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Taking Oscar’s Advice

Oscar Wilde was and remains renowned for being wild. Too much wild for his own day, and probably even by today’s standards he would be too wild. He got it from being too liberal.

But, Oscar Wilde was funny, witty, and a careful thinker on many subjects, not all, for sure, and on many he lazily fell back onto his witticisms, which themselves were pretty good and quickly made one forget what it was he was being lazy about. So when one of his famous admonitions had taken ahold in my head and would not go away, should anyone be surprised?

It was his bit about not buying anything made in a factory, but rather buying only handmade things, especially things that were for home decor.

Wilde was reacting to the massive industrialization and standardization then taking place in England and America. He who did not believe in souls talked about created things having a soul, and the souls of their human owners being damaged by mass-produced things.

We get the point, especially today, when cheap Chinese crap surrounds everything we do and own and live.

The smell of Chinese formaldehyde permeates nearly everything we buy at the big box stores like Lowes and Home Depot. Formaldehyde is toxic stuff. Embalmers use it to stop the decay of human flesh, in preparation for wakes and open casket burials. If massive machines, dark windowless drudgery in brick factories, and densely choking coal smoke bothered Wilde, how much more so would the invisible snake of Formaldehyde!

While a great deal of my enjoyment comes from natural things, including hunting, trapping, fishing, gardening, and being outdoors as much as possible, I have never been very accomplished at making things, especially the natural things I like to have with and around me. Clumsy and slow, being artistic in ways that fit my physique and capabilities just never happened. I have always had to acquire those hand made things I liked.

And so that Wilde admonition would not quit.

Watching my son play in the ashes of bonfires, rooting around for bits of melted glass and aluminum, brought Wilde to light. Two years ago the boy brought aluminum nuggets he had fished out of one of our fires on a camping trip, and he spent a lot of his time hammering these into a crude knife blade. No, not a very hard or useful blade, but his creation nonetheless. He was proud of it and continued to make stuff. And he has really gone farther this past summer, making all kinds of things in fire, like glass paper weights.

And so we now have an anvil of Jymm Hoffman’s construction (of cast H13 impact tool steel, made here in Pennsylvania) and a bunch of tools. The forge is under way. Hopefully my heavy physique will find a way to channel my artistic desire, and my son’s budding artistic talents. We might be able to make things together, things that are organic, folksy, natural, ergonomic, fun, useful, and definitely not mass produced.

Bear with us as we begin to explore Oscar Wilde’s guidance.

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