Glovemaking, one of the few handicraft industries in the United States, began over 250 years ago in an upstate New York community that would come to be called Gloversville.
Sir William Johnson (who received the only baronetcy ever granted on American soil) persuaded a shipload of Scottish Highlanders from Perthshire to brave the Atlantic to establish the glovemaking industry in the New World. The Highlanders brought their tools--needles, thread, and the sword-like shears necessary for cutting leather--and they brought the closely guarded guild craft techniques of Europe.
Material they found in abundance. Indians provided the deerskin hides that gave gloves a unique durability and feel. And the U.S. glove making craft was born. Sir William settled close to Gloversville, then known as "The Gate of the Adirondacks," and later married a full-blooded Mohawk woman. Thus Sir William and his wife symbolize the marriage of European and native American glovemaking art.
I was born in Gloversville, NY during World War II, to a family with deep roots in the glovemaking business. I even worked in a Gloversville tannery during summers of my University of Florida years, but lived elsewhere during and after college.
My earliest ancestors had settled in this part of the world as early as the 1630s...trading among the American Indians and one, Cornelis Antonissen Van Sleyck, was even adopted into the Mohawk tribe after being married to Otstock, whose mother was American Indian and her father was a Frenchman named Hartell. The Dutch name of Margretta was given to Otstock and, as a family tradition, has been handed down (as middle name) within the extended family (including my sister, Jill).
However, in the early 1960s, glove manufacturing began to move outside the country where lower cost labor was available. Today, most gloves are made offshore, in places like China and Indonesia, where wages are 20 to 30 times less than what American workers must make to survive. Rather than invest in automating the U.S. glovemaking process, glove manufacturers, with the support of government, chose to move to the lowest cost labor source. This resulted in many of the Baby Boomer Generation, who were born in Gloversville, finding employment opportunities elsewhere.
"The encouragement of mere consumption is no benefit to commerce; for the difficulty lies in supplying the means, not in stimulating the desire of consumption; and we have seen that production alone furnishes those means. Thus, it is the aim of good government to stimulate production, of bad government to encourage consumption." Jean Baptiste Say
Richard Russo's memoir, "Elsewhere," brought me back to the place and time of my youth while illustrating the strong magnetic pull the place has on me to this day.
In mid-life, I even attempted to retain the age-old tradition of glovemaking in Gloversville during the 1980s & 1990s against the tide of mass-produced, cookie-cutter gloves globally manufactured at labor rates 30 times lower. Our Signature Series brand gloves "fit like a glove" was meant to be made. Painstakingly. Individually. With expert craftsmanship. And made for discriminating individuals who demanded the very best....and who have attempted to reorder their custom-made gloves long after we were forced to close Signature Glove Manufacturing.
"Elsewhere" illustrates how our lives are affected by the changes that cultural memes (like post-World War II women supporting themselves, when it was no longer fashionable to wear fine gloves to hide aging hands, etc.), manufacturing industries moving to the lowest labor sources around the world, the effect of technology on the artisan craftsmanship of the past and the "getting out of the ghost towns" of our youth.
Like myself, Richard Russo author of "Elsewhere" was born in Gloversville, New York during the 1940s. It's where the author got his title from: as both he and his mother Jean moved from place to place-- Arizona, Illinois, and finally Maine-- she couldn't wait to get out of Gloversville. Then when she was "elsewhere," she always wanted to move back and did for a short time after she had lost a job in Tucson.
For those who were born in Upstate New York, 60 or 70 years ago, "Elsewhere" will bring back some of those memories of your youth.