Sunday, February 25, 2007

John Henry...there is a story and song in American folklore about a man who tried to keep up with a steam powered machine while working on the railroad laying track. Of course it is a sad song, and John Henry couldn't keep up.

Every thing that is made for sale competes with every other thing for the attention of the American wallet. American craftsmen, like John Henry, just can't keep up. Human beings make things that are different from the things made by machines. In most cases, objects made by hand are more expensive. But with machine made things, we seldom see their hidden costs.

So why would anyone in their right mind want to buy something that was hand made? There are a number of qualities that machines just can't put in place, and from the looks of things, people have very little comprehension what those qualities are.

Machines don't have feelings about their work. They don't care. There is nothing in the soul of the machine to invest the essential qualities of humanity within the object it makes. It is ironic that people would choose to fill their lives with meaningless objects, devoid of feeling and manufactured without the most interesting components of humanity invested in them...the qualities of hope, aspiration and personal growth.

You know when you set up a machine to make something, it may start out at a high level, but it gets worse and worse at it until the wear of the machine leads it to failure. When you yourself, set out to do something, you get better and better at it and if you care for the outcomes of your efforts, your work reaches higher levels of craftsmanship. When we ask others to make things with their hands, aspirations and hope, we play an important role in their growth, and perhaps even in the growth of our human culture. You can think of buying hand made things as making an investment in humanity.

As a craftsman, I owe everything to a few important customers who encouraged my growth by asking me to make beautiful things. You can play a part in the growth of others, or you can spend your money on foolish, meaningless stuff. You choose. The photo above is of a trestle table made for my very good friends, Kathy and Rick McCormick.

1 comment:

  1. "Machines don't have feelings about their work. They don't care." I like this but then machines are also manmade so in a sense what is made by a machine is also 'hand-made'. After all our hands are also just an agency of the mind which is also what a machine is!