I was having a wonderful chat a couple of weeks ago with some new friends. We were having dinner in the kind of place where the man in gaucho pants asks you if you want what he's carrying. It's kind of like a buffet, except it's the food that wanders around.
We were talking about being people who make things. About our first crafty outputs when we were kids and how it set the stage for our adult lives as artists. I hadn't ever really thought much of my early crafting before I learned to knit, but I realize how much construction paper and magazine collages were a kind of preamble to what I now do with yarn, and how important all that spontaneous mess making was to how I work out a short row problem.
When I was very young, I made worlds in my room out of cardboard box doll houses, furnishing them with beds covered in fabric scraps and upholstered clothespin couches. I once spilled a quart of red paint during one building session all over the middle of my shag rug and tried to hide the evidence by piling stuff on top of it. The paint dried before it was discovered and so it remained: an indellible testimony to my general clumsiness. The year I was 8 I spent a homesick session at the kind of summer camp where we took classes like weaving and batik. I brought home the unfinished top of a wooden stool I had begun to carve with lotus flowers and a hummingbird, intent that I would finish it someday when I could gather my own tools. Somethings never change.
My favorite place during my brief stay at a wonderful school in the fourth grade was the pottery studio where I learned about the transformative power of the kiln.
I learned to sew and was given my first sewing machine before I was 10. I did macramé and made plant hangers with hemp cord and oversized glazed beads of my own making for my mother's expanding spider plant flock. I was supplied with needlepoint canvases for sick days in bed, and no end of nails and rope for the treehouses that never made it past their first ambitious flush of effort out there in the woods.
My parent's friends sat for portraits during cocktail parties and went home with souvenirs. I made whole families of hand puppets out of paper maché and rigged working theater curtains in a cardboard box that I moved half of the furniture in my room so I could conceal myself underneath to perform puppet shows without end for my poor patient mother.
And only after all of that did I learn how to knit.
And I was thinking about my 11 year old son, who is drawing and re-drawing imaginary Godzilla creatures and Ultraman characters so much that when I gave him a ream of paper last week, he was excited as if it were Christmas. He's always been a consumer of paper: I have the grocery bags full of origami creatures to illustrate that point.
The miniature Godzilla "movie set" he abandoned for the current drawing jag sits collecting dust in his room, sprawled across every flat surface like a Lilliputian back lot at Universal Studios.
Like me, he's a maker. He may not have a red paint stain on his rug (yet), but he does have the vapor trail of half finished projects of the constantly moving mind that I had. He makes a glorious mess, and I couldn't be more proud. Perhaps he will let me teach him to do something with yarn someday. But until then, I'll keep letting him follow his heart and inspiration, where ever they may lead.
So what kinds of things did you make when you were a kid?