Making It: Crafting in a Time of Crisis


Digital detox and craftivism were already trending pre-pandemic, mixing burnout with a culture of gentleness. Mindfulness paired well with hard kombucha tastings. Monstera leaves framed indigo-dyed cottage-core frocks. Sourdough starters and sprouted seedlings are now synonymous with coping and a somewhat privileged escape from pandemic adversity.

My interest in craft as artifact, the theme of this issue, stems from time spent working at Mingei International Museum and teaching a class on craftivism at Woodbury School of Architecture. Moreover, I'm curious about the subcultural spiritual communities and cults of Southern California. According to Adam Parfrey in Cult Rapture, there are more per capita in the Southland than anywhere else in the U.S.

The idea of craft, as process or product, has been used strategically over time to confront issues of culture, gender, class, or global development, to take a stand against artistic academicism, or to simply engage with archaic or everyday processes, according to CRAFT edited by Tanya Harrod. A need for self-preservation or to believe in a spirit of handmade in times of crisis might also help shape beautiful objects. Dropping in while dropped out.

To further study the phenomena, it is worth checking in with a SoCal commune that has been crafting for generations postwar. Since the 1940s, the Lemurian Fellowship of Ramona, CA, located on 60 acres of land, northeast of the City of San Diego, has offered solace to students of the cosmic and universal school of philosophy, modeled off of the lost civilization of Lemuria. In turbulent times, the number of devotees swells.

According to Learn Lemurian Healing by Tiffany Wardle, the original Lemurians lived on the continent of Lemuria, submerged by the Indian Ocean long ago. Residents were highly evolved psychic beings that used distance healing in their everyday lives. “Their healing practices could be used for any physical or emotional pain with absolutely no side effects . . . 10 times the power of Reiki,” described by Wardle. The present-day Lemurian Fellowship, however, is known as much for it woodworking artisanry as collective healing.

In the mid-twentieth century, the Fellowship’s mahogany boxes garnered much acclaim in editions of Arts & Architecture Magazine, influential at the time, and their black walnut beakers were acquired for the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. Though members no longer seek accolades for home décor, their ideals have remained manifest in the ritual of crafting musical instruments and accessories. In a recent interview, Lemurian Fellowship administrator Conrad Funk explained, “We learn by doing our best with the opportunities that come our way and usually find these activities develop skills and abilities we need in order to become more balanced people, individually and collectively.”

Funk notes that the rapidly changing world is bringing a new tide of Lemurian students, with many expressing a feeling of connection with the ancient civilization of Lemuria. Students study their Philosophy and apply its principles to their own lives and environments: “This gives us all a basic understanding of God’s laws and how they operate as we interact with others one to one in group life.” Funk embarked on his own Lemurian Order studies back in 1971, living for 40 years at the Ramona community Gateway, where Lemurian Crafts is located. In 2010, he moved to the Fellowship’s iconic property on Highway 67.

Funk took some time to generously share a few more insights about the Nature of Lemurian Crafts:

How did members of the Lemurian Fellowship become woodworkers, and how does the Lemurian philosophy manifest in craftwork? At the suggestion of highly advanced beings who guide our work, we began the Lemurian Crafts in the 1940s. The Crafts has a material and a spiritual purpose: to enable us to supplement our income, and to help us work toward perfection through creating beautiful and useful items that reflect Lemurian ideals . . . Wood was chosen as our first medium because it was available when other media were scarce after the war.

Do the objects or processes of making possess spiritual value? We feel the objects themselves convey a spiritual value that derives from the genuine effort of each craftsperson in wanting to serve, produce an item of perfection and beauty, and willingness to cooperate with others. Knowing the devotion and effort that’s gone into them, we value Lemurian Crafts items highly and hope some of our love and striving can be sensed in each one.

Are there influences drawn from the mingei or Arts & Craft movements of the last century, or are Lemurian Crafts products homegrown? Although they’re homegrown, even using local woods such as lemon and grapefruit in our initial novelty items, they were certainly influenced by and are part of the Midcentury Modern era. The Lemurian Fellowship in the 1950s was in touch with woodworker Sam Maloof and collaborated with artisans Jackson and Ellamarie Wooley, who created hundreds of copper enamel pieces that were incorporated into our Crafts decorative boxes and lamps of that time. The simplicity of design, combined with usefulness, has always been a Lemurian ideal.

What do you think will be the legacy, or artifact, of the Lemurian Fellowship? Lemurian Crafts creations have tended to appeal to those looking for something beyond the ordinary. We believe our legacy will be the extension of the deep meaning of the true partnership of all humankind that the Crafts are intended to reflect through the love of Nature, beauty, and caring for others.

Funk relates how the crafts of the Lemurians have gone through subsequent changes over the decades. Beginning with woodworking in the 1950s and 60s, there was an interest in decorative items that served a practical purpose: vases, wooden platters and salad bowls, trivets, and lamps. They began to look into fabricating items such as door hardware in the 1960s and 70s, which led to a contract producing door pulls and push plates, cabinet and drawer pulls, and some custom designs for buildings, all sought out by architects, hotels, banks, various businesses, and upscale homeowners.

As more buildings were erected without entry doors and the call for architectural hardware diminished, the Lemurian Fellowship looked again to woodworking: fabricating violins. Yet competition for instruments grew more intense as cheaper instruments were produced elsewhere. A request was then received to make elegant wooden music stands for violin and cello—their primary focus since the 1980s. Funk attributes it to spiritual guidance from behind the scenes.

As they redirect their work with shifting market forces, their quest for spiritual mastery perseveres regardless of what’s made. Perhaps then it’s the Fellowship part of the Lemurian Fellowship that contributes to a history of crafting resilience itself through a culture of making. What’s learned is that the connective potential for a better world is realized through not just craft expertise, but the journey of making things together (even when remote).

As reassuring images of sourdough loaves were reposted on social countless times, sprouting more healing breads and images of them, the craft process also endures but affirms. It’s a sure thing, accumulating rarely in mass production but always mass potential.