Essay - One Year In

Fred Bueltmann at the Kalamazoo Amtrak Station

Fred Bueltmann at the Kalamazoo Amtrak Station

(l-r) Kyle Bice, Fred Bueltmann, Victor Vague

(l-r) Kyle Bice, Fred Bueltmann, Victor Vague

One year ago today, Kyle boarded a train in Chicago, and met me and Emily in Kalamazoo for the first stop of many in our epic thirty five day trek around the country for a project we call, This Craft Nation. We set out to explore, to listen and to hear stories. We met and interviewed more than fifty different makers of all different types. We wanted to collect ideas and consider themes around the notion that more and more people care more deeply about the who, how and why involved in the products they purchase and bring into their lives. As a culture, we are more likely to put extra time, energy and money into experiences that provide us with a personal connection. 

Our experience was enriching, personal and empowering. We were forever changed by this journey. Our belief in the power of story was confirmed. We feel called to a more clear mission of advocating for quality, authenticity and transparency.  This Craft Nation has the beginnings of a connected and powerful network of makers and consumers.  Once home, I put steps in motion to change my career path, and “head out on my own." It's an ironic phrase, since I feel the decision to be a freelance writer, consultant and advocate for the craft lifestyle is actually connecting me in deeper manner, so while I feel independent, I do not feel alone. 

Thank you to Kyle, my creative and travel partner. Thanks to Ulla, Natanya, Emily, Greg, Jenn, Seth, Jeff and the many other supporters of our journey towards discovery. I also want to share a little status update to keep you posted on our progress. Our digital output of posts and podcasts has slowed in recent days, as I delve deeper into the process of shaping all of this experience into a book that I hope will inspire many more to join our effort. I’m tens of thousands of words in, and it’s taking shape nicely, but there remains plenty more mountain to climb. 

As I go through this process, I am imagining turning this project and brand into a non-profit, advocating for a healthy and honest environment for independent craftspeople, makers and consumers. In preparation for the book and future projects, I hope that you will lend a hand towards our efforts of building our platform and community by liking and sharing our social media pages, and signing up for our email list. I also hope you’ll consider joining us as we return to GonzoFest with a special event we’re hosting the night before, “A Night of Living Gonzo” in Louisville, KY on Friday the 13th. 



Essay - One Year In pt. 2


365 days ago, Fred, Emily, and I launched the travel phase of a crazy adventure we call This Craft Nation. I kissed my wife goodbye and caught a cab to the train station in downtown Chicago where I would board my first train of the trip. Although I was excited to start what proved to be an epic, life changing experience, I also felt fear of the unknown and of failure.
A year later, I’m writing this from my sick mother’s hospital room, not with the dread that you might suspect, but with the hopes and dreams that my mother encouraged in me. I sit here thinking back to those 35 days on the road and the year since with the fire and energy to move forward and to do more. I’m excited to see where we can take this project and to see who we can help as we move towards the non-profit world.
As an artist whose creative output has often been in service of commercial projects, I had sometimes struggled to invest my work with meaning. Partnering with Fred to seek out the meanings and truths behind the craft renaissance--to find out what drives these makers to do what they do--revitalized my love for painting, drawing, and photography as well as a whole slew of new interests brought on by these experiences. Now, I get to share these stories and lessons on a grand scale, through the TCN podcast, our blogs and essays, the upcoming book, as well as few other things we’re cooking up.
Thank you, Fred and Emily, for being awesome partners. Thank you Natanya, Ulla, and Ben for keeping us all sane and always supporting our adventures. Thank you to Jeff, Seth, and Jenn for being great collaborators, teachers, and new friends. Thank you to everyone else who has supported us this last year and continue to support us down the road.
Our next step on the path is to head back to Gonzofest in Louisville, KY, a celebration of the life and works of Hunter S. Thompson, where we’ll connect with our friends there to help promote the festival and join in the celebration. If you’re in Louisville, we’d love for you to join us on Friday April 13th, at Jimmy Can’t Dance, with Ron Whitehead, The Strapping Owls, Fred, myself and a bunch of our new friends to help get the party started. We’ll have live music, spoken word, and a pop-up gallery in an event we’ve dubbed, “A Night of Living Gonzo!”


EssaysFred Bueltmann