Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Because I'm the Best, Part 1
Many things were not so great in Olde New York of the 1970s - car windows broken for the theft of radios, vandalized subway trains, sanitation strikes, drug addicts, and perhaps the worst aspect, crime and a heightened sense of danger. I'm doubtful that even the most romantic or nostalgic wishes those things back.
But there are some things I miss, and one is the character of small shops and the opportunity for nearly anyone with a reasonable idea or craft to stake out his or her claim in the retail environment. There are still a handful of small shops along some side streets, but rents are generally prohibitive for the lone artisan.
I was involved in the leather craft movement for some years and made routine visits to many small shops, owned and operated by a crafts person(s). Some were my clients, others just acquaintances. Nearly all of these shops are gone. A few artisans still remain in business - Dick Whalen of Native Leather (formerly Natural Leather) at 203 Bleecker Street and legendary sandal maker Barbara Schaum on East 4th Street.
I have been involved in product manufacture since those days and do pride myself on having some level of expertise using tools. However, some years ago, to perform a simple task at home, I made the mistake of asking a friend for scissors. She was an architect, and I was appropriately reprimanded for not using an Exacto knife or razor blade. I was told that those were tools of precision and that no good crafts person uses scissors for the type of work I was doing. She pointed out that in the architecture firm where she worked at the time, the model making department used only knives and razor blades and that scissors could only be found in the marketing department.
This was extremely interesting to me, because one of my most memorable life experiences involved virtually the very same subject, only with a little more drama. I recounted the story for her. For that, however, you have to meet Jim Murnak. And we will do that tomorrow in Part 2...