Sunday, April 22, 2012

Craftspeople of another time

These words stilled and caught me up this morning while reading a beautiful book set in the late 1700s:

"Thomas Kellaway was a chairmaker - a profession which required patience, a steady hand and an eye for the shape the wood would best take."
(taken from Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright, p185-86)

"Thomas Kellaway knew his elm and ash, his yew and chestnut and walnut.  He knew what would work and look best for the seat (always elm), the legs and spindles (he preferred yew if he could get it), the hoop for the back and arms (ash). He understood how much he could bend ash before it splintered; he could sense how hard he had to chop at an elm shape the seat.  He loved wood, for he had been using it all his life."
(taken from Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright, p186)

I appreciate very much Chevalier's depiction of the way the craftsman knows his material, is connected to it, loves it and knows its capabilities - how far it can be bent, which type of wood is most flexible or strong.  Think of a sculpter drawing out from marble or stone that which is within, or a potter forming and shaping clay into objects of beauty and function.

I also love the sense of continuity and the passing down of knowledge through the generations of a craft, along with the timelessness this evokes.

At the end of last year, the ABC featured a BBC series, hosted by Monty Don (of Italian Gardens), which looked at a different traditional craft each week - chairmaking, thatching and the like.  Sadly, I only watched one episode and can't remember the name of the program.  However, I was struck by the reverence of and delight taken in the materials used, and the process of transforming or adapting them for the task at hand.  I was also slowed and inspired by the craftspeople and their patience and gentleness in relation to others, nature and life.  Does anyone remember the name of this show? I would love to watch it.

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