Artisan Modern: Quality Work, Transactions, and Objects

The research for this book began in 2008 and proceeded through six countries. The manuscript is now under review.

If you have a particular reason for reading it promptly, just tell me.

In the meantime, you can read the original interviews and tell your own stories at the website,

I have been asking artisans “what are you doing?” and “why?” then learning as much as possible about their business operations.

“I always knew” … “I finally found” … “I wasn’t happy”…  These distinct and repeated biographical narratives drive people to build a business whose primary responsibility is to be a vessel for the pleasure and meaning of work. When artisans talk about making tables, cheese, guitars, and pants they say “I love every bit of it.” … “It’s an absolutely fantastic experience.” … “The best thing about the work is not delivering the shiny final product, but actually doing the work.” …. “When I come home inspired at the end of a day, my kids can look at work not as something to dread, but see that work can be inspiring and gives you joy and energy.”
I ask about materials. Whether they reclaim or use “new” materials, their ideas expand sustainability far beyond responsible sourcing and waste-management. Artisans find pleasure, challenge, humility, immortality, and surprise in the interaction with materials.  A bowl-turner describes his work as “reclaiming the souls of trees.”  A knife maker has “no interest in new steel;” he transforms broken farmers’ tools. The artisans want to extend the “life” of materials, give them “new lives” as tools and heirlooms. A guitar maker uses wood salvaged from churches: “The bells have been ringing on it for a hundred years!”
The sustainable consumption movement offers righteous restriction, valorized by the purported pleasures of “simplicity”. Artisans teach people to appreciate, honor, and steward natural materials. A furniture maker prefigures Marie Kondo’s focus on “joy”, proposing that sustainability is not only about ethically managed inputs and outputs, but about making objects that sustain “desire”. Objects with stories are already the antithesis of the global commodity chain; to magnify desire, artisans explained that their customers want to be part of the story.
I ask about the math. The finances of artisanship defy both business school microeconomics and the Left’s ill-aimed tilt at liberation. For artisans, “to scale” does not mean to get big. It means to find the correct scale to produce the revenue they need while maintaining their craft, ethics, autonomy, and quality of life. While artisans meet the bottom-line; the “profits” of their enterprises are diverse and largely qualitative. They offer a model for ethical, ecological and meaningful production.

Favorite Things

New Ideas by Email