Thursday, March 21, 2013

it's not about minions...

I've been behind in my reading and finally got around to  the Dec/Jan issue of American Craft Magazine. It's called the "Design Issue," as it features eight artists who've made the move from one-of-a-kind to production work. Some sell their designs to manufacturers and others manage teams of employees making what they design.

In any case, the move from maker to designer is the aspiration of some. In my mind, moving from small production runs of objects to being merely the designer of those objects mass-produced seems a bit out of touch, and the idea of having minions produce my work in quantities beyond my own capacity and wildest dreams seems elitist, somewhat predatory, the white flag of surrender to values of the consumer culture and a strong move away from the values inherent in craftsmanship.

And yet, when you read the stories of these folks, ranging from Thomas Moser who makes furniture with 134 employees to Annie Costello Brown who has a small team of women at work in her home studio, you get the sense that most craft designers are inspired by the tools  and materials they actually use, and have hopes of engaging others in the making of fine work. Brown notes, "I wouldn't enjoy what I do without the making part of the process, the discovery that happens when working with materials in your own hands."

Today in my wood shop, I am making bracelet boxes with the intention of illustrating contrast. The lids will be made with either matching or contrasting woods and in a variety of shapes. Some are made with contrasting keys visible on the outside. Others are made with hidden splines visible only when the lids are open. A small selection of these boxes will be used in the book on designing boxes. My own view of design is that we can all become better designers and makers of things in our own homes and home communities, and less dependent on the big leagues and the big box stores. If we were to become communities of craftsmen and craft artists, many of the self-destructive obsessions that plague American culture would fall by the wayside.

Nearly completed bracelet boxes.
I am enjoying having an apprentice. Unlike having minions doing my work for me, I have someone here on a fixed term learning from the experience. The goal is not to get my work done, but for him to be prepared and able to do his own.

As you can see in the photo above, the first bracelet boxes are nearing completion, with 12 more to go. The lids are fiddleback maple and spalted sycamore. I love what happens when curves and angles get together in a piece. The angled lid thickens at the edge to the left and right,  making the eye assume more complex curves are at hand. This is the kind of visual effect a craftsman discovers by play.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. Doug,

    So in a sense, all of us who make two or more of something, likely because we get to reuse a tool setup, are artificers doing production work. And each box, or whatever, was still worked with our hands. It is craft.