As a child, my family stressed the financial and moral rewards of hard work. My father was the provider for our family. He worked at a printing factory where he entered into an apprentice program at age twenty four. He played a pivotal role in my development.
Working on an assembly line in a factory and experiencing the alienation of the worker firsthand had a prolific effect on my artistic endeavors. Beginning at age fourteen I worked full-time in the summer months and part-time during the academic year.
While in college, I continued to hold a job in a local factory that made a variety of things: lighting fixtures, bleacher seats, children’s playground equipment, and government contracted objects. The factory served as inspiration for what was possible in terms of production, process, craftsmanship, and utility. Daily, I was exposed to many types of processes in the manufacturing of goods, and I was intrigued by the creation of something out of nothing, the attention to detail, and the skill in execution and craftsmanship to create a functional object. I questioned the use of advanced technological skills to reproduce the same object repetitively. Why couldn’t the skills of the workers be put to use in a creative manner? I was also exposed to the people who embodied my father’s ideals; people who worked hard for a living and possessed skills that were phenomenal, yet overlooked by their employer and dismissed by themselves.
During graduate studies at the University of Illinois, I questioned the role of craft within art. The means of labor and production that held so much meaning and passion for me was virtually disregarded by some members of my faculty. As Paul Greenhalgh writes in his essay on the history of craft, “The celebration of unfettered creative thought led inevitably to the development of artistic processes that eliminated the manual vehicle of artistic expression: skill”. To have concern with skill or labor was not inline with the avant-garde model; it was a constraint. In order to come to terms with this, I embarked on the creative research that culminated in a thesis.
The need for tools and their usefulness grew out of instinct. This instinct is the basis of humankind; the tradition of tool making is what shaped metalsmithing’s history. My choice of pizza cutters stems from the history of metalsmithing and the humanly inherent need for tools. Since the beginning of time, tools have been used to perform specific tasks. The tool becomes an extension of the hand and enables tasks which would not be possible by the hand alone. Although tools are a part of metalsmithing’s history, the use of industrial techniques to create a one of a kind object is not. The elemental tools created from stone, wood, and clay have made way to machine-age materials and instruments. My work investigates one of a kind objects and their role in a world based on mechanical reproduction. Industry has removed the aura from objects and stripped them of their individuality. My pizza cutters seek to demolish the sterile conformity of mass produced objects.
The decade after World War II brought a level of conformity that has continued to shape a nation which once celebrated regional and personal differences. Franchises became the norm and television advertising infused a system of identical vision to create a homogeneous culture. The constricting nature of conformity gave way to the emergence of fringe culture groups and nonconformist rebellion against authority. These groups deliberately opted for an outlaw lifestyle and defined themselves through their style of dress and mode of transport.
photo by Jay Grabiec