Consumerism versus Makers

Do and believe whatever you like, but I’m not really one for conspiracy theories. This being said I do like the following TED-talk by Jacques Peretti about Consumerism and Makers.

He certainly has a point, because over the last century we have shifted from a skills based society to a system lead by ‘free-market capitalism‘ and consumerism. We’ve lost touch with how the products we use were made. And working with your hands has become something dirty. Looked down upon by educators and the general public opinion. You have to strive to work with your head instead of your hands.

And I don’t believe this has been a ‘dark secret conspiracy’ induced by those on the top of the financial foodchain. No, it was a much more natural development, a product of the rising financial times after WWII and the prosperity tied in with it. One thing lead to another, fed by desire and enough money to buy the luxury goods thrown to us by smart marketing. For a long time everybody was happy with the arrangement.

But a system like this has its limits, as we have seen with the financial crisis. Endless financial growth is impossible. To keep the system running we would have to turn our homes into warehouses filled with refrigerators, television and audio sets, and a lot of other nice but unnecessary items. And off course get a new car every year, or better; multiple. I’m simplifying a bit, but am sure you’ll get what I mean.

And a more pressing issue; we’re putting a strain on the world we live in. Quickly draining all of the natural resources it took mother nature millions of years to create. Our lifestyle of limitless consumerism is causing problems.

We need to find creative solutions to the problems at hand. Care for what’s around us. We can’t save the world on our own. But maybe when everybody does a little part? A little bit of solidarity and simply trying to keep our footprint small…

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Teenager builds the worlds largest piano.

This is definitely a cool project.

In a quest for his ultimate sound, Adrian Mann from New Zealand made his own piano. Quite a tour de force for any maker, but what makes it even more impressive is that Adrian was 15 when he started the project. Four years later the world’s largest piano was finished.

The one thing I love is his attitude. Imagine something, simply start building it and learn along the way. This is one of the best ways to learn something, by doing. Literally getting to grips with tools, techniques and the physics behind it. Putting theories to the test.

No matter the snide remarks of others, who often lost this fire or never posessed it. Older people often think they know better than to take on such a silly project. Often because their own dreams and ideas had to be layed off for the merits of a ‘normal’ life. There is mo shame in that, but a lot of them have become bitter because of it. Resulting in discouraging and demeaning words for the younger generation who attempt it. Like in this poem  y Arnon Grunberg:

ALL THOSE PEOPLE

Al those people who say:
you should stop that nonsense,
finally grow up.
Do you see those faces?
That are the faces of people
who have grown up.
Stopped that nonsense.

– Arnon Grunberg –

Some people manage retain that youthful gumption. To swim upstream and go against the grain of society. In that way it’s quite countercultural. Some writers even characterize it as ‘Anarchist’.

And yes, you must have a special kind of madness to think that you can make and even better instruments what have been around for centuries. That might be preceived as being stubborn or weird. But that’s the place where innovation and arts get born. By making something that didn’t exist before.

I hope Adrian may keep this fire going. Even against the odds of society. Like one of the greatest artists of the 20th century said:

“You have to do stuff that average people don’t understand because these are the only good things.”

– Andy Warhol –

For more information about the Alexander Piano: http://www.alexanderpiano.nz

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Restoring a vintage bus

As a woodworker I often get requests to repair or restore other things than guitars. Usually it’s furniture, and it depends on the piece (size, sometimes history, but also what needs to be repaired/restored) whether I take on the job. Over the years I’ve reglued countless chair and table legs, broken backs and arm rests (sounds like an E.R. in here). Often old pieces, as most modern furniture is made to be discarded when it breaks.

But sometimes other things get by the shop. And the best thing about restoring it is that you get a story with everything you take on.

The bus

A few months ago I got and e-mail with the question if I could restore an old wooden bus, made in Indonesia as a toy. The owner had gotten it as a child, when his sister was adopted. When their parents returned from Indonesia to pick her up, they brought the bus along as a gift. Made by local a local craftsman, by hand with whatever he had at hand: triplex, rattan, plastic, metal rods, tin cans and little wire nails. The whole finished with with paint and black marker.

Bus - Asta Tekun

The bus became his favorite toy and was played with extensively. Now, 25 years later it was in need of repair. It’s frond end had come loose, the plastic window teared, the front and rear axle were bent and broken off at the right. The writing on the side faded and dust gathered on the little yellow seats.

Although unusual, I loved to restore the bus. We agreed to keep it as original as possible. For the bus this meant the structure in some strategic places (the edges at the front and between the axles) with some small blocks.  The broken plastic windscreen was replaced as was a missing piece of a tin to keep te rear axle in place. The faded name “Asta Tekun” (dilligent hands) got retouched. For the rest only a light cleaning of the surfaces inside and out.

