The Craftsman’s Creed, in the Depth It Deserves

I hold with none who think not work a boon,

Vouchsafed to man that he may aid his Kind

With offerings from his chisel, wheel, or loom,

Fashioned with loving heart and loving mind.

 

All of the fine traditions and the skill,

Come from my elders through the long line down,

Are mine to use to raise our crafts’ renown

And mine to teach again with reverent will:

 

Thus do I live to serve,

With fingers which are masters of the tool.

–James Parton Haney

I’m always trying to articulate what draws me to the work I do, how craft differs from art, what is motivating to the makers who devote time and energy to making items that are both practical and beautiful. I first saw this statement of a “craftsman’s creed,” a set of guiding principles for makers, in of one of my weaving books. It has given me plenty to ponder.

The book contained, as it turns out, only part of the original the creed and it was attributed to “anonymous.” But since we live in a world graced with the internet, I was able to track down the author with not too much trouble.

James Parton Haney, an art educator, first offered the creed as a code of belief and conduct in 1913, according to an obituary for the man published in the ‪Bulletin of the Art Center, New York.

Haney’s words and teachings seem to have been well-respected and circulated in his lifetime. In fact, I found a reference to the Philadelphia Club of Printing House Craftsmen singing the creed at their 1918 meeting. But, by 1956, the Christian Science Monitor published the poem without attribution. If nothing else, this post returns credit to the man—and I think he deserves to be known for this fine statement of what we do!

I like a lot about Haney’s statement of what it means to be a maker:

I like that it’s written in lofty terms. It may be true that this is partly a function of the fact it was written over a century ago, but the language used seems to be more formal and grand than what would have been considered everyday talk, even then.

The language Haney used makes it a little harder to read and digest the creed but I’d say that’s a good thing. It asks us to slow down and really think about what it means to call ourselves craftsmen.*

The grand language seems designed to elevate what some might have dismissed as a humble undertaking, mere “craft.” Those who embrace the creed are asked to see craftsmanship as not merely the use of tools to make the stuff of daily life, not a lesser undertaking than art, but its own endeavor, with its own passion and criteria for excellence.

I like that the creed focuses the maker’s work on connections with the past, the present, and the future equally.

For me, one of the most compelling aspects of learning a craft is that every craft has traditions; the work we do we grows from the work done by those who came before us. We learn from them; we draw on accumulated knowledge and technique; we take the next step in the journey of advancing the craft. Haney’s creed acknowledges and honors this connection to the past. We are the latest members of a family of makers.

The creed also focuses on the present and the day-to-day satisfaction that is to be derived from making a thing of beauty and usefulness. When Haney describes work as a boon, done with loving hand and loving mind, he focuses our attention on the satisfaction we get from our efforts—we are making not only because the product of our labors fulfills a need, although it will, but because the act of making pleases us.

Haney’s creed also makes references to the equal partnership of heart, hand and mind in making finely crafted work. He speaks of love, of skill, and of the thought that go into the work we do. Could we call it craftsmanship without any one of those elements?

Lastly, the creed makes the case for an obligation of the craftsman to the future of the craft. The future of the craft depends on each of us feeling an obligation to teach our skills to others, so that the craft continues to flourish.

On this topic of sharing what we know and teaching it, I also really like that Haney gives such short notice to the topic of making money from the craft, unlike a more modern craftsman’s creed offered by Josh Kaufman. Of course, many craftsmen are concerned about making a living but Haney’s creed seems to assume that, if the tenets of the creed are upheld, the making of a living will follow. Just as the Hippocratic Oath of Physicians states that, “If I faithfully observe this oath, may I thrive and prosper in my fortune and profession,” Haney’s creed expects the work of the maker, in service to the craft and to the well-being of others, to ensure thriving and prosperous business.

One more aspect of Haney’s creed that really speaks to me is his casting of craftsmanship as a boon to be thankful for. The full text of Haney’s original creed (see below) makes reference to craft skill as gift from God. You can do with that what you will. I am happy to consider my skills a gift given by nature, nurture, my teachers, my own hard work.

But, whatever the source, it’s a gift that one should recognize as such and be thankful for and respectful of. Sometimes I forget to stop and think about how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do the work I do. Sometimes I get so caught up in making quick, little projects—something I can give away as a quick gift or, yes, blog about—that I lose track of what my real purpose is. And that purpose, for me, is to make the best quilt, or set of dishtowels, or peanut butter meltaways I am capable of, because these are my crafts and I owe them the respect of doing them well and striving to do them even better.

James Parton Haney’s Craftsman’s Creed is far more, to me, than a nice poem, a pretty summary of what I like to do. It’s really more of an inspiration. My tendency is toward being a “Jill of all trades,” toward racking up one craft after another, and then moving on. My life has sort of epitomized the “been there, done that” school of crafting.

But pondering Haney’s words makes me want to expect more of myself and to honor craftsmanship, to challenge myself to focus, learn, learn more, become as expert as I can in one area.

Will I do that? Will I choose one creative outlet, to the expense of all others? No, not likely—that’s just not me. But Haney’s words can still inspire me to give my different crafts my full focus, each in its turn, and, instead of jumping on the next bandwagon, to push myself deeper into what I already do.

