“Whether you’re three or seventy-three, the act of assembling disparate materials into a new object is a profound one. In a world of ready-mades, it seems almost magical.
Today, if you need a new chair, you go out and buy one. If you want a shirt, you take a trip to the mall. For many of us, life is filled with countless objects that have lost the connection to their source. We no longer have to make out of necessity, so sometimes we don’t do it at all. But there’s a hidden loss within the efficiency of our postindustrial times: process.”
– Sarah Olmstead in “Out of the Dirt”
from imagine childhood: Exploring the World through Nature, Imagination, and Play (2012)
One of the things I love about Dan and my life together is that we make things. At times we do this alone. At times together. Sometimes what we make is ephemeral, sometimes long-lasting. Sometimes original, sometimes following a pattern. We use materials we have on hand and we make frequent runs down the street to Beechwold Hardware.
The projects in these pictures are from late-June. While Dan was inside working on a bench of his own design, I was just outside the windows (sweating my ass off) working on the patio following a plan I found online. When I wasn’t working on the patio, I was advising a few grad students for UF. Two were working on projects that addressed material culture studies and art education and their work provided me space to reflect on the home Dan and I have been shaping together for the past 7 years. Shout out to Holly and Miranda!
In part because our house has been in his family since it was erected, we feel tied to it. Whenever we make changes, we try to keep the past in mind. Case in point, Dan building the bench out of old floor boards. We appreciate looking around and seeing upgrades Dan’s grandparents dreamed up (like the fake drawer in the kitchen Frank used to hide cash or the bookcase he turned into a wall cabinet in the basement) and we have made many changes of our own. These are our family heirlooms.
Holly and Miranda both read an article by Marice Rose (2012), an art history professor about her use of family heirlooms to teach students “the importance of context and making connections between art, individuals, and history” (p. 51). I love how straightforward these learning objectives are. They seem to speak to the most essential reason for studying art history. I still haven’t read Rose’s article myself, but it’s on the list…
You don’t have to live in a historic homestead or be a master carpenter to help your children understand the value of objects in their world. But you do need to find ways to talk to them about the special objects in your home and how they came to be counted as special. Keep in mind, special is not the same as expensive. (See Ellen Dissanayake’s work for more on defining art as making special.) Then, find simple ways to make your own mark on your environment, to make it special, and find ways for your children to do the same.