Ready for the next 25 years…

I love to repair and restore things that mean something to their owner. Like this toy bus an old guitar or a family heirloom. Often it also involves a story or memory attached to the artefact itself. Often this supersedes the monetary value of the piece. But much more than that it enriches the object itself. That’s why humans gather relics; to keep memories alive. Whether its from a saint, pop star, someone we love or the place we were born. These memories and stories define who we are and give us an idea of our roots. Markers to bring something or someone closer. A reminder of what happened before.

I am an adept of “conservative restoration” to keep the original patina and not to bring it back to a brandnew-like state. It’s ok to see that an object is old and has lived a life before. Sometimes all-over restorations remove a lot of an objects’ history. And by that a lot of the character is lost. The main focus of a restoration is to act in favor of the object at hand. Not to cause any damage or do any harm. Sometimes broken parts need to be replaced, but I always keep the originals with the instrument. Also everything needs to be reversible. The integrity of the object is what’s most important.

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From the clavichord to the modern piano

A short introduction to the history of stringed keyboard instruments.

The clavichord he demonstrates actually has quite a nice sound. Most of them just sound like playing on a deflating garbage bag…

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A guitar making course in the Netherlands

LogoHuismuziek-kleurHoutwerk Ede

Click here for the Dutch version

After years of residing in Arnhem the courses of “Bouwerskontakt” (Builders-Contact) move to Houtwerk Ede.

AtelierIn September we will start a new series of guitar making courses. With the guidance of three very enthusiast and skillfull teachers (Francesco Leicher, Maarten Borstrok, Jan van Cappelle) you make your own classical, flamenco or steelstring guitar. .

Along the way you will learn all the ins and outs ir the craft. Everything using and sharpening tools to the wonderful world of materials, glues, wood and lacquer. Your chance to make your own instrument!

Bouwerscontact

Open Door

Come take a look at our open morning, september 10th 10.00-12.00h, Bospoort 11B in Ede (Netherlands)

For more information: www.bouwerskontakt.nl (Dutch only) or send an email to f_leicher@hotmail.com

 

 

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Een cursus gitaarbouw in Ede

LogoHuismuziek-kleurHoutwerk Ede(Click here for the English version)

Na een jarenlang verblijf in Arnhem verhuizen de cursussen van Bouwerskontakt naar Houtwerk Ede.

AtelierVanaf september start een nieuwe gitaarbouwcursus. Onder begeleiding van zeer enthousiaste, vakkundige leraren (Francesco Leicher, Maarten Borstrok, Jan van Cappelle) bouw je aan je eigen klassieke-, flamenco- of staalsnarige gitaar. In overleg zijn ook andere modellen mogelijk.

Gaandeweg leer je de fijne kneepjes van het vak. Van het gebruik van gereedschappen tot de wereld van materialen, lijmen en lakken. De kans om je eigen gitaar te bouwen!

Bouwerscontact

 

Open ochtend

Kom een kijkje nemen tijdens de open ochtend op 10 september 10.00-12.00u , Bospoort 11B in Ede.

Voor meer informatie: www.bouwerskontakt.nl of mail naar f_leicher@hotmail.com

 

 

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The Skippers of the Chameleon

Schippers van de Kameleon - Firwt edition, 1948In 1948 Dutch carpenter Hotze de Roos published his first book; a novel for children, named “De Schippers van de Kameleon” (The Skippers of the Chameleon). It’s about two brothers – identical twins -, the sons of a blacksmith. They live in “Lenten” (Spring) a made up village by a lake in “Friesland”, one of the northern provinces of the Netherlands. Friesland is a bit of a little ‘nation within the nation’ with an own official language, local culture and history goes back to the iron age. For centuries this barren land was almost isolated and self-supporting. The landscape is dominated by agriculture and lots of water, lakes, channels and streams.

The story starts with the twins (named “Hielke” and “Sietze” Klinkhamer) who try to cross a ditch with a pole. Off-course this attempt fails and both get wet. Their mother is furious as they get home, it’s the third time that week this happens. But this time it’s a sunday and they ruined their best clothes. As a punishment they have to stay in bed while mother hangs the clothes on the line. The neighbor, mrs. Bleeker, comments that this is a shame “On the day of the Lord”. Remember; it’s the fourties and the majority of the Dutch still attended church every week. When their parents are in church, the twins escape and go to the neighbors’ house. In the shed they find the laundry basket and start to hang the clothes on the line. Then they go back to bed and wait…

After the service is finished the towns people walk home, then they stop because they see something unusual. The clothesline of the Bleeker family is packed with laundry. The people point to it and tell each other what a shame it is…

A boat

Schippers van de KameleonLiving at the lake the boys love to play outside. Often near the water, fishing, making rafts, jumping across ditches. Their great desire is to own a boat. But money was tight in the post-war years, and a blacksmith simply didn’t make enough money to buy his sons a boat.

