Sunday, October 16, 2011

Handle with care, reverence, respect...

I took a couple boxes to school this last week to show the students what they can do with dovetails... I told them that they were free to handle the boxes, but then as I watched them slide the boxes around on the top of the workbench I had to remind them that the boxes were hand-made by a real human being and should be handled with care. Handling with care does not mean sliding them around on the top of the work bench where they hammer and glue. So I see one more small bit of evidence of what we are doing to our children.

I want children to have some regard for the objects in their lives. Even the things that were made largely by machine were made with some investment of human care. Most of the things that inhabit our children's lives and garner their avid attention are designed to last no longer than the next iteration of the device. That cycle from manufacturer to hand to landfill is designed to move as quickly as possible to maintain the economy and the economic interests of our manufacturers. But we pay a steep price.

What about reverence? What about care, and what about respect? Are these things no longer necessary in our relationship with the objects that we are allowed to touch, and should children be taught to show respect?

It seems children are no longer exposed to things that are hand-made unless they are behind ropes or glass in museums where the objects are safe from hands untrained in care, reverence and respect. And since they also have not been blessed with being makers and of knowing what it means to create useful beauty, our objects are at risk throughout American culture.

But there is another side to things. When we slow down to care for something, there are profound changes taking place inside. I am reminded of a visit with Father Richard Clark when I was at his church to talk about building new altar furnishings. We walked through a passageway at the rear of the church that held sacred things. Even without others present to observe his behavior, his expression reverence in the presence of these things was immediate and sincere.

If we learn to treat objects with care, do we not also learn to care more deeply for ourselves and for each other? By failing to engage our children in making useful beauty, and failing to teach them in the care of beautiful things, I suspect we do great damage to them and our human culture at the same time.

On the very same subject, the November issue of American Craft has an article that I'm certain my readers will enjoy. Restoration Values is about a small team of craftsmen in Austin, Texas building exquisitely crafted small homes they call "bungalitos". It is unusual to find articles about the building trades in American Craft so I was pleased.

Founded by John Hindman Red River Restorations grew out of a need to make doors and windows to fit houses needing restoration.
Old houses remind us that there's another way to live. "Our society has changed a lot in the past 100 years," he says, pausing. " ‘A lot' is too small of a [phrase] for how much it's changed." A culture of cheap and fast has crowded out values like quality, durability, and craftsmanship. And it's those values that Hindman is out to restore, one building at a time.
“The body becomes a tool in one way or another,” said Shane Shannon as he chips away a layer of caulk on a late-1800s window. “I may have a hammer in my pouch, but I find myself using my
hand instead.” His sturdy hands are calloused from years of working with tools,
but today, they are required to do a finer job.

“You think it’s mostly masculinity and hard work that gets the job done, but it’s really more about finesse,” he added. Shannon is a woodworker.
Make, fix, and create...


  1. Anonymous5:35 AM

    I live in a city that never had an economic boom, which also meant no bust over the past two years. On the level of craft, this means that our old buildings with their hand carved wood and stone weren't torn down to build glass and steel boxes. So we're now a sort of architectural museum, a time capsule. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is having their annual meeting here this week and they are impressed. Now to teach the younger generation that there is value in that craft.


  2. These old buildings capture the imagination and lead to the development of skill. It may take some time for it to develop.

    You are lucky to live in such surroundings. In our upwardly mobile society, we seem to have lost our sense of place. Eureka was placed on the national register in 1972, largely due to the work of Louis Freund, a local artist who kept in people's faces saying, "Don't you know what we have here?"