Immediate and Ordinary Beauty | Lost Art Press

Immediate and Ordinary Beauty | Lost Art Press

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One of the reasons we’ve made Lost Art Press books as durable as possible might seem silly. Perhaps it is the result of growing up in the Cold War, but I’ve always worried that human civilization is on the brink of collapse.

And after that happens – whether it’s from war, climate or economics – people will need to build things without the help of YouTube or television. Maybe our books (which have already endured floods, babies and dog attacks), will survive as well.

Lately, however, my morning walks into Cincinnati have changed my mind.

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Just about every morning I walk along a stretch of the Ohio River that features a geologic timeline of earth’s history from 450 million years ago until the settlement of Cincinnati in 1788. Each tile in the path is about 36” x 36” and can be covered in a single stride. And each tile represents 1 million years. Some of the tiles are decorated with the animals that developed during this period (227 million years ago: The first mammals are 6 in. shrew-like animals) or what was happening with the climate or the continents.

The entirety of human history is covered in the last of the 450-plus tiles. It’s a sobering thought to consider our lives and our work against such a grand clock. Even if you build things from solid stone, they are no match for time on this scale. Building a chair with excellent joinery so it might last 200 years suddenly seems laughable. In 1 million years, everything we know will all be dust anyway.

If this sounds like I’m headed down a path to existential despair, you’re wrong.

On the whole, I consider humanity to be a generally greedy, selfish and destructive force. But we are all capable of good. For me, the two most important things I can do are: Take care of others and create things that are beautiful. By “beauty,” I don’t mean the stuff in art museums, the books in our libraries or the soaring buildings in our cities. I mean the small (and big) things that we do everyday.

Beauty can be a rude chair that is nice to sit in and draws your eye from the other side of the room. It can be a handplaned surface. A moulding that creates bands of light and dark. A song that is sung at the end of a day’s work. A meal that you make for your family.

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All these things are temporary; some last only an instant. But these bits of immediate and ordinary beauty (what you see, taste, smell and feel) make a moment – perhaps the one you are in right now – better than moments without them.

This beauty does not require a particular talent or decades of training to create. This is one of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to vernacular furniture and architecture, outsider art, folk music, folk cooking. Anyone can do it. Anyone. Even if I’m making a chair from Curtis Buchanan’s pen, singing a song by Ralph Stanley or making a recipe from the Lee Brothers, the act of creating it (or creating it again) is what keeps me in love with life.

If you are a cynic, you might think this blog entry is my way of explaining that we are going to stop sewing the signatures of our books. Or quit using the fiber tape that reinforces the casebinding. Or heck, we’re just gonna have monkeys read our books out loud on YouTube. After all, it’s all going to be dust as soon as the earth steps forward onto the next tile.

But no. I think that making something well – even if it lasts just an instant on the geologic timeline – is a form of beauty and brings pleasure or delight to others (as it does to me).

Gotta go. I’ve got some leather scraps that need to be riveted together into something that – I hope – will bring joy to a man in California and a man in Idaho.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.


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