Hard to believe we used to joke about “Made in Taiwan” labels—where was Taiwan exactly, where Godzilla was from?—back when that was an exotic rarity, largely limited to cheap toys. The tables turned a long time ago, and the flood of manufacturing jobs from America to overseas factories appears inexorable—5.8 million since 2000, the vast majority unlikely to return. But there are some who believe we will start making things again, a new industrial revolution. In fact, it’s already begun, and the model looks more like the guilds of the Arts and Crafts era than Detroit-style assembly lines.
For a month now, the MIA has hosted Northern Grade @ MIA, a pop-up shop of made-in-America artisanal clothing and other lifestyle goods. Tonight, December 26, at 7 p.m., the MIA will host a discussion about the made-in-America resurgence, particularly in fashion, with Zady.com’s Maxine Bédat and designer Clare Vivier, moderated by Northern Grade’s Kate Smith. Interestingly, the clothing industry was among the first to abandon America and now it’s among the first to return, brokering a quality-over-quantity deal with customers who don’t mind paying the premium.
Here, a look at other made-in-America goods from the MIA collection, from a time when designers and artisans, reacting to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, countered the sudden flood of cheaply made goods with handmade, artfully crafted objects, often purpose-built for their clients’ homes.
William Gray Purcell’s oak and leather armchair, from 1912 or 1913, on view in Gallery G300, Twelve of these chairs were custom-built for the boardroom of Merchants National Bank, in Winona, designed by Purcell and his partner, George Grant Elmslie.
This light was designed for the back porch Purcell’s own house, known as the Purcell-Cutts House and a much-loved part of the MIA’s collection—now with a reproduction porch light.
The Boston silversmith John Coney made this tankard, on view in Gallery G350, in 1715, and it was later engraved with the initials “MB” reflecting someone’s well-deserved pride of ownership. Coney, incidentally, was the first Boston silversmith to hire a London-trained artisan for his shop, bringing Old World craftsmanship across the pond.
The museum has a remarkable 52 tankards in its collection, and several more steins—drinking was different in the days before plastic cups. This stein was created for the famous Midway Gardens entertainment complex, modeled after German beer halls and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. His design for the steins ultimately was not selected, but he did design the logo seen here.
In the great Arts and Crafts tradition, Charles and Henry Greene designed not only the architecture of the Robert R. Blacker House in Pasadena, California, but also all of the stained glass, lighting fixtures, and furniture, including this dining-room chair.
In 1903, Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Workshops began turning out more sophisticated and graceful furniture pieces, like this writing desk on view in Gallery G300—a counterpoint to Stickley’s own work, which tended toward the heavy and unadorned.