Travels with Charlie: The Beauty of Everyday Things
“Aside from the hand of God, there is no tool as astonishingly creative as the human hand. From its natural movements are born all manner of beauteous things. No machine, no matter how powerful, can match its freedom of movement. The hand is nature’s greatest gift to humankind. Without it, beauty could not exist.”
- Soetsu Yanagi. The Beauty of Everyday Things. Selected Essays . . . Penguin Classics 2018.
Our daughter spent four years in Botswana – two years in the Peace Corps and two years facilitating study abroad experiences for international students at the University of Botswana. The above is a cup she brought back. It is hand made, and even signed by its creator.
This is not a museum piece. It is mass produced, albeit by hand, for everyday use. It was not expensive. Yet it is very beautiful – both in its aesthetic and its function. Aesthetically it clearly was created with care, even though designed for the mass market. The proportions are graceful, yet not delicate. It is strong yet not musclebound, so to speak. There is beauty in its imperfection. We have several of these and no two are the same, yet each is special. Part of the beauty comes from harmonious inconsistency – of the glazing in particular, done by hand, each stroke sure and confident but not identical.
In function it is a wonderful everyday tool for tea, coffee whatever. It is balanced and eminently functional. Together, its utility and beauty slow me down and help me to appreciate the moment.
About work done by hand:
“Excluding the beauty of practical objects is a grave error. As our constant companions in life such objects give birth to a feeling of intimacy and even affection. If the workmanship is honest, the more an object is used the more its beauty becomes apparent.” Yanagi
The “trades” are often distinguished from “crafts.” This cup is both. The same holds for work done in the trades – it is both. There is real beauty in a piece of precision milled metal - in both the aesthetic and the function and it comes from the machinist. My mechanic knows when both carburetors are balanced on my motorcycle from the feel he gets from the engine’s vibration, through his hands. He’s a mechanic, and a craftsperson, and a beautifully timed engine is a thing of joy.
So, what’s the point?
There is true beauty in trades work honestly and thoughtfully done.
Working with the hands is an age-old method for gaining satisfaction, creating beauty and utility. It is not the only way to insure engagement in depth with one’s occupation, BUT, those drawn to the trades and crafts, to the trades’ utility and usefulness, and the craft of the creation of a personal signature to the work have a natural connection to fulfilling work through their hands.
Attentive work with the hands focuses and confers satisfaction. Here’s Fellow Julie Torres torquing down a head on an airplane engine, Fellow Lukas Carter’s grandfather’s Model A that he restored, and Fellow Ben Parrish with his Mentor working on a school bus engine.
The careful attention to detail required by each of these projects totally engages our Fellows, building the discipline of attention, which builds depth of learning, which builds skills and opportunities, which builds self-confidence and a broader vision of life’s possibilities.
The critical factor is the Mentor’s guidance and investment in the youth. It is this relationship which makes it all possible. And every Mentor who works with a Fellow reports that they get as much if not more from the experience than the youth. This Fellowship program continues to be transformational for youth, deeply satisfying for Mentors, and re-affirming of the essential generosity of adults working in the trades, all the while providing youth with jobs and businesses with the qualified trades people needed for their future prosperity.
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Charlie Plant Coordinator, Harbor Freight Fellows Program