Life Without the Chair

In 1852, an English colonialist working in India voiced his complaints about the local workmen. He was particularly irritated and offended that blacksmiths, carpenters, and Masons squatted to work, complaining indignantly, “All work with their knees nearly on a level with their chin: the left hand—when not used as the kangaroo uses his tail to form a tripod–grasps the left knee and binds the trunk to the doubled limbs.” This man was not the first, or the last, to liken people who sit on floors to animals. He was more explicit than many about why he found the posture inferior: it suggested “indolence and inefficiency… especially irritating to an Englishman,” but even more so to one who hires and pays such workmen.

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Villa Maybeck, My Cabinet of Curiosity

An old house has an old soul, and you get the sense that all the souls that have passed through its doors since its construction are speaking to you, the current beneficiary of its many gifts—and, sometimes, its troubles. They speak to you every time you decide to alter the house in some fundamental way—and especially vocal is the architect. You wonder, “How would he or she react if I add this, remove that, or cover over this?” The responses are heard deep within.

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A Video Guide to Craft

The word craft indicates strength or skill. It also means “to make something with one’s hands.” In this issue of Reinventing Home, we’ve heard makers describe their process. Now it’s time to show you how they do it.

We begin with a trip to The American Folk Art Museum in New York which showcases work by people whose skills are self-taught or whose craft was passed on through the generations. Their medium ranges from cloth, wood, and paper to clay and metal. Folk art expresses the identity of a community rather than the individuals. This five-minute film gives an overview of the museum’s collection and shows the range of items–from samplers to hand-carved whirligigs, flags and quilts to decoys and weathervanes, that we have come to think of as uniquely American.

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The Bathroom, Flush with Ideology

In the summer of 2009, I went on a pilgrimage. My destination: The John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan Wisconsin, celebrated for its artist-designed washrooms. The institution itself has a long history of bringing together art and plumbing through its Arts/Industry program, which offers artists the opportunity to produce work in the company’s pottery (one of the world’s largest), iron and brass foundries and enamel workshop. In this sense, the Kohler washrooms can be seen as the consummation of the company’s interest in uniting the most basic of human needs—the need to urinate and defecate—with the most elevated of our faculties—the ability to appreciate beauty.

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Spirit of the American City

When admiring art, we often imagine standing where the artist once stood. Here we share works by some of our favorite printmakers, ranging from the teeming masses of humanity by Benton Spruance to the lonely solitude of Edward Hopper. Drawn to urban sophistication and glamour, most artists embraced a romantic vision of the city even though their prints were created during the trying times of the Great Depression.

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As Good as I Can

My town dump has a used book shed. I take a quick look after my weekly dump run. It is mostly an assortment of romance novels, self-help, and diet books. There are a few gems. I once found a large format book with excellent photographs and historical text about the canyon lands near the four corners of the American southwest. It was written by a geologist and published in 1962. He first hiked and camped in this area with his father in the 1930s. The acknowledgment page was a single sentence: “To my father who taught me not just to look but to see.” If I ever publish a book, I would add, “To my father who taught me to not just build, but build as good as I can.”

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Hand-forging Decorative Ironwork

My career as a blacksmith began with my decision to attend trade school after college instead of going to graduate school. As a student majoring in anthropology, I romantically imagined myself conducting fieldwork among exotic cultures in foreign lands. To do that, I would have to earn a PhD and become a professor, which I fully in- tended to do — I was genuinely interested in the subject matter, and it seemed like a good way to travel, to see the world, and to have a comfortable life. By the time I graduated, however, I felt I needed a break from academia, so I enrolled in a trade school program to learn farriery in my home state of New Mexico. It was a bit of an obscure trade, especially since I had not spent much time around horses up to that point in my life, but the decision didn’t seem too outlandish at the time. I honestly didn’t really think I would stick with it for more than a year or two before resuming my studies and going on to graduate school.

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The Kitchenless Home

With childcare, cooking, and laundry demanding so much time, the question arises, Aren’t there more efficient ways to design the home? This radical idea was first suggested back in 1888: Science fiction author Edward Bellamy described a utopian community with public kitchens and rapid delivery services for food and laundry. Housework of all kinds was centralized and labor kept to a minimum.

Ten years later, feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman championed a kitchenless home that would give women the leisure to engage in more intellectual pursuits

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Modern Housing

When millions were displaced by the Dust Bowl and job loss during the Great Depression, the federal government made housing a priority. The Roosevelt Administration enlisted leading thinkers, collectively known as “housers.” These architects, designers and social scientists challenged barriers to housing for all.

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