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Why We Make Things: A Maine Craftsman's Creative Journey
01/16/2014   Reported By: Jennifer Rooks

Peter Korn, the founder and director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, is known internationally for his how-to books, including "Woodworking Basics" and the "Woodworkers Guide to Hand Tools." But Korn's most recent book is very different - it is a memoir and exploration of what it means to work with one's hands, and the human impulse to create things. Jennifer Rooks visited with Korn recently, at his studio.

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Why We Make Things: A Maine Craftsman's Journey Listen

PK - Karsten Oksen

You'll find the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship just off Route 90 in Rockport - a collection of attractive wood clapboard buildings all painted barn red. It seems pretty quiet here in January - until you step inside. Here, students learn fine woodworking techniques on both power tools and hand tools.

Students come to CFC from all over the world. Carsten Oksen (left) is a carpenter in his native Denmark. "Craftsmanship is universal, you know, so we all have a common ground," Oksen says.

Oksen is taking part in the nine-month comprehensive course. "I love the medium of wood, and I love the things you can do with it," he says. "And I've always been fascinated by what you can do - be it furniture, be it houses, be it anything. And I love working with my hands."

"I got my driver's license a couple months before I got here in preparation for a different lifestyle," says Emily Deutchman. Deutchman, from New York City, is looking for a career change from advertising.

PK - Emily Deutchman"And there is something just about making something that had a utilitarian aspect to it, and feeling like, in woodworking, you're really getting life skills that can be transferred to all different areas, you know," Deutchman (right) says. "And it's good to feel useful."

CFC founder Peter Korn has spent the last five years in a process of collecting his thoughts about what craftsmanship has meant to his life.

"And that whole time, it was a process of taking some really strongly-held convictions that I started with about why making matters, and rationally exploring them," he says, "and also reading what people have written in psychology or sociology or other fields that are pertinent to what I was thinking about to make sure I wasn't totally off the wall with my ideas. And I'm really happy with what I came out with."

What he came out with is a memoir: "Why We Make Things and Why it Matters: The Education of a Craftsman."

"One of the confusions it turns out I've had most of my working adult life as a craftsman," he says, "is I confused virtuosity with virtue."

Peter KornKorn (left) says he believed at one point that if he lived his life in a craftsman-like way, he would become a better person.

"I don't really see it that way now. What I see is that if you engage in creative work - and craft has been mine - that that is a source of really deep and rich fulfillment," Korn says. "During the time you're working, when you're creatively engaged - at least for me - it's very fullfilling, and it's a great source of meaning in life. But it doesn't make me a wonderful person at all."

Korn says he did find that the way to live a deeply meaningful life is to be creatively engaged. It's a conclusion Korn shared with a standing-room-only crowd recently at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. "So I'm not saying that this makes us all better people, or it's the way to become enlightened at all," he told the crowd. "I'm saying it's the way to live a deeply meaningful fulfilled life, is to be deeply, creatively engaged."

"So, maybe I'm lucky enough that something that's really important to me turns out to be resonant with something in the culture at this particular moment," Korn says. "Maybe I'm that lucky."

Photos of Carsten Oksen and Emily Deutchman:  Jennifer Rooks

Photo of Peter Korn:  Courtesy the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship


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