The Maker’s Mark: Adam Savage, Bernadette Banner, and the Craftspeople of the Present

Today’s culture relies heavily on mass produced goods and the seemingly endless supply of entertainment, however there are corners of the internet where easy entertainment is focused on the people who create goods that are far from convenient but are usually beautiful. Made famous by MythBusters Adam Savage is a figure that many people recognize, and he has used his MythBusters success to launch a special kind of internet career. One that has in many ways helped to draw attention to other makers who are engaged in crafts that are often overlooked. Bernadette Banner is another such individual, one who creates beautiful historical clothing, usually with the techniques and technology that would have been used throughout history. These are people who are creating beautiful objects through a fascinating combination of creativity and well-honed skills that fit into a long tradition of crafts people who are experts in how to take an idea from inspiration to completion.

Crafts don’t occur in a void and neither Banner nor Savage make it seem like it does. Consideration is often given to the source of materials and the work of the people who made or sold the materials that are being put into a given project. By acknowledging the sources of materials there is a sense of the maker within the larger community of creators and suppliers. Savage and Banner are both quite open in their admiration of other people in their field. They collaborate with other makers, talk about what they learn from watching others and sometimes engage in thoughtful disagreement over the best way to make something work. Aside from their community of those in the present, there is also acknowledgement of the history of their work. Bernadette Banner’s connection is often more obvious as she is intentionally recreating historical garments and regularly talks about the sewing writers of the past and present. However, Adam Savage will often also make nods to history, talking about how the machinery he has access to improves on older techniques or sometimes using those older techniques to enhance the finished project. While society often emphasizes singular genius, makers situated themselves in a community of expert creators.

Part of the way that makers like Adam Savage or Bernadette Banner place themselves within a community of experts is through their inclusion of their process. Videos on either of these people’s channels are rarely just showcases of completed projects. Savage’s Tested channel has a long running series of ‘one day builds’ which really do span the whole day of building while Bernadette Banner often features project diaries that track over what is often months of work. These types of videos allow both creators to showcase how they go from the research and planning stage, which usually involves consulting others in their field either in person or through textual resources. There is also a complete willingness to show when things done go according to plan as well as the problem-solving process that is done calmly and in a systematic way. There is no illusion that these makers are perfect masters of their crafts. They are experts and part of that expertise is their ability to work through mistakes or misjudgments.

These videos are at the opposite end of the spectrum to the DIY life hacks that are increasingly a part of popular culture. Hack videos and how-tos try and make a process as simple as possible and while they may be useful if you want to make a stir fry or knit a scarf they hide a lot of the hard work that the people who do this for a living put in. By showing every aspect of the creation of their work the crafts people of the internet foster an interest in how things are really made and offer a challenge to those who want to genuinely put the work in to gain the skill that goes into craft work of all kinds. The DIY world shows you how to do something while makers like Adam Savage and Bernadette Banner show the audience how they work, how creativity and process work together.

Most people no longer rely on crafts people for their day to day existence when bulk stores and mass-produced commodities are much easier to come by but there is still a level of fascination with people who make beautiful things with their hands. Even though they display their work on YouTube or other internet platforms rather than a market square, people like Bernadette Banner and Adam Savage are bringing the world of the crafts back into the modern eye. So while I may never own a hand sewn 15th century dress, or a real life Wall-E robot, by placing their work online these makers remind their audiences that there is a process of creation that is less about perfection and more about working through problems and utilizing resource to create a work that is not necessarily flawless but is none the less a masterful demonstrate of skill.

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