There is an old response familiar to master craftspeople when asked how long it might have taken to produce a particular work—“about a few hours and thirty years.” Namely that the ability to make something well is the product of a lifetime of practice and refinement focused on what could be the work of only a few moments. Before the industrial revolution forever changed the means by which things could be made, everything was the labor of human hands. But the decision by the contemporary maker to forgo convenience or expediency now in favor of the slow work of the hand is to question the assumed advantages of industrial production.
The craftsperson does not choose a more difficult, skill-centered method of production from a lack of awareness of other expedient means of manufacture. Whatever their individual reason, they do it because they consider the work of the hand to be important, to have value. Value for the maker, who we romantically understand as enriched by their work, value for the object, made individually according to the rightness of its production, and value for the intended audience, who receive the work with an understanding that it’s making was deliberate, not simply pragmatic.
The advantage of the handmade, I believe, is empathy. It is a means to connect the maker and the recipient, to humanize each through the eyes of the other. Who does not feel an unbidden surge of respect for the maker in the presence of an incredible object? What maker pours themselves into their craft without a care or thought for those who might enjoy it? The object persists, but what endure are the makers.
“Tartine Bakery rejects convenience when it means compromise in quality or vision: Convenience is a description rarely applied to artisanal craft production. I’ll gladly take it when, and if, I can find it on our terms. Pretty much everything we do is the harder way—but I’m always looking for an easier way… just with no compromise. Two things we are soon making even harder as we grow: No more pre-brewed coffee starting next week; only pour over Blue Bottle. And focus on fresh milled flour from more regional grains for both our bread and pastry with the opening of Tartine Manufactory in the fall of this year.” —Chad Robertson, CEO/Co-Founder
PHILLY BIKE COALITION
“It’s hard to imagine now, but most cities were never designed for cars. Most roads and sidewalks in the 19th and early 20th centuries were seen as public spaces to which all citizens had equal rights. Today, we use terms like “jaywalker” to describe a person who’s had their right-of-way taken from them.
As urban centers have grown in recent years, so has cycling. In Philadelphia, nearly 40,000 people regularly ride their bikes to work in spite of our streets having been completely taken over by thousands of speeding cars, trucks and buses. Bicycling represents, in cases of distances of four miles or less, the fastest, most convenient way to travel in a city.”
But bicycling can be scary for someone not used to riding alongside several-thousand pound motor vehicles. Groups like the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia are attempting to quash this fear by lobbying our city to install physically-separated bike lanes on our streets, and off-street trails for cyclists and pedestrians that provide safer spaces and ease some tensions cyclists often feel on city streets.
The act of being a cyclist actually makes you, and everyone around you, safer. When more people use street-visible alternatives to motor vehicles, drivers are forced to adapt and inevitably slow down. Slower streets makes a potential cyclist more likely to join you on the road, and as more people ride their bikes, cities become more likely to build safe infrastructure, which additionally makes everyone safer and, well, gets more cyclists out on the streets.” —Randy LoBasso, Communications Manager
TAD CARPENTER CREATIVE
“As designers and artists, we chose a road that is not paved but rocky and constantly changing. Our parents wanted us all to be lawyers and doctors, but we said no. We decided to take a risk. We decided to follow our hearts and do something we love. That decision was making a conscious effort to do something the hard way. As a designer who runs his own studio, there are a lot easier ways to make a living. Those other options aren’t better or worse, but at times seem as if they could be an easier lifestyle. But those other options, they ain’t me. Those options are not why I chose to do what I get to do. One of the greatest gifts of being a creative is being able to take comfort and joy in controlling your own destiny. Your life, your work, your outcome is based on what you make in the world. That is a very liberating and scarring thing. I wouldn’t change it for a second.” —Tad Carpenter, Founder
BUTCHER & LARDER
“When we decided to open The Butcher & Larder, its sole purpose was to not so much reject convenience, but do our part to bring back the way things used to be. At our store, there is total transparency. You see large cuts of meat in our cases alongside handmade sausages, pâtés and deli meats like summer sausage, roast beef and ham. And everything is cut to order based on what the customer wants. Behind the shop, though, there is a window into our cutting room where you can see us cutting whole animals that we buy directly from the farm. None of this is easy. None of this is conventional or convenient, but to me there is no other way. Why should I be just another meat market that orders pork chops by the case and salami from a factory? In our cases you see cuts of meat that may be unfamiliar, but a quick conversation with one of the butchers will not only send you home confident in how to cook it, but with the understanding that there are a lot more cuts of meat on an animal than the ones you know, and those cuts are just as (if not more) delicious and usually a little less expensive. We could make things easier on ourselves, but it would totally defeat the purpose of why we are here.” —Rob & Allie Levitt, Founders
This article was written by Perry A. Price, Director of Education for the American Craft Council, and originally published in Issue 07 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly. The Mohawk Maker Quarterly is a vehicle to support a community of like-minded makers. Content focuses on stories of small manufacturers, artisans, printers, designers, and artists who are making their way in the midst of the digital revolution. Learn more about the quarterly here and sign up to receive future printed issues.