15 February 2009

Crafts of the Kingdoms

Though over the years much of the merchandise available in Walt Disney World has become more marketing-driven, there are still the lost corners and dying arts that can be found throughout property. Silhouettes can still be obtained in Liberty Square, as well as a few other tucked away locations, painstakingly detailed glass can be obtained on Main Street U.S.A., and in Epcot's Mexico cornsilk flowers never wilt. Traditional art forms are still highly valued, where it can be found, in Walt Disney World.

Today's Back Issues takes us back to the Spring of 1983, when Anne Coppinger gave us a glimpse into the fine arts available at Walt Disney World, as well as Disneyland, in her Disney News article, Crafts of the Kingdoms.

No doubt about it – the popular interest in crafts is thriving. Craft fairs and classes instructing novices in the creation of various handicrafts abound. Perhaps the notion that handmade items are more valuable than those that are mass-produced is rooted deep in a nostalgia for simpler times, but whatever the reason, the fact remains – people have fallen in love with that which is handmade.

While some folks travel far and wide to search for craft items, Disney aficionados will be delighted to discover that their quest leads them to places dear to their hearts – Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Shops in each amusement kingdom stock crafts from literally every corner of the globe, and in several instances artisans are on hand to demonstrate the skills necessary to create their specialties.

What follows is a quick guide to the places where crafts and craftsmen are found on the Disney premises. The list is not cast in bronze, however, for exact inventories vary from time to time. But there's always sure to be an abundant cache of crafts to satisfy the most dedicated of collectors.

It's All American
Booty from the Americas is particularly rich, reflecting the diverse heritages of the peoples of both the Northern and Southern continents. The American Indian nations contribute distinctive jewelry:

Navajo pieces inlaid with turquoise chunks, shimmering all-silver Hopi pieces, and Zuni rings and pins inlaid with turquoise and red and white stones. Sand paintings and blankets, totems and baskets, kachina dolls and realistic tom-toms round out the native American selection (Indian Trading Posts, DL).

Revere-style bowls in silver and silver plate, looking as if Paul Revere, the master silversmith himself, had crafted them, remind shoppers of our country's early years (Silversmith, WDW). The one-of-a-kind handmade dolls depicting personalities of bygone days – for example, elegant Victorian women, pottery vendors, chimney sweeps, and peddlers – are definitely worth a peek (Heritage House, WDW). Rural America is recalled in cozy quilts, carved decoys, and apple-head and corn-husk dolls (Ursus H. Bear's Wilderness Outpost, DL). Modern do-it-yourselfers are not forgotten; they can buy stitchery and needlepoint kits as well as supplies for macramé, quilting, and latch-hook rug making (Great Southern Craft Company, WDW Village).

From our Canadian neighbors to the north come smooth soapstone pieces sculpted by Inuit artisans, supple mocassins [sic], and other leather leather goods, while festive Mexican piñatas, papier-mache figurines, pottery in blacks, blues, and ochres, and mother-of-pearl jewelry give guests a feeling for south-of-the-border wares (Mexican Village, DL; Port of Entry, WDW).

A Worldwide Endeavor
The buyers who comb the world's markets for unusual crafts don't confine themselves to North and South America. Many of the crafts of Europe have found a common home in Epcot Center at Walt Disney World. Pottery and baskets right out of old Italian marketplaces can be found in Arcata D'Artigiani. And the Volkskunst Clocks and Craft shop resounds with the call of cuckoo birds.

The shelves of the import shops in both Magic Kingdoms are stocked with crafts of still more distant origins. From China's craftsmen there are hand-gilded copper plates engraved using the Chokin method (originally used to decorate Samurai warriors' helmets), jade jewelry, and delicate cloisonné items (Oriental Imports, WDW; Adventureland Bazaar, DL). The Mitsukoshi shop in Epcot Center has devoted a section to traditional Japanese crafts, and shoppers may find lacquer screens, carvings, kimonos, and fans among the wares. From Africa there are colorful dashikis, wooden combs and other jewelry, and carved antelopes, giraffes, zebras, and other veldt creatures (Traders of Timbuktu, WDW; Adventureland Bazaar, DL).

Men And Women At Work
In addition to buying craft items, guests at the parks can actually see many artisans at work. In Walt Disney World Village, a potter works at his wheel, spinning blobs of clay into beautiful pots (Pottery Chalet); a leathersmith hand-tools belts, handbags, and accessories and a jewelry maker crafts silver wonders (Great Southern Craft Company); and an artisan makes Damascene jewelry and plates (Toledo Arts). This skill, highly developed by the ancient residence of Damascus, is the art of inlaying gold or silver threads on metal objects; it is also demonstrated in the Arts and Crafts shop (DL) and at The King's Gallery (WDW).

There are still other marvels to behold. Wax hardens into candles before your eyes (Holiday Corner, WDW), black paper is snipped into likenesses of guests' profiles (Silhouette Studio, DL; The Shadow Box, WDW), and glass is blown into horses, pianos, and castles (Arts and Crafts, DL; Crystal Arts, WDW). There are even plans to have German artists come to Epcot Center several times during the year to paint Hummel figurines (Glas Und Porzellan).

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