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In Search of Loveliness

Wednesday 14 June 2017 Journal Entry

I’ve spent over 50 years living with beauty. It’s not the stuff taught in schools by schools but it is learned mostly by seeing it in contrast with the unlovely. Unloveliness is the stuff local authorities and standardisation of things put together by government produces where utilitarianism dominates and justifies the creation of ugliness. Schools themselves generally project utilitarianism because they know little of loveliness and beauty and therefore the curriculum of loveliness remains mostly unwritten. But the stuff of the unlovely creates the marked contrast that makes the lovely stand out from the rest. It makes it easier to spot when you see it and this is often what makes beauty so awe-strikingly exemplary.

I don’t think loveliness is necessarily taught but somehow, almost in obscured ways, it is indeed learned by many but not all. I think I learned about craft loveliness, to really look for it in work and workmanship, mostly from a mother who spoke of such things when she saw exemplary workmanship in the passing of  her day. I saw her once look at a man’s sewing of hand-stitched buttonholes and she had nothing to say because the work seemed so perfect to her. I sensed the impact of the work on her because of the way she stopped and the work held her. I remember the time she herself took performing the same task hand sewing wedding dresses, making silk-covered buttons and such, her work was exemplary too, but she always felt she should improve. So I look for loveliness in handmade because in handmade is skill and in skill is lifestyle and in lifestyle, if loveliness has its place, and it does, a man’s work ethic and a woman’s work ethic revolves around kindness, patience and love in which loveliness then can coexist protectedly.

Joseph Sellers first guitar aged 16 years.

My working with loveliness emerging from the edge of a finely sharpened chisel and plane, the curve of a fine gouge and the spokeshave, has been my way out from mass making and the mass making methodology surrounding it. It, my lifestyle creating lovely things, has been the way of life it was for my mother and other people who influenced my searching out the beauty in the well designed and well made of beautiful things. Sharing loveliness with others in the making of things then becomes the vehicle by which relationships flourish. Working with hand tools allows for continuous conversations whereas working solely by machine markedly stymies it at best. I think my constant search for loveliness usually means looking to the past and perhaps less and less the present or future, which often saddens me because I see an acceptance of utilitarianism in design. That I don’t look to modern makers very much for lovely handmade work has become a symptom of modern output. I see mostly utilitarianism is all the more accepted as the distance between the organic of hand made grows ever greater; the sad reality of a shifting culture in modernity. I walk past work and see all the more the domino effect of our time, the upgrade from biscuits that unite box-like forms of ply and MDF. Many dominoes make light work in many ways to replace the single tenon of the past that to me seems so simple and easy. And then, too, you must add into the equation some very odd configuring for dominoes to work, which can indeed take longer than the basic tenon.

I’m far from convinced that some work is good when utility prevails so. I wonder if in a hundred years time the dismantling of work in MDF and pressed-fibre board will be pass muster or at all considered exemplary. I somehow doubt it. But the mechanical formulas mostly lack the organic vibrancy I have seen throughout my life. This element, loveliness, seems all too often acceptedly missing. So, for me at least, loveliness missing meant utility prevailed. Loveliness for me always becomes defined by the organic refinement handwork brings in three-dimensional realms and this then pulls me into a fourth-dimension.

I am however always encouraged by the wonderful and lovely writing of a USA writer, Jonathan Binzen who writes for Fine Woodworking. He discovers workers of fine workmanship and brings them to light.

When I work with some certain tools I am  naturally pulled into realms of skilfulness. My body muscle, mind and tendon searches by nano-seconds for precise direction and pressure. I’m translated into a sphere of creating loveliness by the doing of it and my searching apprehends what cannot be bought without my willingness to sell it. I have spent my entire working life searching out loveliness. This would be the work the wealthy who did little bought from the ones who made everything but owned almost nothing—the era in which people of success were admired and measured by what they owned paying others working for them very little. Of course they made so very little themselves, and manorial homes testify to that fact of life alone. I am sure we have forgotten how that era in British history worked and its a funny thing that the loveliness in workmanship saw two principle elements of culture exist side by side. Loveliness against unloveliness—poor crafting artisans created loveliness for the wealthy to luxuriate and revel in.

So, mostly I do find loveliness in what was made in past eras, mostly over a century ago. I saw a leather glove folded in two along its length and draped softly over the rim of a wicker basket. Two buttons, lightly braided with the same thin leather accentuated the whole and the composition was picture perfect and then handcraft perfect. Hand stitched, hand woven. Two crafts reflecting the age when beauty was made by the have-nots for a few pence and the have-all’s lived in all-entitlement. Perhaps, truth be told, had the have-all’s not procured such works of art to be made we would be without such beautiful crafts, but the disparity was indeed too great. When I look at some hand tools I see the same beauty in the tools made by the have-nots mostly for the other have-nots. This elevated the makers of tools to places of higher respect. Even the have-all’s cherished such things made by the have-nots, but I look on a certain era of tool making where the ultimate levels of loveliness became such that they were truly priceless.

