Saturday, January 14, 2012

On becoming...

Becoming a nation of craftsmen will not happen overnight.  Craftsmen do not simply emerge from the woodwork. Instead, they are nourished, driven, lured, sustained and encouraged in their work by those who care about craftsmanship enough to participate in the growth of others. One could hardly stand in the midst of the beautiful work at Crystal Bridges Museum or in any of our other fine American arts museums and remain untouched by a sense of the beauty and craftsmanship witnessed within.

But how do we form those important bridges between our capacity to sense useful beauty and the duty of patronage through which those with resources encourage the growth of skill, character, intellect and economic resilience within their own communities?

I have a very good friend who might serve as an example. Paul Harvel is the director of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce. Each year he buys my work to give as Christmas gifts to his staff. It is a tradition he started over 15 years ago when he was director of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. His staff in Fort Smith and his former staff in Little Rock have collections of my work.  Can you see how a man or woman, even without being rich can make choices that encourage growth in others?

Ever true to his community, Paul told me that if he can't buy it in the state of Arkansas, he questions whether he needs it at all. And yet, Paul is not shy in the dance of globalization. He works tirelessly to bring manufacturing jobs to Arkansas.

Can you see how this process works? Even without being a craftsman, a person can nurture and sustain fine craftsmanship. Even without being rich, a man or woman can become a patron in the restoration of community. Each of us can play a part. Whether making beautiful and useful objects yourself or not, buy work from those whose works you admire, or from those young people in whom you see hope for our nation's future. It is a simple formula. And by buying workmanship close to home, you can witness the effects.

You might wonder how someone like Paul would come to have such a firm grip on the importance of American  craftsmanship. He had grown up an a farm and is currently restoring his father's tractor. After graduating from college, he became an industrial arts teacher. By having done some woodworking himself, he came to admire fine woodworking and to feel an affinity for it. Those simple things add up.

On another subject, Time Magazine this week has an article about the failure of the No Child Left Behind legislation as it faces its 10th anniversary. The original idea of NCLB was that the federal government would require schools to test children's performance in schools AND offer significant help in bringing ALL schools up to a uniform standard. The help never came. But the testing came on like gangbusters.  Schools began being punished for failure to meet standards. That led to a teach to the test fanaticism that pushed aside the arts, cut PE and kept students from participating in music. In the alternate universe where craftsmanship was perceived as having value, we would have been heading in the other direction, secure in the knowledge that what we do with our hands, whether in music, crafts, art, wood shop or laboratory science will stick with us the rest of our lives and build both character and intellect. But don't just take my word for it. Read the article and draw your own conclusions.

Make, fix and create...

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