Emmanuel Sogunle ’21 is from Denver, Colorado. He is a current senior majoring in Economics and Education at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He is the President of the Colby African Society and acts as the parliamentarian of the Student Government Association. He has been working with the Lunder Institute for American Art for over a year, most recently, Sogunle has been assisting the research of senior fellow, Romi Crawford on her publication on the work and practice of artist Theaster Gates and he is actively assisting the Lunder Institute Director of Artist Programs Daisy Desrosiers in the creation, development, and digital support of the Maine Makers’ Map, an interactive tool to facilitate networking between visiting artists and highly skilled craftspeople in Maine.

What Maine Craft Means to Me

by Emmanuel Sogunle

I didn’t really notice that my world was filled with craft till recently. Thanks to the Lunder Institute for American Art I was able to work on a project called the Makers Map. The Makers Map is an interactive map that identifies and locates makers and craftspeople, to provide an online network through which both visiting and local artists can find Maine-based material experts, builders, and workshops that could present useful in the production and development of artistic projects.

Working on this project enhanced my views of the world. From the ordinary wooden desk in my dorm, to the clay mug in my cabinet, to the small glass blown object I bought when I was abroad, craft is everywhere. But not only is it prevalent, the art of craft is also beautiful in how it fills the world. Thinking about this allowed me to reflect more on the role of craft in my life.

I was born in Nigeria, and now looking back I was surrounded by many talented craftspeople. My aunt was a seamstress, and she was especially gifted in making Aso Oke. Aso Oke which translates to “cloth from the top” is a handwoven fabric that represents status in Yoruba culture. It does so because of the intricacies woven into the cloth. Due to the complex floral motifs and geometric shapes embedded in the design, Aso Oke has been popularized in Nigeria and is flexible in its use. It is commonly used for traditional wedding attire but can also be made into hats, bags, or shoes. Through generations, the techniques used in making Aso Oke have been passed down. Stemming from the desire of women to clothe their families, Aso Oke has been able to cultivate the perfect blend of creative craft and domestic needs.

I find it most fascinating that craft is not always taught through formal structures, but through knowledge and experience passed down through generations. Craft is historic in nature, but that history can also be easy to ignore.

Recently I stumbled onto a post by the Black Craftspeople Digital Archive (@blackcraftspeopleda), and they shared a post about the enslaved craftspeople who built the White House and the U.S. Capitol. In creating these American monuments, enslaved and free Black craftsmen were key players in their constructions. Black carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, tailors, painters, and many more helped build the America we live in today but are rarely recognized.

These craftsmen most likely weren’t taught craft in a conventional setting but still learned to create a life for themselves; and not only for themselves. Through apprenticeships they were also able to pass down their material knowledge to generations after them. When I think of craft, I think of not only what it meant to the maker but to all the craftspeople before and after them. Craft benefits so many people, myself included and makes me so grateful of the talents that came before me in making objects, places and building that enhance our lives.

Emmanuel and his family wearing the Aso Oke.

Emmanuel and his family wearing the Aso Oke.

What Maine Craft Means to Me Essay Series invites you to explore the many intersections and layers of craft, people and time in Maine through the words of those with deep connections to our state and our field.

The Maine Crafts Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts organization supporting craft artists by providing educational, marketing and retail opportunities. Our ability to accomplish our mission and help artists thrive is reliant on individual contributions.