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.

The Craftsman’s Creed

Does the following creed address what you do, as a maker of lovely and useful things? More on the subject soon . . . .

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.

–James Parton Haney