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Re: Craftsman & Artists

>Date:    Fri, 13 Mar 1998 09:50:36 UT
>From:    Art Rubino <Art_Rubino@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
>Subject: Re: Craftsman & Artists

>Any fine artist who is not a charlatan must also master his craft.
>Just as an example, I have many of the rare books that I sell
>restored or rebound in England by fine craft binders who work under
>contract for me. It is almost impossible to find such trained
>craftsman in the USA.

This is not the place to discuss my business reasons for not contracting
with dealers for conservation work (other than to say that we each have
very different ideas about the value of work....).

However, it may not be out of place to comment that during the time when I
employed staff I once hired a British trained book conservator.
Traditional apprenticeship through finishing/gold tooling.  In the end, I
had to let him go because his working methods did not come up to the
standards we have come to expect in North America.  Perfectly good enough
in the UK, but....

I hosted Hugo Peller while he taught a month-long workshop in my lab.  Many
gold and silver medals; designer books of his in any number of National

When he spun the wheel down on my guillotine and the pin sheared off he was
taken aback and apologized for making me call in a repairman.  "Call in a
repairman? Why?"  I drove the pin out, took its' measure, and turned a bit
of scrap iron in the lab.  Then I drove the new pin in and the workshop
went on as before.  Hugo was amazed; in Switzerland a specialist would have
been called in.

Much is made of traditional apprenticeships, and there are some things
which may be passed on from one generation to the next which are not
written down in books.  But how important are they?

Advances in any craft or trade are made by people who go beyond
*traditional* training, and it has always been so.  The phrase, "going
beyond their training" implies a mentor, but it need not always be a
physical mentor; the teacher need not be present when the learning happens.

Altogether too much is made of *years* of apprenticeship.  I have studied
this matter and have come to the conclusion that *years* of apprenticeship
is another word for exclusion; i.e., a union.  Now, I am all in favor of
unions because I have enough time in grade to have seen what can happen in
"Right-to-Work" states (in the US), and it is not good.  But blind
obedience to any system of education, including apprenticeships, is also a

I was trained as an electrician in the US Navy and served 4 years in that
capacity, during which time I was made one of a two-man team selected to
build a completely new type of circuit which I helped to design and which
then went into service throughout the fleet.

After 4 years, I took my discharge and applied to become a union
electrician.  The union examined my record and told me that my years of
training and experience was worth 6 months off their 4 year apprenticeship
program....  I inquired about their 4 year program, to learn what manner of
knowledge would be imparted to me.  Upon careful review of their training
program I learned that the only *new* thing which they had to teach me
consisted of 6 months of conduit bending.  We did not use any conduit on
shipboard.  Not during my time.

I went to a hardware store to look at conduit and conduit benders; I went
to some warehouses to look at exposed conduit so as to understand something
more about the mystery of bending conduit.  It did not seem to me that it
would take 6 months to learn the mysteries of bending conduit.  But, union

A few months later I started college and never looked back; stiff neck....

This is probably the time to state that I consider myself to be a mechanic.
Neither an artist, nor an artisan, but a mechanic.  A pretty damned good
one, but nothing more.

My wife is not a good mechanic.  She can cross thread a light bulb (and has
done so).  She has many good qualities, which is why we have remained
married for 25 years (I suppose that I have one or two good qualities also,
which may explain why she has remained married to me [this message brought
to you by the PC police...].

The point of this posting is that some people have a sense of materials and
some do not; some are color blind and some are not, etc.

As for the question of whether or not an artist *must* master his craft, I
remember that many artists, when confronted by examples of their art which
were falling to pieces stumbled back and said, "I didn't know it would do

I paraphrase, but I have been restoring art work for so many years that I
have engaged in this sort of conversation with a number of living artists
(this is not the venue for relating names, but they would all be
recognizable to the majority of readers of this listserv).

It is better for all concerned when an *artist* pays enough attention to
detail that their works do not fall to pieces until after they have passed
from the scene.  Unlike Michaelangelo, who had any number of problems with
his art work during his lifetime; or Leonardo, whose "Last Supper" was
dismembering itself during the years that he was painting it.

That does not mean that I am willing to accept as a book whatever an
artist/artisan may declare to be a book.

I accept their right to proclaim, but retain my right to accept.

Art Rubino states that "It is almost impossible to find such trained
craftsman in the USA."  and there is some justice in that; it is also the
case that dealers (antique and book) are not often willing to pay the price
which we require in this country.




Jack C. Thompson
Thompson Conservation Lab
Portland, Oregon  USA


"The lyfe so short; the craft so long to lerne."

Chaucer, _The Parlement of Foules_ 1386.

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