Craftsmanship in Chicago

On a brisk March afternoon as I was returning from Chicago’s MCA I found myself meandering down Oak Street, a small boutique filled thoroughfare which runs adjacent to Michigan Ave.  It was the last place I expected to find an art exhibition, well an exhibition of sorts.  As I passed one of the empty store fronts I was greeted by a doorman who inquired whether I would like to see an exhibition.  I was intrigued.  Quickly, I was ushered inside a disused shop floor.  I ascended a curving staircase to the first floor where I was met with groupings of various craftspeople clustered in colourful displays of scarves, handbags, watches and even saddles.  The exhibition was Hermes’ Festival des Metiers: A rendez-vous with Hermes craftsmen.  The majority of the craftspeople had flown in from Paris, and some from New York and were demonstrating the skill required in the creation of Hermes plethora of luxury goods.

I spoke with a watch craftsman who had spent 10 years with Hermes and he felt working for Hermes represented the pinnacle of quality in the watchmaking field and he exuded pride in his job.  There was a scarf maker demonstrating the scarf screen painting process, dressed in a white lab coat.  The scarves’ intricate patterns are achieved by multiple printings and it is an art to have the pattern aligned exactly to achieve the final design.  As I watched, the printing frame was misaligned, by perhaps a few millimetres, but as a consequence he said the entire scarf would have to be discarded.

Richard Sennett, in his book The Craftsman points out that this quest, the quality-driven nature of the pursuit, is what distinguishes the craftsman from the everyday worker.  Not only did I see pride in their work on display by these craftspeople expressed pure joy.  Nadine, the woman whose job it was to transfer the scarves patterns onto the screens, and was characteristic of all the craftspeople at the exhibition, spoke enthusiastically about the process exuding enthusiasm and pleasure in the work she does.

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