Making things matters
Rockport — The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship will host a book launch party Saturday, Nov. 9, from 3 to 5 p.m. for “Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman” by Peter Korn. The nonprofit school is located at the corner of Mill Street and Route 90.
Giving a tour of the school he started in 1992, Korn, who is its executive director, is like a parent, proud and excited by what his offspring has become. He describes the various spaces, introducing students and faculty along the way, asking about a project, sharing a joke.
The school offers courses to everyone from rank beginners to seasoned artists; it also provides studio fellowships — free workshop space — to professional woodworkers exploring new creative avenues. Recently opened is a new wood-turning studio, which will be put to use in the new 12-week wood-turning course starting in January. The course will be the only one of its kind in the world, Korn said.
This is Korn's third book, but it is a departure from the first two in that it is not a how-to book. It took shape as Korn mused on questions about what he called “the why of craft” — why do it, why is it satisfying, why is it important — over a period of eight years. Its roots go even further back, Korn said, to the 1960s, when he and others of his generation became interested in the question of what is a good life.
“The question led me to become a woodworker and then a craftsman,” he said.
Approaching his aesthetic questions like a craftsman, Korn used writing as a tool to shape and refine his perceptions into a book that is part philosophy of craft, part vocational autobiography. To the extent that it is philosophy, he said, “I hope it describes the world people actually live in.”
If woodworkers are the inmost circle of the audience for “Why We Make Things,” Korn also hopes to appeal to surrounding rings of craftspeople, artists and others interested in pursuing creativity. The central epiphany of the book is that people make art — or engage in other creative pursuits — for self-transformation.
To illustrate, Korn told how in his 30s he had to write an artist's statement describing his work. He said he hoped his work possessed integrity, simplicity and grace. A decade later, he was working with someone on another artist's statement and realized he had become a craftsman to acquire integrity, simplicity and grace himself.
Asked if craftsmanship could be a spiritual practice, he agreed, but cautioned that while creativity affects and is affected by the human spirit, he saw nothing otherworldly about it. “Spiritual enlightenment is not on the table,” he writes in the book's introduction.
Now immersed in running the school and teaching, Korn said he does only about one woodworking project a year. He smiled at the irony that he now has the home wood shop he always wanted and almost no time to use it.
He chooses to teach the basic woodworking course — although he could teach whatever he wanted — in part because he is no longer an active woodworker. The people who teach the advanced courses are professional furniture makers “and they're better at it than I am,” he said. But Korn also likes to teach the basic class because “I really like working with people at the beginning of their woodworking journey.”
“It's a matter of teaching people, more than anything, how to see,” he said, adding he loves seeing new students get excited as a new door opens for them.
Korn is also looking forward to opening some new doors for the school. In the next couple of years he hopes to start 12-week courses in wood carving and finishing that will be the first of their kind in the world. And he wants the school to develop connections with artists on the frontiers of furniture design.
The world of woodworking is a very small one, he says. To illustrate his point, he said, “This is the top woodworking school in the world right now. If this is the top school in the world, you know it's a small world.”
Refreshments will be served at the launch party, and Korn will speak briefly. To attend, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah E. Reynolds is copy editor for the Courier Gazette and Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, ride her ATV and play word games.