Sunday, May 17, 2015

crafted, or not crafted...

The barely-crafted box.
Years ago I paid a sales rep to feature my work at the New York Gift Show. The idea was that he would help me sell hundreds of my finely crafted wooden boxes. Unfortunately  (or fortunately) things didn't work out that way, and when I asked why my boxes and other products had not sold, the answer was that my work was too highly crafted. It could thus not sell cheaply enough for the market. That's a sad state of affairs. Buyers arrive at the show hoping to find things that are unique and cheap, that they can sell at a particular price point at which individual craftsmen are unlikely to compete. After the agents gets 15% of wholesale, and the merchant takes 60% of the selling price, the maker is left holding the bag. He (or she) pays for the materials, overhead, labor and the rest.

And so the challenges of being a craftsman in America live on. We aspire to growth in craftsmanship as evidence of accomplishment and value within our culture. But by investing in craftsmanship, we make our products more expensive than the market can grasp. We've gotten so used to machined perfection, that there is no longer much understanding of human craft or of its value to the individual or to community.

But when we buy a craftsman's work, we facilitate his or her growth to the next level, and invest in the character and intelligence of our communities. Just in case anyone wonders why we have poverty in places like Philadelphia and Baltimore, we need look no further than our failure to understand, appreciate, and foster craftsmanship in each other. Religions lecture morality, but craftsmanship and the culture of craftsmanship actually build it.

Finally, I have a product of my own design that is not so highly crafted. It stands out from the other things I make in that it requires no joinery, no special materials, no particular skill, and can be done quickly with only a small chance of failure. To make matters worse, no sanding is required (except for pulling off splinters)  and no finish is necessary. From a stack of firewood, I can make hundreds of them. If they became wildly popular, I could make a mold from one one of the best and have them injection molded from plastic, and thereby reduce the craftsmanship to absolute zip. But sadly, those would not have the smell of real oak.

So what shall I call these? Does chunk box sound romantic enough?

Today is Books in Bloom, the literary festival that my wife and friends started about 10 years ago. Some of your favorite authors will be there to speak and sign books. This morning I'll be setting up tents. During the mid day I'll serve as a photographer for the event. At 3 PM, I'll take Roy Blount, Jr. to the airport.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous9:04 PM

    "Religions lecture morality, but craftsmanship and the culture of craftsmanship actually build it." That is profound. As I read this sentence a quote from ZAMM came to mind "And what is good, Phadreus, and what is not good." You've made my day, today.

    Thank you
    Nick S

  2. Mention is made of Jesus Christ having grown up in a carpenter's shop, but no mention is made of his having learned anything from the experience. Still, the ancient Jews recognized the value of all children learning a trade as part of their moral instruction. Unlike modern evangelists, St. Paul was a tentmaker and refused money that he had not received by the labors of his own hands. Martin Luther was one of the first advocates of manual arts training. So religious values are not necessarily at odds with the values learned from craftsmanship.