Peter Korn on ‘what is the nature of a good life?’
NORTHPORT—Close to 200 people attended the Artists and Makers Conference, Friday, April 6, at Point Lookout in Northport. For artists and crafters in the creative economy, the Archipelago/Island Institute-sponsored event offered a full day with three tracts of sessions: Foundational, for those just starting a business; Transformational, for those in the process of growing their business; and Inspirational, those who are established but looking for inspiration.
With more than 22 presenters from all over Maine, there were sessions for every level of a small, creative business from the business side of resources and opportunities for Maine artists to creating a successful living in Maine, as well as successful branding and how the arts are being used to strengthen Maine’s economies.
The keynote speaker was Peter Korn, founder and executive director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship and author of Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman, which won the 2014 Maine Literary Award.
The crux of his speech centered on: “What is the nature of a good life? And how do we go about living one?”
Korn took the audience through his early years, when admittedly, he didn’t know what he wanted to do after college in 1972.
“All of the time I was in school, I felt like real life must be somewhere else,” he said. “That there must be a more vibrant, joyous and consequential way to live a life than that I saw modeled in the adult world that I was exposed to.”
The first job he took was a carpenter on Nantucket Island.
“I got lucky,” he said. “I had never met anyone who made a living working with their hands and I never met anyone in my parents’ world who did either. My father was horrified.”
Along with gaining valuable carpentry skills, Korn’s progression into furniture-making several years after that would transform his life. At the time in the early 1970s, he said there were no “professional hobby” woodworking schools in the country.
After a number of years being self-employed as a furniture maker, he took a job at the program director for Woodworking at Colorado's Anderson Ranch Arts Center and spent four years as adjunct associate professor at Drexel University before founding the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine in 1993.
The Center began as a summer workshop program in a barn behind Korn's house, moved to its present location in 1996, and became a nonprofit in 1999. It is now considered to be among the leading furniture-making schools in the world.
As Penobscot Bay Pilot wrote in a story about Korn in 2014 titled, “Woodworker-author Peter Korn on the rewards of being creatively engaged,” being creative is the easy part. Making a living at it is the hard part.
“Anyone who follows a creative passion knows that fame and money are completely inadequate as yardsticks for the emotional, intellectual and spiritual rewards that are at the heart to the creative enterprise,” he said, in his speech. “Nor can fame and money provide an adequate foundation for living an individual life that is truly rewarding.”
He cited his own students who come to the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship from all over the country as examples.
“Many of them having lived successful lives as business people, doctors, teachers...,” he said. “None of these people come to Maine because they need a little hardwood dovetail bench. But they come because they imagine that learning to make things well with their own hands, they will access some sort of meaningful fulfillment they are otherwise lacking. Fortunately, from my point of view, they’re often right.”
There was a fundamental takeaway from his keynote that left an impression on everyone in the room: Making things — creating by hand — whether it is in the trades or as a hobby or business, is more than just a noble pursuit. Honing craft in any form will elevate the meaning in one’s life.
“The reason I became a furniture maker in the first place was that I imagined by acquiring these skills and practicing them, I would somehow cultivate more of the qualities of integrity, simplicity and grace within myself,” he said.
An inspiring message for anyone who works at a creative pursuit.
For more information about the Artists and Makers Conference visit: Island Institute
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org