Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Making Special

The following is a brief excerpt from the piece by Susan Crowell, writer, and
ceramics instructor at U. Michigan, Ann Arbor:

"Craftsmanship is the central, qualitative element of craft, and it is at the
heart of one maker's response to the work of another. ............. and in
seeking a unified theory of craft, not a unified aesthetic, we need to focus
on the act of making, not the object itself."

She discusses the writing of anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake's in her book
"Homo Aestheticus", who describes "ART" as the task of "making special".
Susan goes on to say.......

"For craftspeople, this making special emphasizes both the making and the
special. Reversing the terms - special making- rings even truer when speaking
of craft, for which the process of handwork is an essential component. As our
perception of time becomes more precious and the time-intensive nature of
craft increases its value, craft may even come to represent the preciousness
of time itself, embodied in an object."

Working in Eugene...written a couple of years ago

Another day in paradise begins as I wake up to the sound of my wife’s dry, hacking cough. Everyone in the family has been suffering the same allergy for the last two weeks as pollen accumulated in yellow drifts on our second story deck overlooking the Wayne Morse ranch. The drifts are slowly turning into yellow rivulets, heading toward the gutter as an Oregon mist shrouds the view, now all green and gray. According to the paper, the high temperature for the last twenty-four hours is a good 12 degrees below normal for this time of year.
What “normal” means in Eugene though, is the subject of debate on many parameters. Normal Eugene weather is patently oxymoronic but, conversely, it is normal here for some of the best art in the area to take refuge in a “Salon de Refuse,” having been refused the comfy confines of the Jacobs. Just not enough room for all the good art here, eh?
My new canoe, purchased six weeks ago with high hopes of warm, pleasant water excursions and high-lake fishing trips sits under the tall Doug Fir in the side yard, bottom up and cold, waiting through another weekend for the promise of warmer weather to come. In the same way, the underground art culture quietly awaits discovery by the local media and “the guy on the street.”
What compels us to live in a place where the weather may be the least predictable on the planet? Why do we continue to stay in “The Valley of Sickness,” (as the Native Americans who once populated the Willamette Valley labeled the Eugene area) and how can so many of us gladly live and produce art in a place that either ignores us or takes us for granted? It is absurd when a local graphic artist gets his biggest local contract through…his agent in Chicago! Yes, that actually happened to local graphic artist Mike Backus, who, by some twist in fate, was also the very first local artist to be commissioned for the Bach festival poster in its entire 30-year history. The festival has sought artistic talent from as far away as Brazil in past years but not until a few years back has it chosen a native son (or daughter) to draw the poster.
Perhaps this phenomenon is not so unusual or outrageous. The exotic, lilting Australian drawl, for example, that sounds so wonderfully curious to our ear, is no more than “just how they talk” in the outback, I suppose. And what we perceive as exciting “primitive art” is sometimes no more than the abstract whittling of another culture’s drunken social outcasts. In the same way, we local artists become the exotic in other locales, but remain obscure and uninteresting in our own venue.
As a community though, aren’t we missing something when we overlook the powerful influence of a predominate thread in the fabric of our local culture? The first and longest running Saturday Market in the entire nation was started right here in Eugene. There are clones of the Saturday Market in every state in the union, yet the local community at large looks upon our Market as some sort of cute departure. Because of that perception and other factors, many professional artists who live here are compelled to market outside of the area. In so doing, incidentally, they may contribute more heavily than might be expected to the local economy by directly importing out-of-area cash. Not millions, perhaps, but certainly many hundreds of thousands.
It would be nice to bridge the gap in our community by exposing and exploring the overlooked thread in our fabric. I solicit your thought provoking commentary.

Business history (written in the third person)

Like a seed dropped into a crack in the pavement, Goldworks has pushed up through the rubble and spread out, literally having grown up through the streets of Eugene. Gary Dawson sold his first ring for $4 sitting in front of Old Taylors on the corner of 13th and campus. Now, 32 years later, he is operating his successful jewelry design studio at another corner in Eugene, the Broadway and Pearl district.

