Editor’s note: It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment that John Brown became a personal hero. Was it when I first saw his chairs? When I read his early columns for Good Woodworking? Or was it when I read his book “Welsh Stick Chairs?”
During the weekend, Toronto carpenter Marc Stonestreet mentioned how inspired he was by the conclusion to “Welsh Stick Chairs.” He even insisted that his wife read it. Of course, I went back and read it again as a result. I’ll never forget the line about asparagus.
If you have ever wondered if John Brown’s writings are for you, this short chapter is likely the answer.
— Christopher Schwarz
We are approaching the de-Industrial Revolution, or New Age. Empires disintegrate. Nations re-emerge. We must look back and see how it was done before, not to copy, but to learn. Some of us hope that Wales will again become a Nation. We must look at our history, and each of us in our way pluck something from it and revive it. How did my forefathers go about their life? What equipment did they possess? What was the spirit of the making? I have no doubt the word ecology was as strange to them as it was to me a few years ago (what is the Welsh for ecology?). They preserved their environment because they didn’t have the monster tools to wreck it. No flails for them, they laid their hedges. Now I have the knowledge they didn’t have and I try to preserve my environment. Science is destructive, it has wrecked the land, but only those old fundamentals, agriculture and handicrafts, can restore it.
We have come full circle. Good quality goods can be made as cheaply by hand as in a factory. The ‘March of Time’ has overtaken the tycoons. The costs of production, rent, rates, wages, holiday pay, maternity pay, insurances, and above all capital plant, have soared. The craftsman with small workshop, some good tools and a woodstove can compete. The industrialist’s answer is to make nastier and cheaper goods, with less labour and more automation. People are beginning to despair about the rubbish; they want better and are willing to pay for better.
We are entering the age of the craftsman, where skills will be what matters. An age when the man who can grow asparagus will be more important than the man who can spell asparagus.
You may think that this is a long way from the Welsh stick chair, but I have plenty of time to think about things. I live in a beautiful place, I work at some thing I love, I make enough money to live, and my demands on the world’s resources are very meagre. What is so unusual about this idyllic circumstance is that there is plenty of room for more to join.
— John Brown, “Welsh Stick Chairs”
11 thoughts on “The Inspiring Conclusion of ‘Welsh Stick Chairs’”
when was this written?
About 1990 — perhaps a little earlier.
30 years later I’m still not sure the man who can grow asparagus is more important than the man who can sell asparagus. I want it to be so. But have you seen the price of asparagus at Whole Foods?
And here we are, thirty years after this book was written, with a generation with their faces glued to electronic devices, oblivious to the world around them. So few can do anything for themselves, muchless those around them. Bob Glenn
It is not realy a generation. It‘s more like the majority of the northern hemisphere. Please don‘t take the shortcut of blaming the younger ones.
And don‘t forget the pros of such electronic devices. It gives me the opportunity to communicate with other likeminded people around the world.
-written from an electronic device in Germany
Inspiring, prophetic and relevant.
And thanks for helping to create more room for others to join.
The reclamation of the alienated self under capitalism….
It’s a wonderful philosophy, and I’m grateful for the point of view John Brown spreads. And you, Chris. It works great for a chairmaker, and for some others.
But it simply doesn’t work for our world, or even our towns. It’s just too big, and too complex. Rent, maternity leave, insurance, etc are all necessary parts if our lives. We can, and must, find ways to make them more equitable. But doing away with them is unlikely, and undesirable.
I’m pretty cynical about independent crafts offering an alternative to capitalism – they’re usually just a niche within it. William Morris pretty soon worked out that his job description was “ministering to the swinish luxuries of the rich”.
Ashbee’s “Craftsmanship in Competitive Industry” is a pretty clear-eyed account of what you end up against when trying to run a “progressive” business –
Not much has changed a hundred years on…
That being said, and now I’ve cheered up cause I’ve had my lunch, perhaps the approach of encouraging people to ignore the multinationals and make it yourself is more sustainable…in respect of which, Forza Lost Art Press!
I have read this many times, brilliant. By the way, the Welsh for ecology is ecoleg. 🏴
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