Alison Morton, weaver. Photograph by Matthew Evans.
The term ‘Artificer’ dates back to the late 14c. and is defined as “one who makes by art or skill” (etymologyonline.com; or “a skilled craftsman; a clever or inventive designer” (Collinsdictionary.com); or, “a person who is skilful or clever in devising ways of making; a skilful and/or artistic worker; craftsperson; wizard”.
The element of wizardry, magic or disbelief is key in considering the work of an artificer. Comprehending the manual skill, care and mental labour involved in making an object of great beauty or complexity by hand can be a joy and a challenge. Most often, the hard work is hidden in years of practice and formative training, and so what is apparently simply executed seems impossible and conjured as if by an act of magic. Like learning a musical instrument, there are no short-cuts, only hours (10,000 plus) of effort and practice.
Much like the term ‘crafts-person’ the term ‘artificer’ could well be conceptualised and applied to many different roles; the core of the idea is of an individual who, through hard-won practice of a set of skills, is able to conceive of and produce work to a high standard. In the mid 18th Century the term became used to describe military engineers – presumably because at that time military engineers were in fact highly skilled craftspeople, bought in because of their deep material knowledge and ability to devise new machines.
We figure its high-time to get back to the original meaning of the word and delight in the joy of inventiveness, resourcefulness and respectful play with our physical world.