Every time I pass the ReBuilding Center in my Portland, OR, hometown, I smile.
They are the center for creative reuse of building materials in Portland and also offer deconstruction services. Interior woodworking, windows, metal details created by artisans of the past are being salvaged and reused today. Don't 'cha like that? If you'd like more information click on the link above.
Writing about my own experiences as a maker of things I thought about the small but meaningful hand-made gifts I received as a child. A hand-tooled child-size leather bag made by my grandpa, a hand-painted cloth doll from mom, a goofy toss-toy from an aunt and uncle.
With dad we brewed our own root beer and hammered and nailed odd bits of this and that together to make unexpected "somethings" that could be a wagon, a boat, a railroad car...whatever we imagined it was. All of those hand-made things were unique, down to the one-of-a-kind labels on the root beer bottles.
These objects were personal, imbued with feeling and memory and connection to someone known. Years ago I worked as a weaver making one-of-a-kind textiles. Invariably I gave them as gifts. Every inch of fiber was touched by my hands during the weaving process. What things do we use in daily life that have that kind of connection to someone we know?
Today hand-makers are called hobbyists, craftswomen, artisans and artists. They are people who, through whatever medium, bring unique objects into being. They engage with the medium - perhaps clay - and manipulate it by hand using the energy moving through their bodies in that moment.
Is that energy purely human? Might it be a flow exchanged between the maker and the medium? We are, after all, composed of earth elements. Is there a synergistic exchange between our bodies and our mediums of choice? Are we connected at a deeper level than the conscious mind is aware of? Do the objects we make resonate with this connection? When others use them, do they feel it?
Our lives today are highly mechanized. Most things we use in daily life are abuzz with electrical currents. The are replicas of replicas; their convenience and speed of connectivity is awesome. We can travel at any moment into worlds of virtual reality through our digital devices. FYI: I love my computer; it's an incredible tool and I use it every day. But it does not replace the almost magical dance between a maker and that which is being made.
Just think about it. The first Apple computer was released in 1977 - we're barely 40 years into the era of computers-for-all (well, almost all). The uprising of mass production of goods that took place during the industrial revolution...began in the mid-1700's. That's only 256 years ago.
Before that, everything used in daily life was made by hand. Likely it was someone we knew who made those wagon wheels, shoes, fabric for our clothes, cobb, clay and wood houses, tipis, cooking pans, clocks, weapons, fishing nets, pottery, saddles, sailing ships and canoes...and of course, our daily bread.
Scientists tell us that the use of stone tools dates back 2.6 millions years. Humans have been making things for a very long time. It's in our DNA - we are part of the continuum of humanity's relationship with the Earth and all things that she nurtures.
It might just be that "making-by-hand" is something we need to do to strengthen the connection between intuitive, creative mind and the physical world, the Earth. And perhaps, too, to help deepen our relationships with one another.
Robin is a Portland, OR native who's lived long enough to remember the transformative era