Once upon a time, all things were made by hand. Craftspeople, artists, artisan masters, journeymen and apprentices defined the look and feel of everything around those who could afford a few luxuries (back in times where even a chair was a luxury as most just had a stool). With the advent of the industrial revolution, machine tools, and mass production everyone is now allowed a shot at well-designed space.
However many of us still have deep admiration for those who choose to create by hand. And by hand, I mean those who actually use “hand tools” to cut, carve, shape, paint, weave, form and join. Of course there might be a few power tools used in the process to gather and shape the bulk materials. But just as hand sketching connects the artist with their subject (compared to using a CAD program), hand tools bring intimacy to the materials used in one’s craft.
Recently in Japan, I’ve had the opportunity to personally meet and talk with a variety of craftsmen: lacquer ware maker, ukiyo-e (wood block) printer, damascene artist, furniture maker, bamboo basket weaver, doll maker, silk embroider, silk textile weaver, potter as well as experts in tea and incense. Each of these people had been perfecting their craft for years, with the damascene fellow up around the 50 year mark. The intensity and dedication of these people was clearly evident. The resulting products were pieces of perfection that western eyes could only believe be made by machine. Yet these devoted but dwindling numbers of craftspeople keep their art alive by practicing it daily and forgoing the riches of more lucrative professions. Most of these craftspeople will oddly admit that they are not experts at all but rather continue to strive for perfection that is never attainable. I would disagree with their modesty.
Shown above was one of the highlights of these encounters. The table is a solid piece of 300 year-old Japanese cedar that was meticulously shaped and finished. A combination of burned surface and lacquer brings out a deep charcoal-black finish that is warm and sensuous to touch. Inside the middle of the block is a carved depression for a forged iron insert. This can hold charcoal to heat pots hung on the hook above. What a great place to roast your marshmallows, no? As for the price the answer is not for the faint of heart. But with similarly matching chairs and the right style room it would make a centerpiece like no other.
Perhaps it is our western sensibility that limits appreciation of such works by most. Look around your home now and count how many handmade objects and pieces of furniture you possess. Why so few? (Apologies in advance for those who collect.) High cost is perhaps the biggest obstacle as well as our desire for popular and readily obtained pieces. Yes, we throw in an antique or two, but even those were perhaps made by machine?
Unfortunately, most people won’t have an opportunity to have a home full of handmade furniture and art. But perhaps next time you’re in the market for something new, consider something made by hand or even commissioning something custom for yourself. (For more pieces like the one shown above… visit http://www.kobo-moku.com/sakuhin/ and run your cursor over the squares on the page)