I’ll never forget the sound of grinding metal, Shostakovitch and Mahler, and my father’s whistling echoing through the vents in my house each evening as a child. That’s right; my father had his “shop” in the basement of every home we ever lived in. He made telescope mounts and clock drives among other things. Dad’s shop was always a dark and somewhat mysterious place. I have memories as a child of tip toeing into his shop so not to step on metal shavings, I remember my father coming upstairs from the Shop seeming a little bit different. I did not understand this change as a child …but now I do, I know while he was in the shop, he gathered himself, shut out the noise, and created things. This changes people; this helps people function and survive in this non-stop and complicated world.
Fast forward many years, as a sculptor, I have had the great fortune to work in many studios. From an old Model T Ford factory, book binderies in Chicago, old tool and die shops and now the Eli Whitney Museum Barn….all of these spaces were precious and significant to my overall psyche, creativity, and outlook on life. Still the connection of my father’s “shop” and my “studio” never quite came into fruition until I had the pleasure of speaking about the importance of working spaces with my New Zealander friend Lucy.
We began the discussion about the phenomenon of the SHED in New Zealand. It might be the equivalent of what we Americans call our shop, studio, or garage. It is a separate place, a place of departure. A place one feels free to explore various hobbies with their hands and their hearts and minds. Apparently it is very common to have a shed in New Zealand. Lucy told me many of these sheds are located in a separate garage-like building behind ones house. One of her family’s shed has a slated path that connects the house to the shed. This path introduces the departure from everyday life to an inner life. There’s something almost ceremonial about it…beautiful.
Of course after hearing about the Shed phenomenon I immediately started to think about how the private spaces people create nurture their inventive pastimes….or in taking it a step further, what significance do these spaces have on a society’s overall well-being? Does it make us make us more patient, thoughtful, and creative? Does it help us in exploring new ideas and encourage our experimental selves? I don’t have the answer to these questions but on a personal note, I thought back on my father’s shop. How the quiet space and solitude, working with his hands, and letting his mind wander most likely played a big role in my family’s survival. With eight people in our family, the non-stop schedules, the noise, noise, noise around us, how must it have felt to take a few steps into the basement, turn on Mahler and begin making things.
I think of this in my own life as I walk into my studio each day, before I even turn on the light or music, I will stand there and look up and around me, take in the smells of wood and clay. Like pressing the pause button….if only for a moment.
I’d like to think of the forest, with its enclosures, walls of trees, canopy of leaves, serving a similar purpose in many people’s lives. Yes, one is not necessarily using their hands to ‘make’ something as they do in a studio but surely in this environment of separation and solitude one ‘makes’ something within.
Those separate spaces are sacred, special and important in helping us tune out the noise of the everyday. These spaces manmade or otherwise, give us enough pause such that we may re-calibrate ourselves.