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Thread: Wise words for those who build for the pleasure of it

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 1999
    West Boothbay Harbor, Maine

    Default Wise words for those who build for the pleasure of it

    From Kenneth Kortemeier's interesting blog. I see the 'democratic' building spirit reflected in kit building, stitch and glue, SOF boatbuilding and other skills explored at the WB School and elsewhere.

    "I have noticed that many craftspeople try to make their work complicated, unique or mysterious, as a way to help sell it. For some, complexity becomes a marketing strategy. It may be a selling point to show a potential buyer crafting virtuosity and complexity, (hoping) a customer might choose the difficult-to-make product over a simpler one.

    I was once at a craft show and I overheard a furniture maker say, "I hate it when people stop by to consider buying my work and then someone says to them, "Don't buy that. You could make it yourself." It seemed that in the endeavor of trying to sell handwork, having a design that is simple or accessible makes it less marketable.

    (Kenneth's friend and mentor) Bill (Cowperthwaite) turned this on it's head and said, "I don't care how good your spoon or chair or bowl is, I am just glad you made it." He was trying to focus his energies on exploring crafts that were accessible or "Democratic". When Bill spoke of Democratic design he meant that it was within the reach of most people. He liked designs that anyone, with a little encouragement and instruction, could make. Generally speaking, Bill didn't believe that craftspeople should be making stuff to sell. Once, when asked by someone who admired his spoons if he would sell his spoons he replied, "no, but I will teach you to make your own". He thought that the activity of selling took crafts ultimately into production and/or elite-ism or "working for the rich" and away from being Democratic. He once told me, " If you make stuff to sell your going to end up working for the rich, not that there is anything wrong with working for the rich, it's just not what I want to be doing". He designed Democratic tools, furniture, clothing and buildings. In many ways, this pursuit of encouragement through simplicity was his life's work. He made several versions of Democratic axes, scorps and crooked knives. There are several versions of his Democratic bowl carving tools. He designed his shoes and belt buckle (he told me the belt buckle was his favorite design). He enjoyed sharing a simplified knitting technique called 'nalbinding' which he used to make hats and sweaters. This was partly why he was interested in yurts, that they were Democratic, he worked out a simple yet beautiful structure that is inexpensive and accessible to most people. He was interested in encouraging people to begin working with their own hands, so investigating simpler designs, techniques and tools enhanced this goal."
    Last edited by rbgarr; 08-13-2017 at 07:28 AM.
    "It's a pirate's life for me. Savvy??"

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 1999
    Hyannis, MA, USA

    Default Re: Wise words for those who build for the pleasure of it

    There are many recurring themes here. Is it always there in new forms, this generation's Arts & Crafts Movement? Is it still simple when the Shaker Hymn is orchestrated?

    All societies have their baroque or even rococo flourishing that are sometimes quite tasteless, as our president demonstrates so flagrantly, and some are of astoundingly elaborate beauty and functionality as in Indigenous Peoples' bead work or a Vaquero's saddle.

    I helped get the Portland Saturday Market going in the early '70s so I saw the importance of educating public taste and knowledge. Take pottery. Oregon had more potters per square foot than any place on earth and many were very very good. Many more were starting, had shall we say developing (one hopes) skill, and needed a market where their lower quality work could at least pay for clay. And the public needed to learn enough about the craft that it could appreciate not only a cool glaze but also a cup with a rim that would not cause the coffee to dribble down your chin.

    It's symbiotic, market and maker. And it's very good for people to at least fool with stuff enough that they can understand what's really good and what it takes. Like in fourth grade shop when we made table lamps. The base was nothing more than a rectangle with the four upper edges beveled. But making that simple thing to an exact size with all angles true armed only with a saw, a plane, an adjustable square, and a vice . . . I ruined quite a lot of cheap clear pine learning that it's indeed a gift to be simple.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    S.W. Florida

    Default Re: Wise words for those who build for the pleasure of it

    Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter? What does architecture amount to in the experience of the mass of men? I never in all my walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation as building his house. We belong to the community. It is not the tailor alone who is the ninth part of a man; it is as much the preacher, and the merchant, and the farmer. Where is this division of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve? No doubt another _may_ also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.


    I would not be one of those who will foolishly drive a nail into mere lath and plastering; such a deed would keep me awake nights. Give me a hammer, and let me feel for the furring. Do not depend on the putty. Drive a nail home and clinch it so faithfully that you can wake up in the night and think of your work with satisfaction--a work at which you would not be ashamed to invoke the Muse.

    Henry David Thoreau, Walden (LINK)

    Hope the voyage is a long one.
    May there be many a summer morning when,
    with what pleasure, what joy,
    you come into harbors seen for the first time...

    Ithaka, by Cavafy
    (Keeley - Sherrard translation)

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2000
    San Francisco Bay

    Default Re: Wise words for those who build for the pleasure of it

    Democratic Easter egg:

    Republican Easter egg:

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2016
    Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

    Default Re: Wise words for those who build for the pleasure of it

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Fort Worth, Texas, USA

    Default Re: Wise words for those who build for the pleasure of it

    Wow, I just like building something, and I would like to have it look nice/ attractive. And be functional. And better at the job if possible (wishful thinking).

    Didn't realize I needed to consider philosophy.

    I liked the sailboat in the egg. I think I'll be neither Democratic or Republican.

    Sophisticated simplicity was what I tried to push while working.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Wise words for those who build for the pleasure of it

    Quote Originally Posted by rbgarr View Post

    (Kenneth's friend and mentor) Bill (Cowperthwaite) turned this on it's head and said, "I don't care how good your spoon or chair or bowl is, I am just glad you made it."
    There is a book by Coperthwaite that I found well worth reading:

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Rochester, NY

    Default Re: Wise words for those who build for the pleasure of it

    I like 99% of the OP posted. It unfortunate how often you see/hear people on various woodworking and boat building forums try to make things sound overly complicated. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, we want more people involved in our various hobbies not less. We don't want to scare people off! Trying to make our hobby sound all pretentious and unattainable serves no purpose. A larger audience increases the availability of the materials we use while the costs go down.

    Now, I'm not saying that complicated is bad. For example, there is no comparison between my project and the brewer catboat build thread. That guy has amazing skill, light years beyond my current abilities. But maybe, just maybe, someday, I'll build my skills up enough to come close to his ability. Right now I don't have the skills to build a "traditional" wood boat, but I have the woodworking skills to build the relatively simple Diesel Duck. So my choices are to wait 30 years for my skills to develop and then build my dream boat, or work with what I have and get started now. Perhaps down the line, I'll be able to upgrade and build a new boat more traditionally.

    I like when people try something new and unfamiliar, have confidence, you can do it! Maybe the result will not exactly what you want at first, but in time you'll get there.

    I've built furniture pieces for a few people on the side for money. I didn't feel bad doing it. I would have happily had them work along side me so they could learn to do for themselves. However many people don't have the interest or the time. They were not rich people by any stretch, but they wanted a table or a built in that was very specific for their homes. I was able to do it for them at a price that they were happy with. I think it's great to pass on your skills to others, however don't feel guilty if they are not interested and would prefer to just pay to have something done.
    A ship is safe in the harbor, but that's not what ships are for.

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