Sunday, February 25, 2007

If you look back in the past of any traditional culture, you find a tradition of hand crafts. This is true whether you examine the plains indians of North America, the peoples of Viet Nam, Tibet, Australia, the Moari, the polynesians, east Indians, black Africans or the Soumi of northern Sweden and Finland. People used their hands to create beauty in their lives...not in pursuit of art to be sold, but as an essential condition of daily life.

John Neihard, in his novel about the Sioux, "When the Tree Flowered" describes the life of a young man growing up in the traditional way and the pride he felt in the articles of clothing made for him by his mother and sisters. Compare that with what we have now...the lust that children feel to look just like the distant designers prescribe, outlined in the pages of magazines and catalogs, all the while living in fear that they will stand out from their crowd. The measure of their family's love is in the purchase of the brand name, and the look of modern sophistication.

You can tell me. Have we missed something? If so, how do we make the journey back?

We can learn a lot from Sweden. In the early part of the 19th century, Sweden was flooded with well made manufactured goods that made traditional handcrafts meaningless. Why make what you could buy so cheaply and well made? Next came alcoholism. Men and women needed something to do to ease the long winter nights and there was no longer a need to make the objects required for their daily lives. They were stripped of their traditional source of self-esteem, so they made and drank alcohol.

I'm not stating this as a criticism of anyone. The same problems have appeared everywhere the hands have been stilled by the introduction of mass quantities of manufactured goods. Here in Arkansas, we have problems with alcoholism and Meth addiction. Add to that all the other problems involving mental health, and you may get the picture. Who needs to make anything when you have Walmart? And besides, who would want to wear anything your mother made you, even though it was made with artistry and love?

Now, in Sweden there is a movement called Home Sloyd Or "Hemsloyd", which is the Swedish equivalent of the American Craft movement. I have a good book to recommend that is about turning a corner on things. It is by a friend of mine, Bill Coperthwaite and is called "A Handmade Life" The photo above is of some of Bill's handmade crooked knives and a handmade basket from his collection.

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