The Industrial Arts

13 Apr

Over Easter I spent time away walking, camping and enjoying the peace of Lake Catani at Mt Buffalo National Park in Victoria. No I didn’t take the bike; there was too much other stuff to do. However there was plenty of time around the fire at night to think.
While I am not one to want to put things or people in boxes,it has long interested me that the term Arts or Crafts didn’t really gel with the sort of stuff that I or many other people do. Over the years I have known or met many people who make things by hand. People, who build houses, restore vintage cars, make furniture or wooden boats. While some people may refer to these pursuits of the handmade as “an art” the broader community see the arts as something more confined to the aesthetic; like painting and dance,and things like pottery or macramé are more in the crafts basket. Don’t get me wrong, I have known and appreciate the work of people who pursue those things too but they don’t quite fit in the same box except from the creative angle. I recently came across the term Industrial Arts and started to think about what that meant. I started to wonder, are bicycle framebuilding or traditional house building or wooden boat building Industrial Arts. I have decided that simply by themselves they are not. However the skills involved and learned and the understanding of the materials used to do these things are.
There are many people out there who decide at one time or another that they would like to build themselves a bike frame or a boat or restore a car. Their rationale is often to own this item and imagine that doing it yourself may be cheaper and/or fun to do. While this may or may not turn out to be the case, if they have no prior skills in woodworking and no understanding of different woods and how they respond to being worked, or have never held a file against a piece of steel or brazed a joint of anything let alone a bicycle tube they are simply making the item they set out to. If on the other hand they have served some sort of apprenticeship or training in the related trade to their project then they are practicing the Industrial Arts. Again, don’t get me wrong. There are some very good self taught makers of things who go on to make for others. They would probably have been very good apprentices, but a thorough grounding in a related trade will certainly make the learning curve less steep. I served an apprenticeship as toolmaker. I don’t think I would have had the guts to build a bike frame (even one) had I not had that background, here’s to those who do. But more importantly for this particular topic I would not see myself as practicing any sort of art let alone the Industrial Arts if I didn’t have that broad understanding. It’s not only the final product that matters, its each little invisible step along the way.
When I look at the work of Matthew Boyle who I have known for a long time at
or, Peter Ingram-Jones at
or, Ian Barry at
I can see they have a huge understanding of the materials and process involved in their creations. I also see a large appreciation for the history behind what they are making. All this combined reflects in my opinion, the Industrial Arts. I will leave it to you do decide if the building of bicycle frames by hand and in the way I do it fits into this category.

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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


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