Argentium Silver Jewelry, and the Nature of the Economy
Today I'm just sharing.
Did you ever create something and immediately know it was good? I really want you to know about my latest Handmade Argentium Sterling Silver Set. I cut, filed, and formed each link of these chains with my own simple hand tools. Then I hammered it again for strength and texture, and fit the little ends together so they're snug. Then I determined I liked the final shape and quality, and put it together with the others. Each pair of blister pearl beads is coil-wrapped on both ends, so there is no slippage, and they are uniformly beautiful.
The ceramic pendant deserves a mention, since I handpainted this myself. I am not in the habit of making my own beads, but this was a special occasion. For my daughter's most recent birthday, we went to a local ceramic shop and we each chose projects to do. As you can imagine, even though there were only a few beads to choose from, I latched onto these right away. I made this pendant, and a few other small beads. The freestyle design of this bead reflects my playful and relaxed mood from that day.
One of my favorite questions that a customer asked me at a craft show is this: "Don't you have a machine to make your chain?" Well, no. Unless you count my hands and my little pliers as a machine. I have a rack full of simple hand tools that help me, but a machine? No.
I think when we see real handmade goods these days, we hardly know how to interpret them. Like the savvy consumers we are, we expect there always to be a catch or a trick. We are so used to things appearing one way, but really being something else, even the items we buy at the grocery store, or our familiar big-box stores. Sometimes something is exactly as it appears. Sometimes the person who's selling it is the person who made it. Sometimes you really do have a chance to make the system run right.
I'm reflecting on this a little, on the eve of my next craft show. Wondering how to stand out, wondering how to show people what really went into these little objects that hover between us. A question like the one the man asked at my booth makes me happy, because it gives me a moment to set things straight; but it also concerns me, because I realize it reveals a pervasive belief among consumers. The belief is that if something is done well, it must be made with a machine. I say again and again that my jewelry is handmade, but really, unless they see it with their own eyes, they don't believe it.
Think about all the things that you buy at the big-box store that could be handmade by someone somewhere. Clocks, dishtowels, nick-nacks, toys, jewelry, clothes, dishes - well, almost everything. Sometimes the cost for quality handmade merchandise is really too much, but sometimes, the cost difference is not nearly as great as you would think. I am re-thinking my own ideas about how I can participate in this handmade world too, one of which is supporting my fellow artisans.
They talk about "the high cost of buying cheap" and I believe this is what they're talking about. In a flailing economy, when we all run like lemmings to the next bargain at the big-box, we ignore the opportunity we might have had to actually make the situation better. I'm not really talking about individual artisans right now, but think of the big picture. In a system where the big-boxes get bigger and cheaper, we create an unsustainable need to always accumulate more "stuff". We appreciate it less and replace it more often. In the same world, the artisans (the skilled workers and small business people) grow poorer or lose their art altogether.
Consider the flip side: an artistic community is flourishing, their goods are being bought and used, not only for decorative purposes, but for useful items in their daily life as well. Chances are that if you relied on artisan-made goods for most of your purchases, you would buy less of it. You would appreciate it more and replace it less often. Your participation in this system makes you more than a consumer -- it makes you a participant in an artisan's life. You have actually cast your vote that that artisan's work is worthwhile, and that they should continue and improve.
I really get fed-up with the big-box stores, but I find myself shopping at them anyway. I'm afraid that in a less-than-perfect world, it's difficult to completely stay away. But we keep thinking their ought to be another way, and maybe it's a lot simpler than we think.
Oh, and if you're looking for handmade goods and can't find them? No problem. In addition to your locally owned small shops, the Internet has thousands of struggling artists, each working hard and trying to be found. For a start, ArtFire and Zibbet are full of them.