As I mentioned in my last post, last week I was to give a talk on the wonders of hands and the rewards of using them at the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto. I did so, and the results were surprising. Full house, rapt attention, and when the audio visual equipment failed (as usual), I was going to go ahead without slides, but the crowd insisted we fix the problem and continue as planned.
I talked not only about the hands and how wonderfully capable they were in conjunction with the arm and the brain, but also about my own hobbies (wood work, metal work, rescuing vintage machinery) and those of a few people I know who are deeply involved in hands-on hobbies (building live-steam model railroad equipment, gardening, modifying and erecting buildings,cooking, restoring automobiles, tanks, and antiques of all sorts, knitting, blacksmithing, building airplane propellers , visual arts, and so on), Afterwards I took questions and some people didn’t seem to want to leave. I had obviously struck a chord.
This is actually not that surprising, since most of the people in the crowd were older (probably 50 and above on the average), and living in Palo Alto and surrounding area, probably had not spent their life in manual work. There is an increasing wave of interest in hands-on hobbies in the U.S. —maybe a reaction against the intangible nature of the "information revolution". But it seems to be strongest in younger people (the Makers) , and focused in areas where facilities are available (TechShop ) and organized groups with similar interests have formed. In any case, many people after the talk told me that they have been trying to find the time to do such a thing, but can’t seem to get started. My advice to them is simple. Make it your number #1 priority, assume your initial efforts will not be overwhelming, seek out experts for help and advice, but don’t compare your work with theirs. I used my mother, Jean Adams, as a good example. When we kids left home she decided to learn to water color. She had a background in making clothes, furniture, and other such necessities, but her painting experience was mostly confined to painting the house.
She took some lessons from a well-known water-colorist in Southern California named Robert Wood, and the two of them got along famously. At one point he convinced her to enter a painting in a show, which she did, and to her surprise won a prize. This was not in a region that had a sophisticated art movement going —no galleries, art magazines, professionals, critics, etc., and people liked Mom’s work. The rest is history. She ended up with a good local- and-beyond reputation, and eventually won a Califronia state award for her work. A few of her paintings are scattered around this post. Had she begun in Boston or New York, rather than in Rialto, California, she probably would have compared herself to world famous painters and given up.
I think I will spend a bit of time crusading to encourage people to dive into more activities that require the use of both their minds and their hands. I think they know what they want to do. They just need to jump into the water.