Crafting a Life – Episode 5

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Hello, and welcome to Crafting a Life.
I’m Evan Dunstone and this is the Dunstone Design podcast
Episode 5, “Theatre verses Film”

Last time I got a little bit philosophical about the crafted object. Perhaps the best way to explain what we and other craft’s people like us are doing is through analogy. Consider the difference between theatre and film. They’re superficially the same thing; telling a story to an audience using a script and actors. Film freezes the moment forever. The director’s vision and the actor’s performances are locked, but the film can be repeated almost indefinitely across a wide audience. By contrast, theatre can have the same actors performing the same play in the same theatre night after night, yet each performance is unique. Theatre actors are constantly re-thinking their roles and testing new interpretations. They are also responding to the audience on the night. The director has the opportunity to make changes as the season progresses. Theatre is dynamic and responsive.

This is how we and all craft based designer/makers approach furniture making. Craft is live theatre with all the risks and excitement that this entails. Think of the best film experience you ever had. Now compare it to the best theatre experience you have ever had. I hesitate to suggest that one experience is better than the other, but they are surprisingly different experiences for what should be essentially the same thing.

There’s a sense of participation in theatre that film lacks. Seeing Sir Laurence Olivier in the film version of Richard III is a very different proposition to having seen him play the same role in The Old Vic. Not that I had that pleasure, or was even alive at the time.

The point is, people respond to theatre and crafted objects in a way that differs from film and manufactured items.

We’ve had clients who both own the same design arguing over who’s example was better. Naturally, from a design perspective, they’re identical, but from an interpretation perspective and personal involvement perspective, they’ll be different. Whatever the case, those clients have developed a relationship with their piece that holds particular value to them. If they swapped their Cascade rocker with someone else’s Cascade rocker, it just wouldn’t be the same object.

We‘ve recently launched a chair kit for enthusiasts to make in their own workshop. The kit contains all the parts for a dining chair in premium Victorian blackwood, along with some pretty comprehensive instructions. You need to be a reasonably competent woodworker to make the kit, but it is not prohibitively complex. Anyway, I asked my three craftsmen, Dan, Alex and Rolf to each take a kit chair and to personalize it. The object of the exercise was to photograph the different results in order to show prospective buyers how they could take the basic design, change a few details and personalize the chair.

I had the three different chairs in my showroom lined up waiting to be photographed. My daughter, Anya, aged 14, came in to the showroom and looked at the chairs. “Dad, what are they for” she asked?

I explained the idea behind them. Then I asked her to tell me which of my craftsman she thought might have made which chair. With hardly any hesitation, she pointed to each chair in turn and correctly guessed the maker. Callum, my 16 year old son, came in five minutes later and we had exactly the same conversation. He was also correct.

This is not a story about parental pride, although there is a bit of that going on, but rather a story about the power of craft. Dan, Alex and Rolf had used their own personal suite of techniques and aesthetic sensitivity to add a recognizable little “something” to their own chair. The chairs were essentially identical in abstract quality terms, but I bet that everyone who sees those chairs will have his or her favorite.

By the way, the kids both picked their favorite chair of the three, and they both picked the same chair. I can’t say whose chair they picked because it might just cause a riot back at the workshop.

You have been listening to Crafting a Life, the Dunstone Design podcast on all things furniture and woodwork. I’m Evan Dunstone, and I look forward to your company next time.