Chap. 1 : What is a Cultural Craft?

This page is part of our Cultural Product Development learning module.

A cultural craft tells a story – the story of where it came from, who made it, the culture and heritage of the place. A cultural craft has an authentic relationship with the people and the place it comes from. What does that mean? It can mean a craft that has always been made in a traditional way, or something that is inspired by the people or the place. We will talk a lot about historical places in our discussion, but cultural crafts can also interpret present day culture and the natural environment.

Authenticity is important to visitors who purchase crafts as a memento of their visit to Labrador. The materials used to make the craft need to have a connection with the place – whether they are traditional materials or materials used to reinterpret something from the culture or the historic site. Quality is important. And the most important factor is that the craft is made by a Labrador craft maker.

Some Examples of Different Types of Cultural Crafts

The Real Thing

One of the most well-known traditional crafts in Labrador are Innu Tea Dolls. They continue to be made in the traditional way and are only made by an Innu craft maker. This is an example of a traditional craft that is the real thing. Other examples of the real thing include grasswork, skin boots, traditional knitting, and items like snowshoes that are part of everyday life in Labrador and are made in a traditional fashion.

Art objects, like paintings and carvings, and one-of-a-kind items like wall hangings or jewellery also fit into this category. They might be modern and not traditional, but they are original and they are part of the culture of the local area.

The Real Thing: Tea Doll by Angela Andrews; Grasswork by Fannie Broomfield & Garmel Rich; Carving by Billie Gautier

A Reproduction

A reproduction is a copy of an original item. The intent of the craft maker is to use the same materials and techniques and make an exact copy. This is a type of craft that we see at historic sites. They are often difficult and expensive to make.

A Reproduction: A 16th C Basque pot from Red Bay and a reproduction by Point Michaud Pottery

A Reinterpretation

Reinterpreting an original item means that the craft maker didn’t make an exact copy, but added something of their own style, or design to the item. Sometimes this is done because the traditional materials or techniques aren’t available. Sometimes it is done to update the item for modern use. In our workshops we thought of this as “our interpretation of” the original item.

A Reinterpretation: 16th C Basque porringer from Red Bay and a reinterpretation by Cookie Lethbridge
Our interpretation of a Basque Whaler’s Hat. The original 16th C hat found at Red Bay and our version of the hat, designed by local knitters

Inspired By

A craft maker can be inspired by something from nature or something from the past and use their creativity to make something completely new that still refers to the original thing. It might be an item that is made with traditional materials, but in a completely new design, or it might be something that uses an old design in a completely different type of craft. The possibilities are endless, but the story of the craft and its connection to Labrador should still be evident.

Inspired By: Jewellery by C. Colosimo, inspired by terracotta roof tiles and a copper oil lamp from Red Bay World Heritage Site

What makes a Labrador craft special or unique?

Visitors to Labrador want to experience what makes the place and the people unique and different. When they look for a craft item to bring home with them, they are looking for something that evokes a memory of their visit, or something that tells a story about Labrador.

We can find inspiration in traditions, in history in the natural environment and in everyday life.

Related: A Buyer’s Guide to Labrador Crafts

These crafts from our Battle Harbour workshop illustrate the Natural Environment theme. Artists: Charlene Rumbolt, Joyce Lee, Karen Chubbs