The Rise of Artisan Travel

by Karen LeBlanc

Six years ago, I founded The Design Tourist blog and video series on the idea that as travelers we can experience a culture through art and craft. Creativity speaks a common language. No matter what the language barrier, we can express ourselves working with our hands, which opens our hearts and our minds to a bigger world and another way of being.

As a writer, my art is expressed in words.  I’m in awe of the artisans and craftspeople who create things of beauty with their hands and imaginations.  I’ve spent the past half of this decade trying to draw attention to artists and another way to travel that immerses you into the cultural fabric of a place where its history, heritage and traditions are expressed in craft. 

As The Design Tourist, my goal is to bring you a global dose of design inspiration by exploring the links between culture and creativity.  I’m thrilled to see this idea is catching on in the form of  Artisan Travel. Several travel companies are leading the movement with programs that allow travelers to apprentice with an artisan, craftsperson or maker. 

Artisan Travel is about creating real local connections while discovering a new destination, learning a new skill and culture, history and heritage of craft.

Companies such as The Thread Caravan are helping preserve and promote lost arts, indigenous traditions and handcrafts through travel. The Thread Caravan offers trips for travelers to apprentice with an artisan practicing craft handed down for generations.  The company offers regular trips to Oaxaca, Mexico where travelers can learn natural dyes and weaving, fiber art, ceramics or hammock making.

Photo credit: The Thread Caravan

There’s also a trip to India to learn natural dyes and block printing. The Thread Caravan Founder hopes that by connecting travelers with artisans continuing ancient traditions often in marginalized communities, it can foster sustainable partnerships.

Photo credit: The Thread Caravan

“Our trips show participants firsthand the effort that goes into making the goods they purchase, allowing them to cultivate an appreciation for the intricacies of the craft. This knowledge allows consumer values to shift from quantity to quality,” says Caitlin Ahern, Founder of The Thread Caravan.

Photo Credit: Vacation With An Artist

Another company at the forefront of Artisan Travel is Vacation With An Artist (VAWAA) which offers mini-apprenticeships with 69 master artists in 23 countries around the world. Travelers spend time inside a master artist’s studio making something with their hands while learning a new creative skill. VAWAA offers artist apprenticeships are around the world in a wide range of artforms from painting to leather shadow puppet making.   Each one-on-one masterclass immerses the traveler into the artist’s daily life.

Photo Credit: Vacation With An Artist

One example is a trip Oaxaca to apprentice with Juana, an award-winning master of traditional Zapotec natural dyeing and weaving. Her family has been weaving in Teotitlan del Valle for hundreds of years and is dedicated to preserving this indigenous tradition.

Photo Credit: Vacation With An Artist

Travelers stay with Juana in her home to learn and experience the rich cultural traditions of the indigenous Zapotec people. Some of the many ways travelers can experience a destination, reconnect with creativity, ignite a passion, and get inspired include paper mache clay sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, photography, street art, Japanese calligraphy, bookbinding, and rattan weaving.

Photo Credit: Vacation With An Artist

Trafalgar tours recently launched a travel initiative to help preserve and promote the work of artisans and support their local communities through its partnership with TreadRight and JoinTrafalgar trips. One trip that intrigued me is the Italy Bellissimo tour featuring a visit to Giuditta Brozzetti Studio in Perugia Italy, where the owner is working to preserve an ancient heritage of woven tablecloths created on jacquard wooden looms. The tour invites visitors to partake in a private demonstration of the medieval art form. It’s the perfect example of this growing movement underway that explores the craft and cultural heritage of a destination through authentic experiences that connect with local culture, cuisine, art and craft.

Photo Credit: Vacation With An Artist

Travel that explores a culture through its creativity and craftsmanship forges real connections and helps promote and preserve fading art forms and heritage craft techniques that have endured for generations.  If you are want to be a Design Tourist, I highly suggest starting with one of these Artisan Travel experiences to open your heart and inspire your imagination.

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