why we make things, and why it matters

why we make things

hmmmm … i think peter korn has been looking over my shoulder for the last 40 years … and, he has the way with words to get what he has been seeing down on paper so i can understand some of the things that flit through my brain just below my level of consciousness … like things i try to verbalize sometimes when people ask me about how or why i started making furniture , and ‘do i like it as much as i seem to’? etc .. i didn’t always know how to answer those questions, but now, some of it has kind of been explained it to me through mr. korn’s book.  my friends bill and steve and pete and all the other folks i know who have been struggling through making a living as furniture makers, builders, potters, glass blowers, masons and sculptors for the last 35 years, are part of a cultural thing, and, as mr. korn says, most craftspeople he knows ‘kind of stumbled into the party’ while they were looking for ‘a good life’.  amen to that.  in the 60s and 70s we were in fact searching.  ‘back to the land’ .. ‘self sufficiency’ .. ‘organic gardening’ with sam ogden … ‘living the good life’ with helen and scott nearing .. an alternative path to the life most people the generation before us, (our parents), were living.

when i started as a carpenter in 1973, like peter, i was fascinated by the problem solving aspects of the job. then the dexterity and skill thing relating to quality added another level of challenge and interest.  from there, it took just one short lay off from my carpentry job in 1979 to transition to full time furniture making, and ultimately, the good life i was seeking.  i have been lucky, i am the first to admit.  building stuff has been very good to me.  i have had the benefit of a supportive family and community, and amazingly, a steady supply of wonderful and interesting clients.  i have worked hard for sure, but it’s never really, and still doesn’t really, feel exactly like ‘work’ .. it’s just what i do, and how my life goes.  peter’s path was similar to mine to start, but along the way, after experiencing a bout with cancer, and a typical struggle to make a living building furniture, his path moved away from furniture design and building, and into education and school building.  but, his roots are my roots.  his background thoughts are my background thoughts.  the ‘engaged pursuit of quality’ is a rewarding pursuit that as furniture makers, or any other kind of artist or artisan, we get to buck up to everyday.  in my humble opinion, the ‘engaged pursuit of quality’ is a concept for everyone to pursue daily in his or her field of endeavor.  it’s a great concept.

i also like what peter has to say about design, and how ‘it begins with two things, the intention to create and a problem to be solved’.  and how it is a ‘skill like any other’ and can be learned, which i can attest to personally, as i had not a clue about design when i started making stuff … kit was the one with eye, and she painstakingly taught me how to ‘see’ … four years of college and a degree, and not one single art course.  design can be learned, and some people take to it more easily than others for sure, but if you put in your time and choose your references carefully, you can most likely find you own voice.

another thing peter discusses that is important to me now is that as his focus changed from furniture making to school making, his work changed from ‘working with things to working with words’, and one of his biggest surprises was ‘how much he took to writing’.  that has also been a surprise to me too after 700+ posts and six years of writing this blog.  i spent 16 years getting a formal education, during which i avoided writing pretty much at all costs.  now, for me, as for him, it is just ‘another medium through which we think’.  as peter mentions for himself, (now that he has pointed it out), ‘working with wood, words, (and for me the five other people in my shop), are all different forms of the same essential endeavor’.  anyway, the book is a good read if you’re looking to think about why we make stuff and why that is a good and important process.  friends who have attended his school have good things to say about it, and at some point, i am planning to pay him a visit up there on the coast of maine … enjoy!  you may not fold over as many pages as i did, but there is something there for everyone …

why we make things (1)

more info, more book reviews, and interviews at this link

and lastly on the ‘why we make things’ subject, i remember reading something recently that bono said in rolling stone regarding lou reed’s passing.  i can’t find the exact quote, but he said something about lou like this: ‘the nice thing about people who spend their whole life making things is that after they go, we still have the things’.

for a slide show of dorset custom furniture’s new work in 2013…

click the slideshow link in this blog post


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