Why do we make things by hand? And why do we make them beautiful? Led by the question of why working with our hands remains vital and valuable in the modern world, author and maker Melanie Falick went on a transformative, inspiring journey. Traveling across continents, she met quilters and potters, weavers and painters, metalsmiths, printmakers, woodworkers, and more, and uncovered truths that have been speaking to us for millennia yet feel urgently relevant today: We make in order to slow down. To connect with others. To express ideas and emotions, feel competent, create something tangible and long-lasting. And to feed the soul. In revealing stories and gorgeous original photographs, Making a Life captures all the joy of making and the power it has to give our lives authenticity and meaning.
Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live — my review
When I read the blurb, I thought I’d find some inspiring stories of artists and makers within these pages. The book certainly has an interesting premise, as Falick sets out to explore how making tangible, usable things by hand helps us feel more grounded and connected.
“In traditional societies, a material object that one made was tangible evidence that one had accomplished something, even though it might not have been “the best.” Participation was the important thing.
Though making may not be important in a practical sense anymore, I don’t think it is less critical today than it was a quarter of a million years ago.”
The book, however, was both interesting and problematic. The premise was definitely interesting, as were the profiles and stories of some of the artists. And there were little nuggets of inspiration and wisdom peppered throughout the book.
But where it fell markedly short for me was in the complete lack of diversity in the artists that Falick spoke to. Adding in perspectives from people of color, from different cultures and countries would have made this a much richer and more nuanced book. As it stands, Falick featured a certain type of maker and a particular aesthetic — middle-aged, mostly white women, who are able to live comfortably off their art, which is certainly not the case for the majority of makers. There was a huge amount of unacknowledged privilege in the stories presented, and no representation at all for the majority of makers who do not, in fact, run business empires; who try to make whenever they can in whatever pockets of free time they have.
And while it can be inspiring to see quilters, potters, and weavers living in beautiful, refurbished cottages in the country, not many of us can straight-up buy a chateau in France or have a mother in law who gifts us 20 acres of land.
Falick completely ignores the many small makers who juggle full-time work with a small business, for example, whose stories would have added a much more nuanced, richer vein to the book. Nor is there any place for hobbyists or amateurs, or for indigenous people, who, I imagine, would be central to any discussion on making things by hand, and especially on discussions on craft as culture and identity.
As much as I wanted to love Making a Life: Working by Hand, in the end, it left me quite disappointed.