Saturday, 8 January 2011

Hand, Head, Heart

The spectre of William Morris in Steve's year-end post reminded me that my own early exposure to a peculiarly American Arts and Crafts movement probably has something to do with the work we're doing here. The story starts in East Aurora, New York—hometown to both my parents, Fisher-Price Toys, and a Morris-inspired reformist crafts community led by a man named Elbert Hubbard. The Roycrofters, as they were called, were makers and menders of the highest order—bookbinders, letter-press printers, stained-glass artisans, copper and blacksmiths, and furniture makers. The history of this place is much too dense to get into here, but suffice to say that their creed was 'Hand, Head, Heart'.
I grew up visiting my grandparents in East Aurora, and can speculate that some of Hubbard's philosophy rubbed off on my parents (with their decade-long back to the land experiment in Vermont) and then was handed down to me. I also inherited a Roycroft writing desk, where I work at home. Or I try to work, but it's difficult because the hinged lid that doubles as the writing surface has been detached from the desk for several years now while I try to find a craftsperson who knows how to repair (or recreate) its intricate brass hinges, which have worn down and don't hold the lid properly anymore. And here lies the irony. The Roycroft campus still exists but the workshop where the desk was created is now a museum. A master-craftsman in Montana offered to help but he decided the job was beyond him. For a couple of years the hinges have been with a company in Maine that makes metal fittings for boats, but they've stopped returning phone calls. So my work surface is a bit cramped, but good for thinking with. Especially as we plan our next excursion to a semi-derelict Victorian mill complex outside Taunton where we'll visit a book-bindery and a stained-glass workshop.

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