Friday, August 7, 2015

The Roll of Fine Craftsmanship in Today's World

Tanasi bow made entirely by hand
 using all traditional materials

 "Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind."  Johannes Brahms

    Craftsmanship seems to be a word that conjures images of grizzled, bearded men in dusty workshops, donning leather aprons and scraped knuckles. We tend to think of craftsmen as those who use their finely honed skills to make functional items we use in our every day lives. But are they artists? By all means! I know most of us wouldn't even question the artistry of a craftsman's trade, but there are still holdouts in the fine art world that deem anything other than a painting or sculpture as "just a craft". I believe the time has come when fine craft takes it's place directly alongside fine art.

The riser of my Tenasi bow by
Joe Darnell
was hand carved to precisely
fit my grip.

 Our world is chock full mass produced, boring but functional items. They serve their purpose and that's about it. This doesn't mean that the items are necessarily lacking good design. Have you seen a ball point pen lately? A razor? A tooth brush? Ergonomics, color, exotic materials; most of our daily use items make the exotic space age designs of the 50's look like stone age cast offs. But no matter how revolutionary a new product is, if it began life as a glob of plastic that was purged, colored, stamped and shipped by the thousands, it just doesn't have the 'life' of a hand made object.

The Maker's mark.

    Handmade items have a mystique about them. The slight imperfections, a fingerprint here, an eccentric curve there. They tend to be made of natural materials, or at the very least materials that don't have nine syllables in their name. Most importantly, they are made buy someone who puts their heart and soul in every item they make. A piece of pottery, a quilt, a turned bowl or handcrafted furniture; all represent the artists' time, imagination, and countless years of experience and hard work. And you thought you were just buying a cool item to add to your collection! The artistry in craftsmanship is obvious in items like pottery or woodworking because we associate them with the arts. But what about other things that we don't normally associate with art. A hand made musical instrument, customized automobile, or even a traditional bow can invoke the same emotional response as a beautiful oil painting on the wall. The difference is you get to actually use the piece of art. That's right, usable art! Artisan crafted jewelry and hand made scarves are like art that you wear for all to see. Your favorite blend of coffee or tea is far more satisfying in a one of a kind mug.

Handmade in Michigan by Black Swamp; signed by the artisans on the inside.
 One of only 25 to be made,
 but sounds like one in a million in my wife's hands.

The underside of each key shows the gouge marks left behind
as the carvers slowly removed material turning blocks of rosewood into 
a finely tuned musical instrument.

Craftsmanship on full display. Not only has this marimba survived nearly sixty years
 of heavy practice and concert use, but it also survived the two Newfoundlands 
featured in the hand colored photos above!

     We live in the age of mega stores, cheap 'living room in a box' furniture outlets, and cold, impersonal electronic devices that occupy every waking moment in our daily routine. I believe now more than ever we need to infuse our lives with the joy that only comes from meaningful, quality handmade items.  If you're a maker, teach. If you're a buyer, advocate. Look for the extraordinary among the ordinary.  

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