Skilled craft workers like woodworkers, leatherworkers, glassblowers, and artists of any sort offer a pause from todays high-tech and mass-produced lifestyle. These are people without “formal” training as we would call it, as these are skills you can’t completely learn at a university. Instead these people have most likely been working their whole lives at their craft, and have likely surpassed the prescribed 10,000 hours it supposedly takes to be an expert in something.
Say you need something for your home, maybe a new table to sit in the dining room. You go to the store, and pass right buy the boxed-up tables that require you to screw it together yourself. You want this table to be the centerpiece for the whole room, so you go look at the handmade, artisan crafted tables. Why do we desire a piece like this, made by an artist instead of in a factory?
What do you really buy when you purchase that table? Not only is it something you will use for a lifetime, but it is something special. You know where it came from, and even who made it. You put money into the pocket of a person, who works for themselves and at their own pace, instead of a company mass-producing at a fraction of the cost.
The Boulder area has tons of budding new artists, and you can tell it makes an impression on the culture of the town. Art has social power, being able to say “look at this nice piece I bought” comes with a certain degree of gratification, and possibly creates jealousy within others. It is human nature to want these nicely crafted things, which stems from the knowledge that somebody put a lot of time, effort, and creativity into it.
One particularly skilled craftsman is Ross Williamson of Rossmönster design. Williamson came to Boulder from North Carolina, and got serious about his woodworking when he got here. “I started whittling when I was young and It’s something I’ve always had an interest in,” Williamson told me, “But I didn’t really get into it until I went to college.” The workshop had a haze from sawdust in the air, but it is a space he seems comfortable in.
Value can be measured in many ways, but for Williamson the value in his pieces is personal. “When you purchase something I made, I want it to be functional and beautiful. I don’t want to make something a factory could copy, I want you be able to tell it was made by a person,” Williamson Says, leaning on a metal shelving unit stocked full with old tools and varnishes.
Craftsmen like Williamson are important to our community because they engrain a sense of local culture. This is why the state of Colorado, like many other states, have put together plans to keep local art thriving. We buy these hand-made objects, not because of their sole monetary value, but because of their personal value to us as well. There are many reasons why we give these items value, but in the end it is the feeling we get from owning something well-made, and knowing how it is made and who made it- this is where the value comes from. Careers like this do come with hard work and hard times, as they are tied closely with the well-being of the economy. In a time where spending is cut and budgets are restricted, it becomes difficult for an individual to justify buying something that is two, or even three times more expensive than the easily available option at the closest store. How do these artisans get past that?
“I’m living where I want to, doing the things I’m passionate about like traveling, biking, and skiing, so right now I’m as successful as I could ever imagine,” says Ross. Many artists have their own ways of quantifying their work, and this is just one of them.
Elke is the owner of By Elke, a leather-working studio in Boulder. She has been working with leather for a few years now, and sees things a little different than Ross. “When customers are happy with the product, it means you’re going in the right direction,” says Elke.
Cole Hulden is a student, as well as part-time glassblower. Studying General Sciences, Hulden doesn’t look much into a full-time glassblowing lifestyle. “My dream, and what Im going to school for, is to get my teaching license in general science and teach high school science, a career I know from the get-go will deliver little in terms of a salary,” says Hulden.
Hulden spends his free time making glass art, specifically functional pieces and pendants. For him, success is very personal. “There will always be someone better than me if I want to compare myself to the world,” Hulden explains. “But being proud of your work and happy with what you’re doing is vastly more important.”
The artist’s lifestyle has similar concerns as the rest of the world, though. Competitiveness with other artists assures that only true quality work gets sold. “Glass is very unforgiving,” says Hulden, “And when something goes wrong its never the glasses fault. I love and hate this aspect of glass.” Depending on what material you work with, this point of view can change, as Ross told me. “The Beauty is in the imperfections- when you see something that’s not quite perfect, you know it’s handmade.”
There are may pros and cons of this artistic lifestyle, which really goes for any way of life. The thought of making a career from your passion is enticing to many, yet we don’t pursue it due to the trials and tribulations, especially early on. These people who go with their creativity help the rest of us live vicariously through the the beautiful work they make, and in everything they do, work define their success on their own terms.