The “Making” Book

[From the book proposal for By Hand: Why Making Things is Good for Body, Mind, and Spirit.]

Making useful, beautiful, or interesting things by hand is an incomparable source of vitality for body, mind, and spirit – yet most adults in America today don’t make much of anything with their hands. Perhaps you are one of these people. You remember, with pleasure, making things by hand as a child, but now you simply buy whatever you need ready-made, or hire out your making, or do without.

Perhaps you think that making things by hand is for others, people with more time, talent, or patience.

Perhaps you have always made things by hand but now you need inspiration to return to your studio, kitchen, garden, or workshop with light in your eyes.

By Hand: Why Making Things is Good for Body, Mind, and Spirit has one purpose: to convince or remind you that all of us, not just some of us, are built to be makers, that each of us is capable of making useful, beautiful, or interesting things by hand, and that making such things is an incomparable source of vitality for body, mind, and spirit.

By Hand  will take you on a romp through four-million years of fossil history, where you will meet our ancestors Ardi, Lucy, homo faber, and Betsy – and see that our human hand and brain have evolved in a way that makes us unrivaled makers on this planet. By Hand will also show you that all children are natural makers – eager to make a game, story, shelter, or tool with any old thing. By Hand will also show you that your own hands already perform a miraculous variety of tasks on a daily basis and are ready and able to make useful, beautiful, or interesting things.

By Hand will define making as a shaping of the material world and our place in it by an application of imagination, body, material, judgment, risk, and care. This unites all makers, whether artist, crafter, homemaker, Do-It-Yourselfer, gardener, or cook, and distinguishes making from other activities such as operating, assembling, and manufacturing.

By Hand will make the case, through stories and examples, that making useful, beautiful, and interesting things is an incomparable source of challenge, expression, connection, self-reliance, and pleasure – all of which are good for body, mind, and spirit. By Hand will lay out what it takes to nourish and sustain making and what it takes to get really good at making.

The final chapter  explores maker’s vitality, a particular quality of liveliness that inhabits the maker’s body, mind, and spirit – and whatever is made.

Stories do much of the bidding in By Hand – tales about my own making activities and that of those I have known, interviewed, or studied who do their making in studios, barns, kitchens, job sites, and on stage. Some strive for mastery, others for excellence, and others for whatever works, sells, or suits their fancy.

You will meet many inspiring makers: Madeline Mason, a woman of color who made rag dolls well past her hundredth birthday; Joe Widmer, one of only forty Master Cheesemakers in Wisconsin; a woman who calls herself Sarah Science and teaches science to children by having them make gadgets and gizmos; Mark Johnson, a credit executive who makes furniture in order “to see something through from start to finish and not go crazy”; Frances Alvana, an Inupiat Eskimo  who makes walrus ivory carvings in order to “stay connected to my people and make some pocket money.”; a married couple who make “large, dangerous rockets” for fun; and Donna-Fado Ivery, a woman who expresses and eases the pain of her brain injury by making beautiful, useful things with her hands.

You will get also inside many making communities: the Sunshine Ballard Log Cabin Weaving Studio; the Montara Middle School Woodshop; a Maker’s Faire attended by fifty thousand amateur makers; the Church of Craft, a gathering of crafters who see making things as their “connection to the divine”; New Camaldolese Monastery; Burning Man, a fire-and-art festival in the Nevada desert; Anti-Factory, a studio where clothing is handmade under the motto, “Because Sweatshops Suck;” Dunmire Hollow, an off-the-grid community where residents make just about everything they need; and Gee’s Bend, Alabama, an isolated village where women make useful and beautiful quilts out of old sheets, flour sacks, and jeans.

Throughout By Hand, you will  be inspired by stories from well-known makers like Revolutionary War flagmaker, Betsy Ross;  painters, Marc Chagall, Georgia O’Keefe, and Mark Rothko; choreographer, Twyla Tharp; violin virtuoso, Nicolo Paganini: and land artist (and giant-snowball maker), Andy Goldsworthy. You will also hear from many well-known writers who have who have written about why making is good for body, mind, and spirit and what you lose when you stop making things, writers as varied as  Soetsu Yanagi,  Japanese folk art collector; Thornstein Veblen, economist; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychologist; Brenda Ueland, woman before her time; and Wendell Berry, farmer.

A special feature of this book will be a short list of questions and exercises at the end of each chapter meant to extend your private reflection or begin group conversation – and get you making something which appeals to you and fits your life.

By Hand: Why Making Things is Good for Body, Mind, and Spirit, will be eight chapters and approximately 80,000 words. To stay in touch with the progress of By Hand: Why Making Things is Good for Body, Mind, and Spirit, from my making of the manuscript to ultimate publication as a book, check back now and then to this website.

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