So when the neighbor gets a new bath installed, the boys ask the plumber for the old bathtub. They plug the hole and put it in the stream behind the house. Both get in and they set sail. Naturally this trip doesn’t last long. The boys end up with another set of wet clothes and the bathtub on the bottom of the water…

Their father sees only one solution: the boys need to get a boat. A few days later a little push boat breaks down right behind the forge. The smith is called upon to fix it, but the motor is beyond repair. The owner says he wants to get rid of it and asks the smith to buy it from him as scrap metal. At first he refuses, but then sees his sons. He buys the boat for 10 guilders (quite a lot of money in those days).

The boys get the heavy iron boat on land and start to clean and repair it. They ask the local house painter for some left overs and get a large can. When they open it it’s a large array of colors, put together. Nothing wrong with the paint, but it needs to be stirred to make an even color. After the boat is painted something strange happens. Depending on the angle and distance to the boat, the color seems to change. This gives the name “Chameleon”

But rowing a plump steel boat across the lake is quite hard. So they need a new engine. When they save the doctor from drowning in the lake after his car got picked up by a tornado, the motor of the wreck is placed in the Chameleon.

Then it’s time for a test…

The boat is faster than any boat around. It has te power to push barges and help out other ships that got stuck. This is a start for over sixty adventures…

DIY and reaching out

I’ve read and collected these books since I was eight. During every vacation a large stack of them went along. One thing that appealed to me was the DIY-mentality in the books. All the personages were always making or repairing something. From the smith changing horseshoes, bicycle tires and welding broken tractors. To the twins polishing the valves of their broken motor, building sheds and helping everyone in the village. Along the way of the storyline I learned lots of information about wood- and metalwork, farming, nature, the way engines work, boats, etc. many of which I still use daily. Like how to harden steel, the colors a blacksmith looks out for when heating steel, how to hone a chisel, but also to be resourceful

In a way life in the books is of a comfortable but impossible simplicity: they live in a village where everybody knows each other and has its place and function in the little society. A policeman, the fire brigade, grocer, baker, mailman, notary, preacher, smith, farmer, major, miller. All work hard and get quite good along. Threats and difficulties always come from outside, from the big city with its bizarre busy life. News and novelties always take some time to get to the village. Sometimes there are troubles with tourists or people who don’t mean well. But these are always resolved and the people become friends. Or there is a thief or crook stirring disorder in the village. But they always get caught in the end.

But De Roos also described social mishaps in his books. Many times the boys get out to raise money to help a poor old widow or family without a home. To get a new cart for the ragman. Or to help someone to get a new job. Initially this was quite controversial, as was it to write about boys managing mischief… Children had to listen to what elders had to say, be obedient and behave themselves. But boys will be boys, and boys love to do something. To tinker, make and break things, to get wet and gather dirt.

A lot of the stories find their roots in the vacations De Roos had in his youth. Later he became a carpenter and left Friesland, but he always kept a soft spot for it.

After De Roos died in 1991 his books were continued to be published. They are still quite popular, although with the advent of the digital age and mobile phones the stories become more outdated. It’s a nice look in the hopes, dreams and culture of people in the first 30 years after the war. The improvements in agriculture, milk robots and tractors are first viewed with a bit of disdain, but embraced later. The same with traditional family relations and the work in the forge.

Sometimes I take up one of these books and like to travel to Lenten, wonder about how things have changed, but also what is basically still the same. I think reading these books was one of the first things that made me aware of the fact that we can really make and repair things ourselves. Something I later found in the “hobby club” books by Leonard de Vries. And to re-use, recycle and repurpose leftover materials. It’s a way of thinking I saw in my grandfather, who never threw anything away, because it might come in handy someday. Presumably because they had known times of scarcity.

While some conservative politicians romanticize, would like to go back to this age with its simple life, I know that’s impossible. And most people wouldn’t know how fast they had to push the “get back” button on the time machine, when they travelled to the fifties. We have become accustomed to a higher standard of luxury and prosperity. Also the social standards would frighten us. The role of woman was to stay at home and take care of the house and kids, while the man worked outside. Higher education for woman was a rarity.

But I think we can learn something from these books. That boys will be boys, and children love to do something substantial. To be creative and make something. To see the fruits of their labor. And that we can act more responsible in regard to the world around us. Both the people as the environment. We’re all travellers on that small blue spaceship called earth, and it’s easy to make life miserable – as we can see in the news. But the trick is to reach out and do something positive. And not to take life too serious. One of the main characters is Gerben: a farmhand who always is out to tell funny stories and start practical jokes. The power of doing something; simple, positive, substantial, funny, social. That’s what these books are about. And almost 70 years after the first book was published, it’s still most needed. Maybe now even more than ever…

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