Glassworker/Leatherworker
An exchange of comments about their crafts
April, 2013


Leatherworker:

"I've been thinking about you, the artist, and about me, the artist.  Wondering if you experience the same odd behaviour that I do when showing my work to others.

Went to dinner as guest of a successful surgeon.  At dinner I experienced that lack of interest in my work that makes me not want to bother pushing details to anyone not obviously interested in it.  His wife tried to get the guy to focus on the belt pouch I was wearing (I had given her my rap about the materials, the construction, the design, that you have heard before) and even asked me to show it to him.

He gave it the most peremptorily polite but superficial and distracted look, and could hardly wait for me to take it back.  I'm used to that by now, and it only reinforces my intention to wait until truly interested persons see what I make and not to bother pushing it on anyone who doesn't express real fascination.  Even when some old friends visited last week, they stood back from my workbench and didn't pick up any of the objet d'art I placed out for them to handle.  I could not have been able to NOT touch all of them, but maybe that is just me, in all the world, who has that fascination and love of leather and interest in the way things are made of it.

Art is so funny: the baring of one's soul, putting out there for the world to see and judge it, the artist's need for recognition, the insult of having it ignored, the self-doubt that making it is a significant activity, the realization that it is personally fulfilling but perhaps of no meaning at all to anyone else, etc.  

Once again, I will wait for what appears to be only a few percentage points of the public who can make anything out of my creations.  And again, it is very much more for me that I make things, than for anyone else.  

Your work can be viewed from an arm's length and appreciated strictly on a visual level, so (correct me if I'm wrong) it need not be a handling experience to supplement the visual.  But for my work, a great part of the appeal of the finished product no less than the actual construction process is the wonder of the hand-finished skin.  From the beginning, it is the substance most like our own skin, the very covering of the hand that handles it.  That is so obvious to me, and yet very few people who see my work ever bother to handle it, to look closely at the construction, the finish, the touch-and-feel of the surfaces, the transitions between parts of the assembly, the burnished edges and seams, the fastening devices, the grain and character of the different skins and tanning, etc.

I can talk about all that to the viewer, but those attributes speak their own, dedicated language.  That is what it is all about, for me.  Of course things have to work for the user, the hand and body, and that is another aspect of the design and construction and execution of a concept in leather.  Unlike purer forms of art (it might be argued) like your glasswork, my objects have to fulfill a primary function, serving as a vessel or as a minimal foot protector.  That's an ancient motive and implicit in good design is economy of material, form-follows-function, that has been my driving force since I studied design science and realized the connection to art with a small "a".   I can try to explain all that to someone who's never handled a richly-finished leather vessel, but I think we can all appreciate those qualities on a primal level and I'm continually shocked by MOST people's lack of desire to hold and touch and flex and open and close the things I make.

Even my leather-brethren, people who've made leather objects for decades, often seem not to see the importance of transitions and economy of material - those lessons from nature - when they design and make bags and sandals for sale.  It's lonely up here at the top (he said with humility).

Next Saturday begins my summer community centre outdoor market gig.  I bought into a couple advertising brochures, I may have told you, this time, so I'm pretty serious about it.  The market community has been welcoming and friendly: leather is a craft they've not had there yet.  There is a cachet to leatherwork and in bringing my obscure art or craft to the 25 - 50 tables (it varies throughout the summer, but I'll be there every time) of ceramics, drawings, baked goods, vegetables and other expected local goods.

Like you, I'm relentless, and not dependent upon support and praise, so I'll keep making things and showing them, regardless of sales and recognition.  It would help, but it isn't my guiding light.  I'm starting with high prices, based upon the labour time and rare materials (all of which were part of my kit since I made my last tannery purchase in 1984, when I had my little Garberville shoppe).  If I don't sell anything this summer, I'll reduce prices, but my experience has been that either people get it or don't, and when they do, the price doesn't get in the way.  And since it isn't vital to our economy (yet) that I sell stuff, I'll try and set a standard and hope that my skills and finish convince people of the values.  We'll see.

How is your work coming along?  I'm in brochures with other glass artists; I'd like to hear your take on their work since you are surely a highly knowledgeable glass maker now.  Maybe we'll get a chance sometime this summer to see and talk about this stuff.  I honestly don't feel that I have many others who understand what I've said as wholly as you do.

I had to stop hand sewing for a few weeks when my left arm elbow pain was diagnosed as "tennis-elbow".  I'm taking a powerful anti-inflammatory and I seem to be healing.  I changed my procedure now, and it doesn't hurt when I use a saddlers awl to punch the holes (I do it into thick rubber, so that I'm not using my left hand and arm to support the leather).  I feared I was going to have to quit saddle stitching, probably the most satisfying part of the process."

The Glassworker responds:

"The life of an artist sucks sometimes.  I am most happy when I am creating.  I have rested my mind on the theory that if I like what I have created it is valuable art.  To hell in a hand basket with the rest of it.  Regarding the tactile urges associated with leather, I take it as a BIG compliment when someone has an overwhelming urge to touch my glass.  I think we as humans have to experience beauty with all of our senses.  Some people have never turned on that sense of wonder and admiration for things made by others - the ability to admire another's creation with eyes, hands, nose, mouth ... at very least admire a piece because it is finely crafted. When I see art I really really like I usually have the urge to taste it as well as to touch it. 

Unlike you I think I am still in the early stages of developing my expression of art...the physics of glass is so challenging that sometimes I have to put creativity on a back burner.  I love a challenge and I live on the edge so I still have many pieces break.  When they do make it and I like the finished product I keep the price high.  If a piece doesn't sell I am happy to keep it around.  I end up giving my art away, so I sell less because I can't get the money I think I deserve.  

The reality of my art is that I can choose two different paths.  I can get very creative and go out on a limb and risk going over the head of many people.  Or I can focus on the craft and do something that appeals to more people.  Many people like art that they can recognize like mountains, trees, birds.  Some people cannot look into a piece of art and let their mind go, they need to see something familiar and comfortable.  So I have my more commercial art glass and my more abstract and daring glass art.  Generally people like one OR the other.

That feeling of rejection is tough but it is pretty short-lasting for me.  Art is too precious to waste on those who cannot see it.  It's like we speak a different language. I can dump those people or make the relationship work without mentioning my art and still be good friends.  In the end the process of creating is the best part for me.

Art is based in emotion, both in its making and in the people who view it from the outside (consumer).  There are so many ups and downs ... we have to be brave and resilient and believe that what we are making has value.  Today I sold $1200 of art and I think I have someone coming back tomorrow to buy a $1200 bowl. Remind me about today's success when the draught hits again.  It is an amazing thrill when people "get" what you do."


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