Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman
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In this moving account (endorsed by America's most famous woodworker, Nick Offerman, who calls it "Generous and touching . . .[An] excellent book"), Peter Korn explores the nature and rewards of creative practice. We follow his search for meaning as an Ivy-educated child of the middle class who finds employment as a novice carpenter on Nantucket, transitions to self-employment as a designer/maker of fine furniture, takes a turn at teaching and administration at Colorado's Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and finally founds a school in Maine: the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, an internationally respected, non-profit institution.
Through this beautiful exploration, Korn works to get at the "why" of craft, in particular, and at the satisfactions of creative work, in general - to understand their essential nature. How does the making of objects both reflect and refine our own identities? What is it about craft and creative work that makes them so rewarding? What are the natures of those rewards? How do the products of creative work inform society? In short, what does the process of making things reveal about ourselves? Korn draws on forty years of hands-on experience to answer these questions eloquently in this personal and revealing inquiry.
Peter Korn writes that his work as a furniture-maker tries to accomplish three goals: integrity, simplicity, and grace. Fortunately, these qualities are also what distinguish his writing. In this book, he gives the reader an almost tangible sense of what it takes to be a creative craftsman, a homo faber, a maker of things, which is one of the central elements of the human condition. But he does much more than that: he explores what the search for self and for belonging entails in our rapidly changing times. --Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Peter Korn's brilliant new book resonates with me as a visual artist in a profound way. I share his passion for craft and admire his ability to take a plank of wood and fashion anything he sets his mind to. Throughout the centuries, furniture makers and painters have shared a set of belief systems centered on craft. The pleasure and calm that I get as a painter fashioning a complicated work from colored dirt on canvas is, I believe, the same pleasure and peace that Peter Korn and his students get as craftsmen. --Chuck Close
about ourselves. In particular, Sennett critiques current social and economic conditions for depriving workers of the satisfactions inherent to “doing a job well for its own sake,” which is the essence he distills from craft. His solution is to cultivate an “aspiration for quality” in our workplaces and schools.2 Like Pirsig, Sennett employs the ideal of quality, in the sense of caring about what one does, to address broad philosophical questions: What is the nature of work? What is the nature of
which is one reason why this carpet is not nearly so meaningful to me as a framed embroidery of the Lord’s Prayer that hangs in the hallway upstairs, hand-stitched by a grandmother I never knew. There is only one such sampler in the world, and the family history it confirms is highly perishable, being of direct interest to only six living people. Some of the most common ways in which a craft object attains meaning for a respondent are through information coded into the object by the maker;
I might to remain calm, the fear that formed the weak background radiation of my life would rapidly condense to critical mass. Panicked, I would telephone to move the appointment up. And every time it turned out that the lump I felt was some normal body part, or I had been sleeping with too many blankets, or perhaps anxiety had made me tired. By the time I put my belongings into storage and pointed my van toward Colorado in June of 1981, I was no longer the blissful spirit who had endured six
This makes the transmission of information from one person to another a physiological process, comparable to the spread of a virus.24 Like all living creatures, we cannot shut off sensory intake, and we are acutely receptive to data from our own species. We are so finely tuned to nuances of expression, carriage, speech, and dress that it can take only a glance to accurately place another person within a highly complex sociocultural context. Thus, when you and I interact, your words and actions
potter’s wheel on a platform in front of the audience (plate 16). There, addled as he is, he throws a mammoth wedge of clay with a mastery that no other ceramicist in that tent, or perhaps anywhere, could likely summon. The clay is so outsized that the steel legs of the potter’s wheel break through the plywood of the platform under its weight, and the demonstration resumes on the ground. Witnessing his suddenly sure hands and body at work, it is apparent the clay has summoned a gift that flows