African Crafts Online:
Educating the Buying Public
Louise Meyer had been working for many years to promote the work of weavers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast when she met John Nash, a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana. They met through Bobbo, a Kente weaver whose work they both admired. They were surprised to find out that Bobbo’s work was largely unknown in the United States, "whereas in Ghana it is so greatly valued that his customers will spend on the purchase of a cloth what can probably best be equated [in the U.S.] as someone purchasing a new car."
After working with Bobbo on documenting his craft and publishing this on a website in 1996, Meyer and Nash realized that there was a need to document and promote the crafts of all African artisans. In April 1999 they established African Crafts Online. However, what began initially as a space to document African crafts has evolved into a dynamic site that serves the whole community involved in the arts of Africa: producers, merchants, scholars, educators — even non-African designers whose work is inspired by African art.
African Crafts Online offers an e-commerce solution as well as advertising opportunities to merchants, who can post information to advertise their businesses or get links back to their web sites . Currently, the site displays the catalogs of three merchants — Aba Tours, Visham, and Hamill Gallery of African Art — and forwards the orders placed on-line . Additional merchants are expected to be included as the site expands.
For qualified African producers, African Crafts Online will design, host, and maintain a webpage at no cost. A producer’s webpage includes a biography and photographs of the artisan at work, and many have links to related information. For example, Bobbo’s page is linked to articles on Kente weaving, a library’s bibliography on Kente cloth, and a website explaining the proverbs and meanings behind the Kente motifs. This type of approach makes for a better educated and culturally conscious consumer. According to John Nash, "We feel that a more knowledgeable audience is more likely to be interested in purchasing."
The website also has a system by which visitors can express interest in a particular artisan whose work is not carried by the on-line shops. This information is passed on to merchants to encourage them to carry the work of that artisan, giving more power to the buying public to influence which products enter the market. Visitors can subscribe to the African Crafts Online mailing list to be informed about new additions to the site, which will soon include educational offerings such as audio and video materials.
Crafts News is a publication of The Crafts Center -- visit their website at www.craftscenter.org
[note: we've since changed the name of our online presence from African Crafts Online to AfricanCraft.com]