Category Archives: Musings

What is he?

I stumbled across this poem by DH Lawrence and, well, I like it. So I thought I’d share it here.

“What is he?”
dh lawrence

What is he?
-A man, of course.
Yes, but what does he do?
-He lives and is a man.

Oh quite! But he must work. He must have a job of some sort
Because obviously he’s not one of the leisured classes.
-I don’t know. He has lots of leisure. And he makes quite beautiful chairs.

There you are then! He’s a cabinet maker.
-No, no
Anyhow a carpenter and a joiner.
-Not at all.

But you said so
-What did I say?
That he made chairs and was a joiner and carpenter
-I said he made chairs, but I did not say he was a carpenter.

All right then he is just an amateur?
-Perhaps! would you say a thrush was a professional flautist, or just an amateur?

I’d say it was just a bird
-And I say he is just a man.
All right! You always did quibble.

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Process of Creation

One thing I really appreciate is seeing the process of creating when it comes to developing a new design/product  As a novice, seeing the first rough prototypes makes me feel better about my own work, and helps me in developing my own skills.  To that end, here’s a photo sequence showing the first 3 prototypes for a bottle opener.  The first attempt is at the top.

The first attempt didn’t go well, I ended up with a curve in the bit that needed to be straight, and the part that was straight needed to be curved.  In the second attempt I was able to refine the curves but realized I need to make the top bar a good bit longer, which led to the third piece.  The third piece turned out very well, and I finished it with a bit of copper wire:

I need to extend the top bar further in the next one, I didn’t have a bottle to test on that day.  Note to self:  keep a 6 pack of bottled cokes around for testing!

At this point in my learning progression getting the order of operations down is the critical step in a project.  At the moment, with a project like this, I try to get a working model and then figure out the length of parent stock I need.  From there I can work out the steps to create more as efficiently as possible.  It may sound like mass production, but it’s really craft production of the sort that’s been done for centuries.

That’s a brief glimpse into my current design process for these small projects.  I’m sure my process will evolve over time as my skills improve.

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February 7, 2015 · 3:00 pm

Art vs. Craft aka “Craftfolk can be Artists Too”

Recently I was told, in a friendly manner, that I shouldn’t be down in the Craft area of a market. I should be up in the Artist area because my work was “good enough”. I appreciated the sentiment and their appraisal of my skill, but not the attitude. Blacksmithing, like other traditional crafts, seems to exist in a limbo somewhere between craft and art. It’s not “craft” in the modern sense, because you can’t buy the materials at the local BigBoxStore. It’s (often), not art, because most of it can’t be hung on a wall and it’s not a painting for-goodness-sakes. This perceived dichotomy between “art” and “craft” has been on my mind for a while. I’m not the first person to address this subject and I’m far from the most eloquent or qualified. Still, I wanted to explain what the terms mean to me, if for no other reason than to have something to point to the next time someone says, “Oh, but you’re an artist! You should be [over there/up there/down there/in there] with the artists!” I began my own thoughts about art with a simple statement: “Craft is useful, art is useless.” I formed this statement after reading a few things on Robin Wood’s and Jarrod Stone Dahl’s respective (excellent) blogs and watching a few videos where Barn the Spoon talks about why he makes spoons. It a statement that generally gets a reaction, and it’s supposed to. It is stated in the simplest terms, but they still require clarification. What I mean by that statement is that art objects, in a strictly functional sense, are useless. An example would be exquisitely carved spoons that are bent at angles which make them impossible to use as an eating or cooking utensil. Craft, in contrast, is the finely decorated and made spoon that is sturdy enough to be used for years mixing up cake batter and biscuit dough. Craft is that cherished mug, or spoon, or plate, or pen, or any other handmade object we find ourselves using day after day, that brings a simple pleasure to whatever we are doing. There was an article in a local paper, recently, about the renewal of pottery traditions in the area. In it there’s a quote that sums up what I’m trying to say quite well:

“I’m not making art, I’m making pottery,” Stewart said. “I find it infinitely more charming when someone calls me up seriously distressed because they broke their coffee mug and it’s the only one they want to use. It becomes something that they hold and put their lips on and their food in. It integrates with their life in a way that a painting can’t.”

So, my definition of art and craft has become a little more nuanced. I suspect it will continue to do so. One thing that my earlier definition doesn’t address is that neither is “better” than the other, at least in terms of cultural or social value. Artists provide a valuable service to the community. My reaction isn’t to art itself, it’s to the belief that anything hand made, and made reasonably well, is “art” and thus some sort of luxury or something that should be put on a pedastal. I want to see the hand-made become part of daily life again. Ultimately the reason I say I work at a craft, not an art, is because craft produces that which helps us live our everyday lives. I see it as a complement to the local food movement. The “Local Craft” movement, then, is where the plate you eat off of was made by the potter or woodturner down the road. Where the cheese on that plate came from the local dairy. Not out of necessity, because of “The End of the World As We Know It”, but out of choice. A choice made because we, as a society, have reached a point where we appreciate having quality items made by someone we know, or at least can meet face to face, over quantity. Not something that should be forced on people, either, simply something that will strike a chord in the souls of enough people to become a self-sustaining movement even here, in relatively rural Mississippi. I guess, what I’m trying to say, is I aspire to be a craftsman (who sometimes makes art), not an Artist who draws from a craft.

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The King of Crafts

Blacksmithing is sometimes known as “The King of Crafts”, and you’ll hear a phrase “by hammer and hand all crafts do stand” if you hang around blacksmiths enough.  They come from an oft-told story, the origins of which I’m unsure.  Here’s one version courtesy of



THE story is told that many years ago the King of England had all the the Guild Masters of the various guilds to dinner at the palace.
DURING dinner, a violent argument broke out concerning which craft was most important, and which craftsman should be known as “King of Craftsmen”. The King ordered silence and once all were quiet, he said,

“There can be only ONE King, and I am he! But I will decide which is the most important craft, and permit the leader of the guild hall for that craft to be seated at my table with me and he shall be known as King of Craftsmen.

HE ordered all of the guild masters to stand on one side of the banquet hall. Calling them to the throne one at a time, he questioned each, then sent them to the opposite side of the hall from those who had not yet been questioned. He ordered his Sgt. at Arms to immediately strike off the head of any who spoke except in answer to a question from the King.
THE FIRST craftsman that he spoke with was a carpenter. The King asked what he made. The carpenter told the King that he made all things of wood. House, wagons, wheels, looms an so on. The King asked where he got the wood. The carpenter said that he went to the forest, and cut down trees with his ax, then brought the logs to his shop where he used other tools to cut the wood down to size and shape it. The King then asked where he got his tools, and the carpenter answered that he got them from the blacksmith.
THE SECOND craftsman was a weaver. The King asked the same questions that he had asked the carpenter, and got similar answers. When the King asked the weaver where he got his tools, the weaver said that he got them from the blacksmith.
THE THIRD craftsman was a potter. When the King questioned him, he admitted that he too got his tools from the blacksmith.
BY this time, the King had noticed the trend. So he questioned all of the craftsmen EXCEPT for the blacksmith. Each answered that yes, he got his tools from the blacksmith.
FINALLY, the King called the blacksmith to the throne. When he asked the blacksmith where he got His tools, the blacksmith answered that he made them himself, for no one else could make tools for the working of iron.
AT that point, the King called all of the Guild Masters back to the throne.
HE announced that he had made his decision. Since the blacksmith was the only craftsman who did not have to obtain his tools from some one else, but made them for himself, that henceforth and forever more, the Blacksmith would be known as the King of Craftsmen and would be the ONLY craftsman permitted to wear a fringe upon his work apron.


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