Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Useful beauty...

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful."—William Morris. 

And yet, there may be things that appear pretty on their surface that lack beauty, for beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the beholder may be looking more deeply into things. What about objects that represent the enslavement of man to industrial processes? What of things that come to us from the pillaging of the earth's resources, a bit of beauty brought here at the cost of great loss in other places or to the earth itself?

And then there are things that glow from an inner beauty in that they represent the maker's growth, a thing not seen quickly or at first glance. And then there's that beauty that's found in relationships that objects may represent. In other words, things are complicated, but we need ways of assessing what things we bring into our own lives lest we be overwhelmed by meaningless stuff.

A week or so ago the New York Times invited readers to share with them objects considered heirlooms, objects that carry meaning from on generation to the next. I submitted a photo of my father's WWII service watch that he'd worn through 199 days of combat in Germany. 

After the war, my father watched as thousands of similar watches were smashed by a steam roller on an aircraft runway to keep them from being carried home and destroying the watch market in the US. Over the years, the chrome plated bronze case was deteriorating badly so I had a jeweler friend plate the watch in gold, and I recently had it cleaned so that it runs again, keeping perfect time. This watch is a 17 jewel Hamilton and the video shows that it still works. The tiny shaft that keeps the second hand moving is only a fraction of a millimeter in diameter.

Asked by the New York Times to explain the importance of the heirloom, I explained that my father had it on his wrist and kept it wound as he directed traffic on the Red Ball Express, as his division (the 104th) fought its way through the  dikes of Holland, as they held a defensive position in Germany during the Battle of the Bulge, as they fought for the Hürtgen Forest, as he crossed the Bridge at Remagen, and as he witnessed the horrors at the liberation of Camp Dora, a Nazi death camp outside Nordhausen. It was there as they waited at the Elbe River for the Russian troops to arrive as arranged by agreement between FDR and Stalin. 

In other words beauty can also be found in objects that connect us through generations. Cleaned, cased in gold and lubricated, my dad's watch is good for another 75 years, at least.

Make, fix and create...

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