Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Crafts, Boys, Ernest Thompson Seton, and the Woodcraft Movement

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Crafts, Boys, Ernest Thompson Seton, and the Woodcraft Movement

Article excerpt

Boys and Crafts

How many boys have visited craft supply stores? On her webpage titled "Crafts for Boys," Keith (2006) noted that boys "do not enjoy arts and crafts as much as girls but certain projects do capture their attention and interest." Keith further suggested that 21st-century. North American boys have been interested in building a magazine rack, a barbeque caddy, a bug house, a CD tower and that paper airplanes, toothpick bridges, computer crafts, aliens, transporters, robots, and spaceships have captured their attention. On a webpage for Sunday school teachers, Keffer (2006) added: "When you say 'craft time,' do the boys in your class moan, yawn, escape to the bathroom, or find other creative ways to express their displeasure? Maybe they have a point. Craft books tend to be packed with frilly, sweet-smelling projects. Do boys go for that stuff? Not the ones who live at my house!"

Since the introduction of drawing into the public schools, the role of art in boys' lives has been of concern to educators. On one hand, the first industrial drawing programs prepared working class boys (and some girls) for elementary design work in manufacturing and building trades. On the other, early art education programs acknowledged that exposure to selected 'fine' arts could be an uplifting and civilizing force. In early boys' clubs too, this dual role was apparent. O'Brien (1901) described how the Columbia Park Boys' Club, in a tough San Francisco neighborhood, used the term 'strong work' to describe the experiences provided for boys in clay modeling, woodwork, iron work, and rope-mat making. In addition, the club, like the earlier Mechanics' Institutes [which provided evening educational and recreational programs for young men], subscribed to "some of the best art magazines" (p. 251).

Woodcraft and Masculinity

What types of art and craft activities have captured boys' attention in the past? Rogers (1995) claimed that "Boys prefer images that imply action, suspense, danger, or rescue, and/or that include male characters or vehicles" (p. 1). McNiff (1982) added that images drawn by boys often have related to conflict and power, struggle, exotic locations, and sport. Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), naturalist, artist, and American Indian crusader, noted that activities of particular interest to boys ranged from the making of willow beds, picturesque tepees and decorated tents, war clubs for ceremonial dances, boats, bird houses, bows and arrows, painted paddles, fire sticks and drums to tackle boxes, bird call whistles, picture frames, and photographs of wild birds and animals. For Seton (1921), boys' crafts were intimately connected to woodcraft, by which he meant "outdoor life in its broadest sense" (p. v) - the love of which had been with him since his own boyhood. A founder of both the Woodcraft Indians and the Boy Scouts of America, Seton stated that, "Woodcraft is the first of all the sciences ... it was woodcraft that made man out of brutish material, and woodcraft in its highest form may save him from decay" (p. v). Seton (1917b) presented masculine examples by claiming that:

All the great men who have made history were trained first in the school of Woodcraft. Nimrod, the mighty hunter, who built the city of Nineveh; Sardanapalus, the lion-killer, the Monarch of Assyria, who by force of his own arms overcame two lions that attacked him at one time; Brennus, the Gaul, who could shoe his own horse and who was able to master all Rome; Rollo, the sea king, who could steer his own ship in the wildest water and landed in Normandy to establish order and lay down laws that are now accepted all over the world; William the Conqueror of England, the hunter whose bow was the strongest among all the archers of his day; Charlemagne, the great hunter, careful farmer, world master; William of Orange, hunter fisherman, sportsman, horseman, arbiter of the destinies of all the British Empire; Washington, hunter, woodsman, frontiersman, farmer, and army scout, able to run, wrestle, command or obey; Abraham Lincoln, hunter, pioneer, woodsman, axeman, farmer, deckhand; Robert E. …

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