Tuesday, February 27, 2007

In modern times, we have objects we identify as art or craft because we also choose to live our lives surrounded by objects of little meaning. In the world of museums, there is a term "provenance" which refers to knowing the source and ownership history of a work of art, or literature or an architectural find. We live our lives with objects that have no provenance. They are disposable and in most cases aren't even designed to be easily composted or recycled, so if they had "provenance," it would merely describe the uninteresting journey from the store through a couple months or so at home before being put at the curbside for disposal. The ironic thing is that we sweat bullets over the acquisition of these things.

Provenance is actually the story of the object, and the story the object tells of the culture. Remove an article from its provenance, and its deeper meaning and value are lost as well.

Now, just for one moment, imagine living a life in which every object has clear povenance, each thing reflecting relationship with its maker and the long line of people who have enjoyed its use. What you have just imagined is the kind of world we would live in if we were to choose quality over price, deeper meaning and personal growth over expedience.

My sloyd brother Joe Barry sent me the following reflection on yesterday's post.

" I can't recall the source right now but I was struck by something I read last year about the differences and opportunity costs in quality. It referred to the depression era and how there were two choices for shoes. You could buy a cheap cardboard and plastic pair for $15 that would last 1-2 years or buy a good leather pair for $60 that would last 15-20 years with care and re-soling. The poor man has no choice but to buy the cheap shoes even though he will have paid more for shoes in several years than the wealthy man who is still on the first pair he bought.

"I have had customers save up to pay for a solid wood table even though it was a strain because they knew it would be better than what they could buy in a furniture store. I heard an ad several years ago in Boston for a furniture store in which they interviewed customers shopping in the store and there was a newlywed couple that said they were there to buy a new bedroom set because the one they bought five years previously when they married needed to be replaced! I was shocked and appalled. Okay, as newlyweds they might need a new mattress or even have broken the sorry excuses for beds that are sold. But, replace the whole set of bedroom furniture??!!?? My mother still has the mahagony bedroom set she got when she married in 1951 and it is still in great shape. I wouldn't mind inheriting it. What sort of disposable culture do we have when furniture gets replaced after only 5 years. I wouldn't be surprised if the Ents didn't declare war on us and march upon High Point with the intent to punish them for the wasteful use of trees."

Thanks, Joe, for adding to the discussion.

The solid cherry china cabinet in the photo above is one I made in the early 1980's. It is made with through wedged mortise and tenon joints, hand cut dovetails and lathe turned knobs and door latches. The base and crown moldings were hand carved and attached with sliding dovetails. At the time, I considered it to be my master's thesis in woodworking, but I was attending the school of hard knocks where no actual degree is offered.

No comments:

Post a Comment