Has it been bred out of North American culture? Somewhat, but if you look hard you will find pockets of dedicated individuals for whom beauty still matters. Highly skilled individuals for whom the notions of skill combined with new tools and techniques calls as if some distant loon or background howl that cannot be silenced. They are artists and they simply must create. They cannot help it.
If we need it why don’t we simply get it from a local retailer that likely acquired it from overseas? It’s often good enough…it’s often less expensive. Take a close look and you will find that it very often appears that the design was birthed out of a requirement for speed and the capabilities of the machines that were used to make it. Much has a sense of sameness to it, because the same type of machine was used. The wood came 3/4 of an inch thick because that is what the machines do best and most. While the piece performs a function it benefits from neither soul nor beauty. For many items in our life this is fine and necessary, and no machine should be criticized for creating them, and no owner criticized for owning them.
Occasionally however, there are times when this no longer suffices. A new babies rocker, hand made and carved seems as right as the uniqueness of the child. A Grandfather clock for the newlyweds in their new home. Or a central piece for the dining or living room that expresses pride of ownership and distinguishes the host. A piece that everyone notices though they may not know why or what exactly they notice, but they do anyhow. Somehow the piece seems different…it catches the eye, people feel a need to touch it, to handle it it some way. The lines are perfect. Golden and Hambidge rectangles abound. The texture is perfect. Then they notice that the moldings are not applied moldings at all but carved directly into the piece and there is a look of “something is different here” in their eyes. They now study the piece even more closely wondering what they are in the presence of. They ask “ where did this come from” and from there starts a conversation on quality, with the proud owner showing off details that are not immediately obvious, like the over 30 cuts made within a square inch or how even the grain of the wood appears to be repeating though veneers are nowhere to be seen. How the drawer knob is made of ebony, not painted black, but naturally so. Exactly how was it possible to carve and not break the grain and ruin the piece in this place? Because the grain knew who handled the chisel and feared the gentle craftsman, knowing there was little it could do to will its own way.
Craftsmanship: we may not understand it but we know it when we see it. It reminds us of days long gone when a different “geist” was in the air. Satisfaction, pride and a sense of timelessness and uniqueness. A wholesome feeling. A feeling that all will once again be well, because someone remembered how to make it and someone remembered to contract for it, because both needed it…one to make beauty and the other to acknowledge that they need beauty in their lives to feel whole.
Let us then remember Wilde who wrote:
“To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and only then, does it come into existence.”
It is time again to really see. We no longer walk past, we become involved, and there is a connectedness. One piece causes us to see others, and then others, and slowly, beauty, once again comes into existence and into our lives. This is what craftsmanship gives us.