Let’s Start a Movement!

For some time now, I have been thinking about a concept that I like to call, “The Hand of the Maker”.  I guess it sounds kind of momentous, and perhaps it is, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!!

 

We live in an amazing world, and fascinating times.  Technology has made the world a very small place, and that comes with a whole host of implications – some of them wonderful and amazing, and some of them, well, not quite as “desirable”.

 

I am amazed – literally, as in it almost defies my comprehension - that I can go on line to “The Earth’s Greatest Selection”, and for less than two green American Dollars, I can order a product.  Yes, that part is amazing, but, wait, I’m not quite finished.  In a few days – it arrives – AT MY DOOR – and from the packaging I can tell that it has come across the Pacific Ocean from a country of almost 1.4 Billion people.  Seriously, how can they even afford to SEND me the product - much less PRODUCE the product – for what I PAID for the product?  And, yes, for those of you (myself included) of the, “you get what you pay for” mindset, this is often the case.  However, I am, and probably will remain, amazed!

 

However, there is the counterpoint to this amazing situation.  When I look around my house, and the houses of most Americans that I know, I have NO IDEA WHO made the products that I am using on a daily basis.  Sure, these products become a part of my life, but, WHERE did they come from, WHO made them, HOW did they make them, and WHAT were they trying to accomplish in doing so?  With many of the emerging news stories about baby formula and children’s toys, it may also be worth asking what ingredients went into making them.  I guess that, for some people, it doesn’t really matter.  It has really started to matter to me.

 

I have found that, when I go to the local Farmer’s Market (bright and early on Saturday mornings, thank you very much), and I interact with the people who actually grew the beets, or the lettuce, or the green beans, or the people who keep the bees that made the honey, or the chickens that laid the eggs, or the goats that made the milk that made the cheese, the food seems “better”.  And, it doesn’t just seem a little better, it seems a LOT better!  The peaches SMELL like peaches!  I can shake the hands of the people who are making my food.  They have a vested interest in delivering a quality product that keeps people coming back for more.  The food is real, the people are real, the stories are real, and I get to know that I am supporting local folks in my area that work hard to do things with integrity.  Integrity can be in short supply in our world if we don’t actively seek it out.

 

With that in mind, I have started looking around my house at the things that surround me almost every day.  I know the names of the people who have made the things that I enjoy the most.  I have cups from my buddies Shawn Grove and Bryan Mattraw, and their Woodfired Pottery in Northern Virginia.  I have a “salt pig” from my pottery buddy Dennis, who I met through a wood kiln firing.  I have a hand carved wooden spoon that I traded for a really nice tea pot when I was at Penland.  And, yes, the list is pretty pottery-centric, but, hello, that should not surprise anyone!! And, the list does go on and on. 

 

Sure, I will admit it, I have plastic cups – GASP!  And, amusingly enough (to me, at least), I use them when I “don’t care”.  Maybe I don’t care if they get lost or broken or ruined.  Or, maybe I am running out the door, and don’t care to have a “meaningful experience” when I just need a mostly unbreakable container.

 

But, the things I enjoy the most - from plates to spoon rests to cutting boards – I HAVE actually shaken the “Hand of the Maker”.  On some level, I “know” these folks.  I have heard parts of their stories.  I have brought a part of them into my life.  We almost always feel a common bond as “Makers” and members of the “Human Community”.  Sometimes we have become great friends.  Sometimes we have great arguments.  Sometimes they have served as great inspiration.  Sometimes the object that I have, that they made, reminds me of the fleeting time we spent together.  And, consistently, the objects have meaning that extends far beyond the physical form.

 

So, I am doing my best to embrace my “Hand of the Maker” philosophy.  Little by little, I am trying to bring objects into my life where I have shaken the “Hand of the Maker”.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t need to.  I think it is an awareness worth developing consistently over time.

 

In some areas, it is easier than others.  I’ve mentioned that I enjoy the Farmer’s Market.  And, we have two great local breweries in McKinney, and I’ve shaken the hands of the guys at both of them.  I’ll let you guess who is more likely to get my “brew business” – the large multi-national brewing conglomerate – or the two guys and their teams down the street from me!

 

In some areas, it is a little more tricky – I have not met any Artisan Box Spring Mattress Makers.  I’m not saying they aren’t out there, I just haven’t met them!  But, I do have hand towels in my kitchen that were woven by a friend of mine.  And, I have a mop head that was knitted by another friend of mine.  You can probably figure out the soap dispensers in my bathrooms all by yourself!

 

I think that if we develop an awareness of the concept, seek out and support the local folks who take the time to make things with integrity, it can enrich our lives and our communities in amazing ways.  After all, life is about stories – our own stories and the stories of the people we interact with.  Even the word, “history” points to the idea of “his story”.  And, yes, yes, of COURSE it can be “her story” and “their story” and “our story”!

 

So, seek out the folks around you – and around the country, or the world, when you travel – who are making things.  Talk to them.  Support them.  Ask them.  Interact with them.  Trust me, they care – and they care passionately.  They have stories, and they are happy to contribute to your story.  Shake the “Hand of the Maker” – you will be glad that you did, and they will be glad, too – in a very personal way.

 

In support of this idea, take a look around your house or your office or whatever you consider to be your “space”.  If you have things that you enjoy, where you have shaken the “Hand of the Maker”, take a photo (as clear and well-lit as possible), and send it to me, along with as much detail as you can possibly provide – what it is, who made it, where and how you found it, why you like it, contact information for the Maker (if appropriate), and the “story” that you like to tell about it –and I will post it here, on my blog, to share with everyone.  We can all make a difference if we choose to take the time to do so.

 

So, let’s start a movement - get out there in the big world, and start shaking the “Hand of the Maker”!!


By the way, I would like to hear your thoughts and share them with the other readers.  If you click the Title of this post, or the small icon near the title on the right side (it is followed by a number in parenthesis), it will take you to a page where you can scroll to the bottom and add your comments - please do! :-)

Making One Hundred...

Recently, I had the opportunity to fulfill an order for one hundred custom-crafted mugs.  I recognize that, for some people, this is a sleep-walk in the park, and, for others, it is an insurmountable task.  For me, it was somewhere in the middle.  It was enough volume to get my attention, but not overwhelmingly intimidating.  


It was fascinating to experience first hand, what the “Production Potters” – particularly those trained in the “Leach Legacy” – have said all along – in essence, if you really want to understand your process, make a significant quantity of the items you are making.


I should be clear that the goal was never to make identical twins – more like recognizable family.  In our age of mechanized, and otherwise imposed, homogenization, my customer was happy to have recognizable individuality, personality, and variance in the final products.  There was no attempt or desire to disguise the fact that each mug was made by hand.  Artistically and philosophically, this suited me just fine.