I’ve been staring at the rear post of an antique ladderback chair this morning.
This might seem like a mindless thing to do, but there’s a lot to engage with here – this chair is more than 150 years old. How many times does a hand have to touch a turned hardwood finial before a flat is worn? How many people have leaned back into that curved top slat after a long day? I wonder about the lathe those posts were turned on – does it survive somewhere, perhaps in pieces in some dusty barn? Who was the maker, and where did they live? Did their shop tools get passed down through the generations, or dispersed through flea markets and the slow creep of rust and rot? All mysteries.
Today’s mass-produced chairs might last a decade, maybe a little more, if you go easy on them. They mostly end up in landfills after that, but they’re easy to replace. Over and over. That’s the cycle that “progress” has come up with, a pattern consistent over the whole panorama of manufactured goods. But this old chair laughs at such throwaway silliness. It’s got at least a century left in it (I’d say), and probably more if some future woodworker doesn’t mind doing a few simple repairs, maybe weaving a new rush seat for it in the decades to come.
We at M&T have latched onto the phrase from Ruskin: “When we build, let us think that we build for ever.” In fact, we love it so much we put it on a T-shirt and stickers. Ruskin held up longevity, durability, and permanence as virtues of human creative expression, and taught that we should consider our descendants and those who will come long after us in the objects we make. When we do, we make a powerful statement to the world.
Just a reminder that this Sunday, July 25th is the last day to pre-order a “Build For Ever” hoodie. Autumn is coming (believe it or not), and this warm, soft, and durable layer will come in handy for those chilly evenings around the campfire.