Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn

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Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster
Summary: American woodworker Peter Korn has been making furniture for over four decades. He traces the course of his life as a craftsman and reflects on how creative work with one's hands contributes to mind/body wholeness.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: February 2017
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781784705060

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'My intuition from the day I first picked up a hammer was that making things with a commitment to quality would lead to a good life,' Peter Korn writes. As an aimless, free-spirited University of Pennsylvania student, he moved to Nantucket Island to earn the rest of his college credits through independent study and happened to be offered a carpentry job. That arbitrary job choice at the age of twenty would come to define the rest of his career. Manual labour was all new to him, but 'from the start there was a mind/body wholeness to carpentry that put it way ahead of what I imagined office work to be.'

Gradually Korn moved from functional work – building houses – to the more rewarding craft of designing and building individual pieces of furniture. He worked at it alone in a garage in Maryland for a year, and then got himself a storefront workshop in New York City. His two years there were rudely interrupted by a bout with Hodgkin's disease, a lymphatic system cancer treated with chemotherapy. That close encounter with death only strengthened his determination to devote whatever time he might have left to worthwhile creative work.

I like the way that Korn presents craftsmanship as an ongoing project of personal development. Despite the breakdown of various relationships, the temporary return of his cancer, and his time being divided between various ventures such as writing woodworking textbooks and teaching summer courses at Anderson Ranch in Colorado, the journey towards excellence at his craft was a constant in his life. Again and again he speaks of art not as a source of profit but as an almost spiritual practice that changes the practitioner for the better:

'the primary motive for doing creative work is self-transformation'

'None of us enter our studios because the world desperately requires another painting or symphony or chair. But none of us takes the work lightly, either, because it entails too much commitment, discipline, and risk of failure. Those who choose to do it professionally, except for the very few who reach the top, could find more effective ways to earn decent livings. The simple truth is that people who engage in creative practice go into the studio first and foremost because they expect to emerge from the other end of the creative gauntlet as different people.'

'creative work is an experiment through which the maker seeks new ways to envision human potential, using himself as the laboratory.'

This short, lucid book contains a pleasant combination of personal experience and philosophical musings on the millennia-old human drive to make things with our hands. Korn even includes black-and-white images and colour plates of some of his signature pieces. Now that he is the director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, his job is more administrative than artistic, but he still sees his role as being to shepherd new works of art into life. Anyone who has a creative aspect to their work or a hobby that involves craftsmanship in some way will appreciate this book-length argument for how creativity enhances our lives, making them 'richer in meaning and fulfillment than they might be otherwise.'

Further reading suggestion: The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making by David Esterly and The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal are two more recommended memoirs about craftsmanship.

Buy Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn at Amazon.com.


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