Mr. Dawson’s involvement with metal work began well before however, on a farm in southwestern OR. Situated midway between Riddle and Canyonville, Mountain Meadows farm was a 221-acre refuge for his war-weary parents when they moved there in 1947. Dawson grew up in a relatively healthy and safe haven, free to explore and fully appreciate the environment in which his consciousness was developing. While he was a child, learning the skills needed to keep a rural home viable, he was also, no doubt, unconsciously soaking up the dynamism of the gold-rich hills and streams. At age 12 he began his metalworking career, sweeping the floor in a local machine shop. It wasn’t long before Dawson began assuming welding and fabrication duties, having already learned many of these skills previously on the farm. One of his first design innovations was a new way to trim brake shims for the Hannah Nickel Mine tramway in the refurbishing process. Previously, the shims had been shaped in a laborious grinding process and Dawson developed a way to trim excess metal before installation, using a cutting torch.

It wasn’t until returning from the Army that Mr. Dawson began his involvement with jewelry design and manufacture. He was utilizing the GI bill to acquire a rather eclectic liberal arts degree at the University of Oregon when a friend from his hometown approached him with a career idea. The friend talked him into taking a beginning jewelry class because he (the friend) had decided that he wanted to be a jeweler. Somewhat skeptically, Mr. Dawson enrolled in the metalworking class of Max Nixon, a mentor of many northwest artists. After two weeks, the friend had dropped out of the class but by that time, Dawson had made an initial investment of $80 on some of the tools necessary to begin building a jewelry studio. Mr. Dawson continued his academic career, eventually graduating from the U. of O. with a BA in Anthropology, but continued to develop his jewelry making skills as well.

Aside from the corner of 13th and Kincaid, the first sales venues included the old Max’s tavern and a door-to-business-door-walking route around downtown Eugene. At that time, on many Wed. nights, after his Spanish language class informal gathering, Dawson would sit in a visible corner table at Max’s Tavern, with a box of his newly created jewelry and a penlight. A deal was struck with the management that the soft sell could continue as long as it didn’t become a problem for clients (and as long as generous tips were offered.) During free afternoons, Mr. Dawson found that walking around from business to business, offering looks at his jewelry creations would often result in profitable days. Business owners didn’t seem to mind, as the approach was gentle and very polite. An initial attempt was made to sell at the Portland Saturday Market (PSM) but after a frustrating day of many compliments and no sales, Dawson found the strategy of walking into business offices in Eugene to be easier to handle. Later, after spending some time at the Saturday Market in Eugene, Dawson discovered that the PSM actually was a viable venue and eventually was elected to the board of directors of the Portland market where he sold most weekends for 8 years. He maintained his home in Eugene during that time.

Mr. Dawson’s first retail location in Eugene was near the edge of town on Coburg Road, inside what was then called the Coburg Road Clock Shop. He spent a year there, and then was convinced that opening his own location would provide for more visibility. Staying at a small shop location at 15th and Willamette for over 8 years, he continually developed the business, building a devoted following of local clients who were interested in the integrity of design and manufacture that he consistently provided. He also began doing national-level craft shows at that time, successfully working venues as diverse as La Quinta, CA (near Palm Springs) and the Minneapolis MN American Crafts Enterprises show.

It was around this time that Mr. Dawson became involved with the NorthWest Craft Alliance, a Puget Sound based corporation formed by and for northwest craftspeople. At the time Dawson joined the organization as an investor, it had been putting on a show in Seattle called The Best of the Northwest for 6 years. Mr. Dawson was eventually elected to the board of directors of that organization and then assumed the presidency of the board in 1994. During his tenure as president, the organization successfully developed another Best of the Northwest show in Portland, OR.

Dawson moved his studio from the 15th and Willamette location out of a need for more room in about 1993. Moving from the approx. 600 sq. ft. of the Willamette St. operation to over 900 sq. ft. on the northwest corner of 13th and Lawrence allowed for the expansion of both the shop and showroom. As Dawson was at this time branching out to writing and photography, the new venue provided enough space for tabletop commercial photography. Dawson has, in the last several years, been published in a variety of national magazines in such diverse topics as motor coaching, (product review of Marathon’s first slide-out Prevost), commercial photography and jewelry manufacturing techniques.

The “destination location” strategy used to develop his business worked well in those beginning years, but a move to a more visible location not only enhanced the long-term viability of the business but allowed for the development other market segments as well. The current location in downtown Eugene, provides more opportunity to tap into the growing tourist market here in Eugene, as well as providing a safer, more comfortable venue for his growing local clientele.

Dawson says, “The fact that a business such as mine could develop as it did over the years with no capital investment or franchise recognition, by simply pulling on the bootstraps, speaks well for Eugene as a community. There are few locations in the world where a county boy like myself could move to a city and “grow” a business that is not only profitable but also fun. I love my work!”