Wednesday, December 14, 2011

into the not so vast scheme of things...

I have a small Norwegian box called a tine or cheese box that my great grandmother used to carry her personal precious things from Norway to the US in 1864. She was 11 years old at the time. Those familiar with Norwegian handcrafts can examine it and know that it came from the particular small town from which my mother's family came. The patterns are there in the Rosemaling. The method of work is there that reflects the culture from which it and my great grandmother arose at nearly the same time. When my mother was a small child, the bentwood box was where family photos were kept. When my grandmother died, the box came to my mother empty, the photos having been divided and shared. The box, missing parts, and having suffered indignities of repair is an object that tells a great deal about an earlier time. For instance, the cheese box belonging to my great grandmother would have been made by someone known to her. But the things in our own lives have become anonymous, ubiquitous, detached from their human makers, and thus of so much less value.

We have gone from a time in which we would have had a few precious things to lives filled with too many, and they have each declined in value. As a culture, we browse far and wide for our collection of things, but they are made no more meaningful to us as a result.

Can you see how when a person might commission work, or be on the other end as maker, relationships are woven that encompass and sustain the object made, making it of greater value? As each object becomes reflective of striving, and humanly care, it can become symbolic of so very much more... invested with human love, creative capacity,  and aspirations toward humanly perfection.

And so in the scheme of things, things once brought us together and now hold us apart, as we are often overwhelmed and left disconnected by them. To quote Wordsworth, "getting and spending have laid waste our powers." That, however, is an easy thing to fix by taking matters of making into our own hands.

Today the first, second and third grade students at the Clear Spring School will be making Christmas ornaments, and we will make our annual delivery of kid-made toys to the local food bank for holiday distribution. It seems that the ones most impressed with the toys our children have made are not the children of the poor but the older men and women who still remember the power of having made something themselves.

My great grandmother's tine is shown in the photo above.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Doug—
    You write, "Can you see how when a person might commission work, or be on the other end as maker, relationships are woven that encompass and sustain the object made, making it of greater value? [E]ach object becomes reflective of...humanly care." I've come to believe this is the glue of civilization itself. It's no accident that Hephaestus's wife was Charis, that as Hephaestus was the embodiment of the manual arts, he was partnered with the embodiment of human charity. To care for the things we make is to care for those we make them for. Thus a society is knit together by its members carefully providing for each other.

    By the way, it was two summers in Norway as a teenager that helped give me a lifelong love of handcraft -- especially handcrafted architecture. Norwegian handcrafts are apparently another point of affinity between us!

  2. It is not surprising that the Scandinavian countries have a better standard of living than we do. They have a long tradition of craftsmanship. And they tend to be less wasteful. I was on the ferry going from Turku to Stocholm and we sat next to a group of businessmen making the same trip. One of them had a brother-in-law in the US and they were marveling at the description of the size of his house. Very few in Sweden would ever think of being so wasteful, even if they could afford it.

    Did you read about Hephaestus' chair? He made furniture with magic powers and he used the chair to get even with his mother for her neglect.