Did you know there are two libraries in the former Grain Belt buildings? On the other end of the block from the Hennepin County Library, the elevator beyond an unassuming entrance will lead you up to the second floor, where the American Craft Council Library cloisters a repository of art history. Since the March 2020 COVID restrictions the Library has had its doors shut to the public, but it celebrated its grand reopening with an open house on the evening of Oct. 28.
The Craft Library is a part of the American Craft Council (ACC), a national nonprofit dedicated to inspiring and connecting craft artists with their communities. The library moved here from New York ten years ago, partially at the behest of former Second Lady Joan Mondale, who was a huge supporter of the Craft Council and knew what the foundation could bring culturally to Minnesota.
“The space is inspiring, the location is inspiring!” said Judy Hawkinson, ACC’s acting executive director. “We’re so glad we’re here in Northeast Minneapolis, in the Arts District, celebrating art together. We’re in the craft center of the world, right here in Northeast!”
Hawkinson is the program’s development director, but offered to also fill the role of executive director after Sarah Schultz stepped down in August. A search is underway for a permanent executive.
Hawkinson explained that ultimately, the mission of the Craft Council is to support and promote working artists, crafters and builders: people who work to create things with their hands. Hawkinson said that she thinks of artists as small businesses, and to be able to support small American businesses is fulfilling work. She used the scarf she wore as an example; she bought it from a local knitter, and delights in the fact that it is unlike anything she could have bought at a store for the simple fact that she personally met its maker, and that it is a unique creation amongst the many they have made by hand.
The Library offers programs, grants, and workshops to local artists who sign up for memberships. The library’s resources and literature are also available to the general public. They boast a collection of over 20,000 books, and 700 periodicals and catalogs on American hand crafting dating from World War II to the present, varying in subject from technique to history. However, the true gem of the library, according to librarian Beth Goodrich, is the archive. Over 3,000 archived collections of work by artists affiliated with the Council are stored on site for public access. Collections include resumes, brochures for exhibitions, and other assorted ephemera pertaining to artists’ careers, in addition to collections of their art. The archive is no longer being expanded, with the exception of additions from artists whom the organization has given awards.
Now that the library is open to the public again, Hawkinson hopes that it will become a place for local artists to hone and expand their skills. The library maintains collections of publications that are no longer in print, and may be hard or, in the case of their archived artist collections, impossible to find online. The library also offers resources to connect artists with regional organizations, workshops and courses they can use to hone their craft.
“We have a lot of great resources to both look back in time to learn how people did things in the past, and a lot of resources on DIY techniques,” said Keona Tranby, ACC marketing and communications director. “We’re the place to go for people interested in learning about craft.”
She said no other libraries in Minnesota are dedicated to compiling historical and technical resources on craft working. If you are a woodworker, for example, and you’re looking for resources on how to replicate the look and feel of mid-century furniture and there was an obscure 1950s how-to manual you wanted to check out, the Craft Council Library would be the place to search for it. Tranby said the library would like to have the funding and resources to digitize their archives and make them available online so they could be accessible to the whole country, but for now, they remain in-person only.
In-person ACC events will pick back up next year, with an exhibition in Baltimore in February, and in St. Paul in October. For the time being, however, the library itself is open by appointment only. The booking process is quick and informal; access to the library’s resources will remain easy.
People interested in learning more about the Library can find information online at craftcouncil.org/library-archives/about-visiting. Information on membership with the Council can be found at craftcouncil.org/library-archives/friends-acc-library-archives.
Below: Sarah Kostohryz, founder of “Knitting in the Wild,” a program that combines knitting, cooking, and the great outdoors, was asked to demonstrate her craft at the open house. (Photo by Alex Schlee)