Friday, May 01, 2015

this day...

Hinge parts marked for sawing.
Today I have a reception for the Wisdom of the Hands program at the home of Jim and Susan Nelson in Eureka Springs. The purpose is two-fold. On the one hand, it is important for us to show the foundation that provides funding for my program that it has community support. On the other, it will offer the chance for me to explain the purpose of the program, and how the hands impact learning to people in our community. Clear Spring School and the Wisdom of the Hands program serve as a demonstration for the value of hands-on learning. It has become rather easy for me to talk in public about the Wisdom of the Hands, because I "talk" about this daily in the blog, and practice what I say when I have guests visiting the school.

Last night I watched as folks on TV tried to understand how a young and vigorous black man could have 3 vertebra crushed and his spinal cord nearly severed as he was carried around town in the back of a Baltimore Police van whose sole destination was the police station. The shame of it all is that when it comes to police and black youth in cities, black lives seem to not matter and this same set of tragic attitudes exists among some in cities throughout the US.

In Sweden and Finland in the midst of the industrial revolution, the proponents of educational Sloyd had recognized that craftsmanship was the foundation of community, and that to build strong human values required the application and development of human skill.

William Jennings Byran, a famous Christian demagogue had said, "Outside of the church are to be found the worthless; the criminal, and the degenerate, those who are a burden to society rather than an aid." I think that religion as a factor in the shaping of moral values is a myth. We can look at the long history of the church and its role in subjugation, slavery and destruction for clarification of its role in history. Instead we might say with greater accuracy, "Outside of skilled craftsmanship are to be found the worthless; the criminal, and the degenerate, those who are a burden to society rather than an aid." To that, I would add also that there are some outside the realm of craftsmanship who are rich and careless for the rest of humanity.

In this, I recognize that craftsmanship is not a term applied only to wood working and similar crafts. It describes a steady application and evolution of skill and artisanship toward societal good. Even lawyers, computer  programmers and poets can practice craftsmanship. The Swedes and Finns saw such value in craftsmanship that they founded schools to provide teacher training so that all students would discover their own value to family and community through craftsmanship. I visited one of those schools during my trip to Sweden in 2006 and you can learn about it by typing Nääs in the search block at upper left.

A small Scandinavian bent wood box.
I will be setting up for this evening's event, and rehearsing my remarks. In the wood shop, I've made a bit of progress on making wooden hinges for my new Scandinavian bent wood boxes, as you can see in the photos above.

Make, fix and create...


  1. It’s funny, over the last couple of days I got to wondering about whether societies start TALKING and preaching about character and virtue when those matters are no longer taught to them by the daily work of sustaining life. Then just this morning I made a list of virtues taught by craft, especially when making something for someone else: humility, fortitude, patience, and, yes, faith, hope and charity. What else to make of Hephaestus’s wife being named Charis? Nothing binds a community and nation together like having nearly everyone engaged in productive, life-sustaining work. Nothing disintegrates society like the absence of such work, as we’re seeing.

    This whole idea of virtue taught by manual work is dealt with quite beautifully, by the way, in Ruskin’s “The Mystery of Life and Its Arts”.

    There are far too few people thinking about this, Doug. I applaud these social commentaries you make from the standpoint of craft.

  2. Tim, famous Christian theologian Martin Buber, in Good and Evil, offered this insight:

    "Since the primary motive of the evil is disguise, one of the places evil people are most likely to be found is within the church. What better way to conceal one's evil from oneself, as well as from others, than to be a deacon or some other highly visible form of Christian within our culture? . . . . I do not mean to imply that the evil are anything other than a small minority among the religious or that the religious motives of most people are in any way spurious. I mean only that evil people tend to gravitate toward piety for the disguise and concealment it can offer them."

    We think of churches as being the sustenance of morality, when the hard work of craftsmanship may offer greater hope for humanity.

    I am reminded of Chaucer:
    "The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne, the' assay so hard, so sharp the conqueryinge" The difficulties of developing honest craftsmanship is a deterrent to those who would prefer to simply sit around and screw things up.

  3. Yes, the most noble things are the most corruptible. ISIS for example, and its corruption of Islam. And look at its destruction of the ancient handwork of the middle east.

  4. Or look at the destruction of Incan gold artifacts by the conquistadors. The bible held in one hand and the sword in the other. Many religions have a darker side.

  5. Agreed -- which takes me back to "The Mystery of Life and Its Arts": "The greatest of all the mysteries of life, and the most terrible, is the corruption of even the sincerest religion, which is not daily founded on rational, effective, humble, and helpful action. Helpful action, observe! for there is just one law, which, obeyed, keeps all religions pure--forgotten, makes them all false. Whenever in any religious faith, dark or bright, we allow our minds to dwell upon the points in which we differ from other people, we are wrong, and in the devil's power. That is the essence of the Pharisee's thanksgiving--"Lord, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are." At every moment of our lives we should be trying to find out, not in what we differ from other people, but in what we agree with them; and the moment we find we can agree as to anything that should be done, kind or good, (and who but fools couldn't?) then do it; push at it together: you can't quarrel in a side-by-side push; but the moment that even the best men stop pushing, and begin talking, they mistake their pugnacity for piety, and it's all over."

  6. Tim, thanks for this quote. It concurs with a post I had done earlier about the teaching of wood working in New Hampshire prisons, where the teacher said, We are just men, trying to do good without fear. Unfortunately some religions use fear to divide and conquer, rather than dispelling fear to liberate and release.