And what about you? How does Haney’s creed represent your experience in crafting and commitment to your craft? Does the creed articulate what motivates you, in your quilting, your knitting, your baking, your gardening, your work?


* Does the gender-specific word “craftsman” bother you? It does me, sort of, but I strongly dislike “crafter” and haven’t come up with other suitable options. I’m hoping the whole discussion can be shelved for another time and not take away from the meaning behind this creed.


This is the creed as Haney wrote it. It contains a reference to pay and the last lines about God (as marked) that don’t appear in the version I’ve seen published more recently and attributed to “Anonymous.”

THE CRAFTSMAN’S CREED

I hold with none who think not work a boon,

Vouchsafed to man that he may aid his Kind

With offerings from his chisel, wheel, or loom,

Fashioned with loving heart and loving mind.

 

All of the fine traditions and the skill,

Come from my elders through the long line down,

Are mine to use to raise our crafts’ renown

And mine to teach again with reverent will:

 

Thus do I live to serve, though least for pay,

With fingers which are masters of the tool

And eyes which light to see the pattern’s play–

As it unfolds obedient to each rule of our dear Art.

 

So all my craft is praise to God–at once part homage and part song.

My work’s my prayer, I sing the whole day long

As Faith and Beauty shape the forms I raise.

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36 thoughts on “The Craftsman’s Creed, in the Depth It Deserves

  1. Kerry, you could change craftsman to craftslady, or you could use the French word “Artisan” . 🙂
    I’ m thankful for what talents Gods has given to me . I will never be named in the hall of fameof quilters. I don’t mind at all. As I’m making a quilt thoughts of warming a cold body , or adding cheer to a struggling hurting heart puts a song in my heart!

    • I like artisan, too! I’m like you–I’ll certainly never be in any crafter’s hall of fame. I do love having words to aspire to, though–it’s that whole “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” thing!

  2. No, the term “craftsman” doesn’t bother me. I read it in context and leave it at that. I think every craft can be elevated to its highest possible form if one were to really devote enormous time and energy into honing the skill. I, for one, am too lazy to take my knitting up into the really difficult stuff. It would then become work instead of fun (for me.) Gardening, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Doing it better and better each year is a challenge and an enormously fulfilling one. I guess we all need to find our niche.

    • I’ve never taken any skill to the level I think I could–I’m the quintessential “Jill of all trades” (there’s that gender-in-language thing again!). You have DEFINITELY made your gardens something spectacular!

  3. I started “doing” because I wanted to connect to my past and move it forward. I wanted to learn to slow down and experience my craft and I wanted to connect with other like minded individuals. This poem speaks to me on so many levels. I really appreciate that I read it once and went back and slowly read it again and everything connected! Shall I say it is wonderful.

  4. I like the idea of a craftsman’s creed. It does add purpose and nobility to what a craftsman does. I wonder which other workers have creeds. Reading about Haney in your post reminded me about the Arts and Craft Movement which was so prominent in his lifetime. Craft and the recognition of craft owes a great deal to that fascinating movement.

  5. A beautifully written, wonderfully thought-out post and one that gives words to so many feelings/thoughts that I share with these. We, in the “today” have demeaned the definition of “craft” almost to the lowest level of putting together a popsicle stick item. I, too, wonder why our thoughts go that direction first rather than the ‘higher’ form that defines the crafting described in the creed. Either way, and regardless of wording, the struggle is to achieve the higher level of craftsmanship/artistry that is a worthy representation of what we want to express and share that, hopefully, others would be enriched/blessed by our efforts. And, no, I’m not bothered by the term just as I’m not bothered by the reference to a newborn as “he/him”, which is the appropriate term w/o a knowledge of gender. As you may gather, this has evoked a bit of thought on my part. Thank you…………………….

    • It makes me crazy that when people say “crafty,” they mean it in a nasty way that bespeaks sequins, glue sticks, and yes, popsicle sticks. It’s partly earned, though, because SO many people are looking for super-easy DIY projects. I don’t want easy–I want to really learn a craft!

      • Yes, it’s so true that the word “craft” has lost its depth of meaning but in today’s vocabulary/vernacular it has and many have begun using “art” as its substitute (seems to have the credibility that has been lost in the first term). Whether the term “craft” or “art” is used, it is the individual who is the object of the term who will define its meaning. Either way we press onward sharing in each one’s creative endeavors and rejoicing that we can!!!!! Hugs…….

  6. Oh Kerry what a lovely, lovely post again. Your writing is so beautiful, your thoughts and questions inspirational. The poem speaks to me in so many different ways. I feel blessed to have some talents, I feel blessed that I can loose myself in the gentle arts and make some one happy with the results. I feel connected to the past. It makes such great friends when sharing in crafts, both in the blogosphere but also with my friends from the knitting circle or right now, a gifted writer who asked for my illustrations. I keep on growing on a personal level through craft, through being an artisan. Thank you, dear friend, for yet again making me think and feeling grateful. xoJohanna

    • You’re absolutely right, Johanna–when we talk about these ideas, and connect, we grow. I have so loved watching your success and your growing confidence, and your joy in making!

