Melanie Falick has been a friend of Alabama Chanin and The School of Making since our earliest days and, through her former imprint at Abrams Books, edited five of our Studio Books. Her dedication to crafting by hand and sharing the importance of doing so made us compatible and complementary partners throughout the years. As part of her most recent journey, she has written a beautiful book called Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live. In it, she highlights inspiring makers—including Natalie and other friends Kristine Vejar from A Verb For Keeping Warm and Jack Sanders from Design Build Adventure—from across the globe and celebrates how they are both embracing traditional techniques and innovating to ensure those skills will last for many years to come.
Through her journeys, she met artists and artisans of countless disciplines and skillsets whose work spoke to age-old questions like: what does making offer the maker, how does creating connect people and generations, what opportunities can we embrace to express our needs and feelings, and how much power is there in slowing down to produce things with our own two hands? Part of what Melanie does so well through Making a Life is to demonstrate that what we do with our hands and our skills impacts our wellness and brings out our most human elements.
She writes, “I realized that, in a circuitous way, during the last few months, I had been attempting to connect to my own survival. Even though I didn’t need to make my own clothing, boxes, or bed – or much of anything – to stay alive, I needed that bond to feel whole, competent and grounded, connected to my heart and soul, to my community, to my ancestors, and to the natural world around me. And, as a result of giving myself time to wander and to make, I no longer felt lost: I understood myself better and found a new course.”
Melanie takes a detailed approach and delves into ideas that we have espoused as part of our discussion of the living arts – that creating has been a part of human culture from its earliest days. Handwork was essential to our survival and it has, for a number of reasons, fallen by the wayside. Her approach focuses on interviewing and learning about the processes of over 30 individual makers across many disciplines. Her subjects range from fiber artists to ceramicists, to furniture makers and metal workers – from locations ranging as far as Appalachia, England, Austin, Texas, India, and Oakland, California. They are from wide-ranging backgrounds and all started making at different moments in their lives. Every artist included has found affirmation and strength within the act of making with their own two hands. As part of the book, we were honored to welcome Melanie to The Factory last year for a discussion on hand-making, craft, and slow design.
Our planet is currently facing a time where things remain uncertain. A mere few weeks ago, the whole world was at our figurative fingertips and we could obtain almost anything we wanted in a click. But, as we are forced to slow down, perhaps it is a good time to follow Melanie on her journey and learn why it is still important to rely on our own hands for comfort and to meet our needs. Use your literal fingertips to feel out materials and techniques. Use online resources to learn crafts you have always wanted to know about while you can. Making a Life can guide you on your journey of what you want your days to look like when we all come together again.
Images excerpted from Making a Life by Melanie Falick (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019. Photographs by Rinne Allen and Elysa Weitala.
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