Friday, October 30, 2009

Making | Tom Westbrook

As my career has evolved through artist, designer, teacher and builder I have had the chance to collaborate with many disciplines. The commonality and the part I enjoy the most is working and spending time with people who make things, things ranging in scale and significance from photographs and paintings to buildings and cities. Artists, architects, designers of all stripes, craftspeople, builders, performers, all are involved in the act of manipulating the material world with some sort of intent. My column, Making, is about my experiences with building and craft and to report on the toils of others as they shape our world.

As of late, I have been up on Lake Superior’s North Shore, a veritable hotbed of people who make things. I too have been making things up here, lately a simple timber framed porch. I learned the skills of timber framing a few years ago when I had the incredible experience of carving a timber frame cabin with my father, step-mother and nephew at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais. North House is a nexus of people who make things, focusing on folk craft and skills, ranging from timber and log building to boat building and beer making. They have an ever-changing campus of old and new brightly colored buildings that is littered with projects of many scales in various stages of completion. When visiting one can find group built timber frames ready to be auctioned, black smiths at their forges, circles of people surrounded by flakes of stone in a flint knapping class. A wood fired bread oven puts forth pizzas for the communal party on Saturday nights; translucent, newly built kayaks set out in the harbor at twilight, carrying flashlights that make them glow like Chinese lanterns. Whether or not one takes classes there (which I cannot recommend strongly enough) just stopping by, watching the activity and asking the invariably friendly instructors, staff and participants what they are doing, each visit is an education. For designers, so often immersed in a digital world, a foray into a place full of sawdust, fire, stone, and often sweat is not only a respite, but an inspiration. North House’s new catalogue is just out and can be found on line at Next time a look at the physical world at a much smaller scale.

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