  7. I struggle with the labels of artist and craftsman, as there is no good delineation between them. And “craftsman” doesn’t bother me, though I do like the suggested “artisan” in another comment.

    I’ve become more comfortable thinking of myself as an artist. I don’t think it’s a dirty word, or such a lofty one that only particularly special people get to use it as a label. Regardless of art or craft, the connection of heart and mind are part of the maker and the maker’s product. They are not separable.

    • When I was associate dean of Arts and Humanities, back in my previous life, we had different departments for “arts” and “crafts.” The faculty in the two departments pretty much despised each other and each felt superior. I try never to think about whether I’m an artist or craftsman . . . it brings back tooooooo many scary memories. 😉

  8. I wonder how the line between crafts and art has changed over time. Or is it just personal opinion? I like pottery, for example, and I think of some pottery I have bought as art but I can imagine it also being thought of as a craft.

    • I think the (over-simplified) distinction has historically been that useful things (plates, mugs) are “craft” and those we keep around for purely aesthetic reasons (a ceramic sculpture) are “art.” But, oy, we could go around about these distinctions forever!

  9. Mastery of a craft’s tools and creation of useful items that delight the hand and eye are salient features of a craft for me. Many artists have gone back and forth between art and craft to create pottery, jewelry, fabrics, furniture, etc. To me the ideal is a blurring of the line between art and craft in a functional item.

    • Yes, that sounds good to me! I have to admit, I do like a functional item (you’d need to know my Puritan ancestry to fully get that!) but I certainly want it to be lovely, too.

  10. It resounds deeply with me in all that I do! Even my ‘useless’ art 🙂

    I was pondering the origins of ‘craftsman’ and remembering back to medieval times when a child, often as young as seven, but usually around ten, would be sent to live with the Master Craftsman. To all intents and purposes to become a member of that household and to learn at the master’s feet. He began with menial chores, the cleaning, the fetching, the carrying. As the years passed the child learned through observation, by slow introduction and by practise. After seven years the child had become a young man and his apprenticeship was considered done. He was promoted to journeyman and spent the next seven years travelling from Master to Master, honing his skill and deepening his understanding. At the end of this time the man, now considered ‘middle aged’ returned to his home village or town, or took up residence somewhere else and settled down as a Craftsman.. He practised his craft and earned his living. He married and raised a family and took on his own apprentice and the teaching continued. He was not considered a Master Craftsman until his first apprentice graduated.

    When I consider that we feel we must master something immediately, if not sooner – and compare now to then – I think we have tossed aside the time it takes to become masters, to understand our chosen area, to know our craft intimately. It takes time and that is a good thing!

    • I hope you don’t ever think I’m disparaging your art as useless. I admit I, personally, feel compelled to make practical items but I also spend hours in art museums just wishing I could make art for its own sake, as you do! I love the idea of the old apprenticeship tradition–I envy that depth of learning, having never gotten beyond a surface knowledge of the crafts I do. Maybe, in time, the pendulum will swing that way again . . .

      • I did not think that at all – It was written tongue in cheek and aimed at myself! I think there is nothing but good in adding beauty into the world. I just don’t include myself in the enablers of great beauty 🙂

  11. This post brings back wonderful memories of conversations that a friend and used to have about the differences (and similarities) between art and crafts. I tend to think that crafts often have a practical use–but that may not be the distinction.

    • I think that’s exactly the distinction that gets used most often! It’s probably more complicated than that, in terms of shades of gray, and you’re right–we could have LONG discussions about it!

  12. The part I like the best is the part about the “tradition and the skill… are mine to teach again with reverent will.” When I find someone who wants to learn to weave, I give lessons for free, and they are astounded. But it’s the way I thank the many people who taught me for free, or gave me books or supplies or other help. And it makes me happy to think that I am keeping the skill alive.

    • Can I tell you? I think that is wonderful! And I am 100% with you–we owe something to the craft and to our teachers and to the future. Another blogger (Jean, at onesmallstitch), even offered to try and teach me to weave, long distance and on-line, when I wasn’t finding anyone locally to learn from! It’s generous people, like the two of you, who make all the difference!

    • Okay, it took me a long time to get back to this but I’ve been wanting to scream “no, no!” since I first read this comment! It’s not about talent! Being a good craftsman is so much about technique and hard work–that’s what I love because I’ve never felt I had that “artist’s eye” or whatever you’d call it. If you wanted to make something with your hands (knitting, weaving, woodworking, whatever), you could do it and should try it. Now, on the other hand, you have your life and the things that make you happy so maybe you don’t need to be a maker beyond what you already do. Either way, it makes me happy that keep coming here and reading . . .

    • Some aspects of what he wrote meant a lot more to me than others. I was glad to be able to track down the source for the quote and to take the time to really think about it. This whole topic intrigues me very much.

  13. Who wrote the Craftsmen”s Creed?
    You are only a piece of work.
    After you leave my hands, you may never see me again etc.,

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