11 comments

  1. John Carruthers says:

    It’s a pleasure to watch you work and see the pleasure you get from working Paul.
    I started as a glazier at 14 on the sites and was lucky enough to watch some very good craftsmen, and learn by watching. My first boss said “you must be a thief with your eyes” and my old mum said “as you go through life you’ll learn something new every day – if you’re lucky”.
    I still have my old tools collected from various disciplines, most have my finger and thumb prints worn into the wooden handles, they will fit no one else.
    I am gradually gathering a set to leave my grandson one day, boot fair finds mostly, I refuse to pay ‘collectors’ prices.
    Back to the videos………

    • kddomingue says:

      That was a great saying that you learned from your boss….”you must be a thief with your eyes”. It’s something that I’ve done as far back as I can remember but never coined a term or phrase for it. I shall use your boss’s phrase from now on.

  2. Michael Rodgers says:

    I agree that beauty cannot be taught, in part, because words are inadequate to fully express beauty. As a college teacher, I want to expose my students to beautiful things and try to help them to appreciate and understand why a particular piece of art or musical composition is beautiful. I also agree with your assessment of the schools and their neglect of teaching the appreciation of beauty. I believe there are many cultural reasons for this neglect which has been the subject of many books. It’s a shame too as I remember my first exposure to classical music as a young child in grade school. As it turned out, it significantly impacted me and probably indirectly influenced my passion for architecture, carving and woodworking. Thanks for another insightful post!

  3. Tom Heller says:

    Excellent sentiments. I am in awe of the beauty created by hand work in times without the luxuries we take for granted today. Does this teach us anything about human nature?

  4. Caerlynn says:

    …. the problem with utilitarianism seems to be that these grab-crab things hardly survive the guaranty span. Utilitarianism – what an useless word for such a perverted concept.

  5. Clark Douglas says:

    My use of hand tools will not necessarily result in beauty. I don’t have the “eye”, and I know it.
    So I am unashamedly mostly a power tool guy. But I do try to use beautiful materials as partial compensation.

  6. Bryan mcphee says:

    I flew with the USAF in the 70’s, many times we would hear conversations between Texans and British controllers. I think I understand more of that dynamic now (your UK.,Texas background).

    While I appreciate the UK’s career tracking vice us (little johnny screw up in the last minute of his 14th year in grade school, will see the light and goto Harvard. I feel the. Us is heading on the same path eh. Devaluing the trades and send in us case sending kids to Kolij to get indoctrinated, incur a huge debt, only yo work at McDonald’s.
    No more British passenger planes or fine automobiles, this from a nation that built plywood fighter planes and gave the world the Jaguar, Rolls and Mini

  7. Joel Cress says:

    “Loveliness against unloveliness—poor crafting artisans created loveliness for the wealthy to luxuriate and revel in.”
    My mother used to always say, “Never bite the hand that feeds you.”

    You definitely have strong feelings against the wealthy who have exploited the working class. In light of fallen humanity, there will be those who certainly do so. At the same time, I am convinced that the wealthy are the only ones that can afford to keep the creation of beauty alive. My staunchly middle-class peers are more than satisfied to live in horrid McMansions, toy around in little boxcars, and purchase Chinese mass-produced goods that outlast the products of the past (I don’t necessarily “buy” the complaint that all things are worse than they used to be, car tires being an example), but positively ugly. With more variety of goods available than ever before in human history, why settle for a few beautiful things, when I can afford a bazillion ugly toys?

    I know a man who is a fine upholsterer. He always helped my family with our upholstery needs for a while, but eventually convinced us that we could buy a whole new piece of furniture cheaper than having him reupholster it. His entire craft is supported by those with the means to pay for his craftsmanship. In the end, I can’t really tell the difference between a machine stitch in China and a machine stitch made by this craftsman in his shop down the road. In the end, the joy is almost entirely his and his alone…and perhaps the joy of the wealthy who know who is doing the stitching…

  8. Mike Durham says:

    I will quote you, “I wonder if in a hundred years time the dismantling of work in MDF and pressed-fibre board will be pass muster or at all considered exemplary.” No it will not! There may be a few that can create loveliness with these materials, but they will never last. Because they are designed in general to fail in a few years. Water based glues and too much emphasis on Environmentally friendly processes force too much focus on the bottom line of Money. Mass produced things have to be quick and easy and there is no time or profit in finding better solutions. We should be good stewards of the environment, and I have no problem with people making profits. However the world today seems much more interested in profits than craftsmanship and loveliness. I wish the world would would just slow down a little and take time to appreciate LOVELINESS in all of its forms. We would all be a little better off.

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