Where would I be without art shows, specialty stores, and artist cooperatives? They draw me in. I live in a consumer nation, but I long for what is not mass-produced. I caress hand-woven scarves, pick up hand-turned mugs, and grasp the handle to see how it conforms to the shape of my hand. I hold up pottery pieces and peek underneath, not for a price tag, but to see the artist’s signature–a painted scrawl saying hands touched this, hands crafted this.
That hands-on understanding differed when my first-born received a gift. As we opened the present, a yellow baby Big Bird tumbled out of the package along with an identity badge. The worn, taped together factory ID must have accidentally fallen in during packaging. A young Chinese woman, a cog in the wheel an ocean away, stared back at me. “Who are you?” I wondered. “How do you spend your hours and create your life?” Her hand had helped assemble the toy and the packaging, but that was different—it made me sad.
Does love need to be behind the creative process? I buy things from people I don’t know; they don’t love me. I do however believe behind the best handcrafted objects the creator does love the process. And, the love also depends on me: the receiver, the purchaser—in short, the admirer. I appreciate the creation and the creativity. I suppose that is the artist’s high, to have someone appreciate the talent, caress the scarf, and hold the mug.
When I think, “I could make that,” I’m less likely to want to own it. I’m more drawn to other’s handcrafts and art that I can’t create. My admiration for the skills of others is humbling and inspiring. I like to think about the time and contemplation put into an item, the materials, the construction, and the patterns. My fascination comes from the unique combinations and new creations I’ve never seen before. If I could, I’d fill my home with custom-crafted furniture, mismatched pottery, one-of-a-kind jewelry, glass, hand-sewn blankets, wooly hand-made knits, and those grandma-type slippers you can’t buy at a store. I’d be in my element surrounded by the functionally beautiful.
Acquiring the art of others is only half of the equation. I need to create. I get depressed when I can’t. When my hands are empty, my heart empties, and my mind gets into an emotional muddle. I need to make meaning with raw materials. I’m learning how to knit because I have always envied the beauty made by others from a ball of yarn. I want to be able to do that. I’m sure my straightforward stitched scarves fail to impress, but to me the thrill of the piece unfolding is the reward. I believe the mystery I am a part of sustains me, energizes me.
I think about the mysterious Chinese factory worker who worked long hours stuffing Big Birds into display boxes for American children. I hope she knits.
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