Why We Make Things and Why It Matters, by Peter Korn
by J. Norman Reid
This intelligent and eminently readable book fits into a different niche than most in the literature of woodworking. This is not, like many, a book about technique. It does not discuss the merits of one style of furniture versus another. To a large extent, it is not even about woodworking although that is one common thread woven throughout the narrative. Rather, this fine book chronicles the evolution of a woodworker seeking to fill his soul through craft into a person ultimately fulfilled through a range of activities that often are barely connected to the working of wood.
The story of this book is an autobiographical account of Peter Korn from the days in the early seventies when he had forsaken his college education to follow the carpenter's trade. Soon, he discovered furniture-building and at a time when studio crafts were just beginning, he broke new ground by creating furniture on commission and for sale at craft shows and galleries.
His path as a furniture-maker was a rough one punctuated by a number of changes in location, styles, working methods and especially by a life-threatening bout with Hodgkins lymphoma at an early age. As he progressed, his career evolved from solitary woodworker to manager of a workshop employing others, teaching, establishing his own woodworking school, writing and administration. As it did, he discovered that fulfillment can come not merely from immersion in the art of creating through the medium of woodworking but by exercising creativity in a variety of venues as well.
In parallel with the narrative of his career path, Korn explains the evolution of his own understanding of more fundamental themes. Among the questions he asks are: What is craft? What is creativity? How can one find happiness and the "good life" through working wood? What does it take to find fulfillment? To these questions he offers the answers at which he has arrived in his own life but that provides ample opportunity for the reader to explore the issues for him or herself and perhaps to draw different conclusions.
This will not be a book for every woodworker. If you are looking for technical help on joinery, a discussion of tools or an assessment of furniture styles, you will not find it here. What you will find, instead, is an intelligent, thoughtful exploration of issues about craftsmanship and how the craftsman—whether working singly or in community—relates to society-at-large. This book transcends woodworking and is relevant to the interests of creative persons in a wide variety of fields. For woodworkers and others who wish to better understand why they are driven to create and what is required to find fulfillment through their craft, this book has great merit.
CLICK HERE to purchase your own copy
of Why We Make Things and Why It Matters
CLICK HERE to listen to the Radio Boston interview with Author
of Why We Make Things and Why It Matters, Peter Korn
The author is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living with his wife in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who believe they are cabinetmaker's assistants.
He can be reached by email at
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