About American Hands - AmericanHands
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American Hands is Sally Wiener Grotta's ongoing narrative visual celebration of those individuals – blacksmiths, weavers, spinners, glassblowers, bookbinders, rug makers, etc – who are keeping alive the traditional trades that built our country's diverse culture. Sally's natural down-to-earth shooting style helps artisans warm to her camera, developing personal relationships that allow her to share in intensely private and often poignant creative moments, as well as spontaneous expressions of joy and discovery. Her narrative series of portraits capture both the fascinating creative processes and the individual personalities of the craftspersons. This project has hit a resonant chord with the public and the art world, and continues to generate quite a "buzz."

The purpose of American Hands is multi-faceted:
  • To honor the artisans who have dedicated their lives to keeping traditional trades alive
  • To preserve and share the stories Sally collects
  • To use Sally's pictures and stories to energize and excite the public about human creative potential
  • To educate and inform young and old alike about our creative cultural heritage, through free-to-the public exhibits and slideshow discussions.
  • To push photography, imaging and fine art printing artistically, attempting to expand the creative language we use to tell visual stories

The project has received more than three dozen grants plus other honors, including:
  • Adopted by the New York Foundation for the Arts (one of the country's most respective arts organizations), under their Artspire fiscal sponsorship project. In other words, American Hands now has 501(c)3 non-profit status, and all donations are tax-deductible. (Please see the Donate Now page for more information.)
  • Numerous corporate sponsorships, including Hewlett Packard and Pentax.
  • Sally was recognized for her work on American Hands on the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate by a standing ovation from the legislators

To date, over 300,000 individuals have personally attended American Hands exhibits.
  • That number does not include the uncounted hundreds of thousands who have read, seen or heard about American Hands from the wide print and electronic media coverage of the project, exhibits, lectures and other related personal appearances
  • In addition to numerous magazine, newspaper and Internet articles, American Hands has been featured in a good number of videos, TV and radio shows

In almost every film and novel, the village blacksmith is a massive man who uses brute strength and sheer will-power to pound, flex and bend red-hot metal into whatever is needed.

When I went to the large warehouse-size forge of <a href="http://www.artisansoftheanvil.com/"target="_blank">Artisans of the Anvil</a> , I discovered three men -- Andrew Molinaro, Josh Blum and Rich Prevost -- who didn't so much defy the stereotype as refine it, forging the role of blacksmith into something very personal, creative and precise.  

Here, Andrew, the master of the shop, tends one of the forge fires. Later that day, he had me try my hand at blacksmithing, explaining how he judges the heat of the fire and of any metal he puts into it, by color. He instructed me to be sure to place the metal rod at just the right place within the flames, for maximum heat. But to be very careful to not let the metal burn.

For further insights into American Hands and Sally’s general philosophy of narrative portrait photography, please listen to Erika Funke's interview with Sally on WVIA-FM (an NPR affliliate). And, to see the TV interview that PA Senator Lisa Baker did with Sally, on the occasion of a Pennsylvania Hands exhibit in the East Wing Rotunda of the PA State Capitol Building, please go to:  Focus on PA video. (Pennsylvania Hands is a regional focus of American Hands.) Other videos about the project, including some of Sally’s presentations, may be viewed on the American Hands YouTube Channel. If you know of an artisan whom you feel Sally should consider photographing for American Hands, please use this Website’s Contact page.


  • About American Hands
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