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unique nativity sets and nativity scene figures hand-painted on Colorado river rocks and stones

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Craft Trends Reflect Timeless Truths

By Lin Wellford

I heard it again today. Someone was bemoaning the declining state of the Decorative Painting market. Once known as Tole Painting, the definition was broadened to include any kind of art that could be broken down into teachable steps. Decorative painting was a hot trend not so long ago, generating tons of books and magazines and claiming loads of shelf space in the big box stores.

As a 'reformed' fine artist, I love the idea of providing ordinary people with the tools and instructions that allow them to create paintings they can be proud of. While many decorative artists are satisfied to reproduce an exact replica of their teacher's work and nothing more, others discovered they were capable of coming up with their own original work once they mastered basic techniques. Students went on to be designers, authors and teachers in their own right. It was a wonderful flowering of creativity that spawned decorative painting chapters all over the country, along with a boom in attendance for national and regional painting conventions. The trend was huge and it seemed that it would last forever. But if there is one thing you can count on with human beings, it is their relentless thirst for the next new thing.

In my grandmother's youth, ceramics were all the rage. Groups of women would gather to make and decorate pottery that sometimes turns up now on Antiques Road Show. In my own teenaged years, macramé was a big thing. Remember all those plant holders and window coverings? Even as decorative painting was peaking, creative scrapbooking began to creep in and capture the imagination of women who loved the idea of turning family photos and memories into art. While merchants were loading up on special papers, stickers and stamps for scrapbookers, the age old art of knitting suddenly burst back onto the crafting scene, albeit with new, wild (and wildly expensive) yarns. Crochet followed. Can tatting be far behind? Quilt making may be as close as we get to a perennial craft activity, but even quilters note the rise and fall of various styles, patterns and techniques.

My point is this; hobbies and crafts tend to be cyclical, like so many other aspects of life. Demographics certainly play a part. Leisure activities require free time, a commodity that may be in short supply as baby boomers face the reality of retiring on a shoestring. The term 'working retirement' is one we are likely to become very familiar with in the next decade.

Another factor is boredom Once a person has been to three or four painting conventions, they may have amassed a lifetime supply of paint colors, finishes and special brushes, along with books and patterns by the armful and an array of interesting objects to paint upon. Some will get used, but often much of that bounty ends up boxed up and stored away, perhaps to be rediscovered at some future date when decorative painting again cycles into fashion. One thing that is not likely to change is the need and desire for creative activities, particularly for people under stress or in burn out professions. The term 'recreation' says it all. The things we do for fun help to rebuild or recreate what daily living tends to wear down in us. People who are grieving or who suffer from chronic conditions have shared with me how helpful it was to be able to focus on a craft project that distracted them from a difficult time they were going through. Others embrace crafting projects as a structured way to spend quality time with children, grandchildren or aging parents. Crafting can be a social activity that builds friendships and provides a sense of connection. There will always be a market for interesting and exciting craft activities that are accessible and not prohibitively expensive, ones that are easy enough to allow average people to have fun and feel successful. The desire to create things of beauty and or utility, is deeply rooted indeed.

Rather than fretting over the inevitable ebb and flow of craft trends, organizations, manufacturers, publishers, merchants and even authors and artists should learn from past history and seek to remain flexible and responsive to ever-changing interests and tastes. Embracing change means actively seeking a position at the leading edge of trends rather than forever scrambling to keep up with the pack. At the same time, it means allowing yesterday's huge trend to ebb into a niche activity where it may survive for months or years before evolving and resurfacing as the next new big thing.

Lin Wellford is the author of eight bestselling books on the art of painting on rocks, including her most recent publication, Rock Painting Fun for Everyone! She teaches classes, conducts workshops and demonstrates her techniques for transforming rocks into art all over the country and is a frequest guest on HGTV's The Carol Duvall Show. You may view her books and subscribe to her newsletter at

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