts, including Colcha embroidery (using naturally dyed yarn), handmade copper engravings, gesso and painted reliefs, retablos (devotional paintings) and straw appliqué. The annual market held in the summer attracts more than 70,000 people; there’s also a Winter Spanish Market in Albuquerque.
The earliest Hispanic crafts were those in the religious arts, like santos (wooden saints) and leather altars with damask silk interiors. “We had only one traditional basket weaver and she dropped out,” lamented David Rasch, the Spanish Market director. Hispanic pottery is more popular, made with micaceous clay and traditionally used for cooking vegetables like beans. “If an artist wants to create a new craft category, he or she has to provide research to the standards committee including historic references,” said Mr. Rasch.
In 1981, the society started a youth market, for ages 7 to 17, so the younger generation can practice and preserve these crafts.
In the United States, contemporary silver buying has decreased, even across the auction market, and hand-wrought, forged silver is not in as much demand as in Britain. But some places, primarily in Virginia and New England, still preserve these traditions.
“Silver is such a great part of America’s history,” said Jeffrey Herman, the founder of the Society of American Silversmiths.
In Amesbury, Mass., Old Newbury Crafters is one of the few stores that will hand-forge sterling silver flatware sets for you, starting from $1,000.
“We make only around 300 sets a year and constantly have visitors in the showroom, especially during the summer,” said Charlene Morin, an employee.
The master silversmith George Cloyed helps to preserves the 18th-century period trade in Williamsburg, Va. He has practiced the craft for 44 years and trains apprentices for about seven years. His silver-smithing store alone — which educates visitors on how valuable the metal was for both coinage and assets — attracts around 330,000 visitors annually.
Cheriyal masks and paintings
The village of Cheriyal in the state of Telangana in India is the only place in the world where these stylized type of paintings and masks dating back to the 12th century can be found; only a handful of families practice the art today among 20,000 residents.
Sai Kiran Dhanalakota, one of the youngest members practicing this art form, said visitors have increased weekly to his village because of his family and government efforts.
Cheriyal scrolls painted on traditional khadi cloth formed colorful backdrops for storytellers whose narrative occupation gradually vanished as movie theaters and televisions crept in. Known as Nakashi paintings, they use natural pigments from red stones, indigo plants, crushed seashells and soot from kerosene lamps. The artwork, based on Indian epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, can take six months to a year to complete and can be 65 feet wide.
“If I don’t continue this art form, it will die with my parents,” he said. His grandfather received an award from the president of India in 1983 for his work. Cheriyal masks, made from tamarind paste and sawdust, are used at festivals by actors to amuse the crowd.
Amish and Mennonite quilting
“In terms of traditional Amish crafts, quilts are a huge draw to the area,” said the Pennsylvania Dutch County communications manager, Joel Cliff, who says nearly 9 million people come to Lancaster, Pa., annually, in large part because of the crafting traditions; there are around 22 quilting stores. “Quilting is part of the people’s imagery of Amish county.”
Dolores Yoder, who designs and now sells quilts online, says what while there’s not nearly the same demand as she saw in the 1980s and early 90s, she still sells hand-stitched quilts; some go for nearly $7,000.
A few festivals, like the Ohio Amish Country Quilt Festival, which is entering its third year, have helped raise awareness of the craft through classes, speakers, sewing sessions and trunk shows. “We had around 1,400 people in our first year, and this year the festival pulled in nearly 1,800,” said the organization’s secretary Naomi Miller, who has seen more young quilters interested in the craft.
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