Thursday, October 21, 2010

Marvelous Skill of Hand

The Writing on the Wall: Lace and embroidery, likely done by Margaret Nicholson or her daughters. Amanda Vickery, in the History of Private Life, said women did embroidery to prove to their future husbands that they were ladies of leisure - and docile beings.

The Busy Man Magazine of 1910 had an article "Are We Losing our Ability to Work with the Hands" which is interesting in the context of Flo in the City. I have been writing about how technology deskills us and how Margaret Nicholson, born 1854, had many more homely skills than her daughters. But in 1913, when her family was in trouble financially, she lamented the fact that she 'couldn't earn her own living.' In 1913, they would promote the Manual Training Movement in the Schools, as a way to train the new immigrant for work, but not as a fine craftsman, as a factory labourer, although the initial intent might have been to create more fine craftsman, but 'ideals' and 'reality' clashed and reality won out.

Here's the article, which I have edited down.

"The man of to-day is inferior in certain points, to the savage who made the flint implements. It is safe to assume that Neolithic man was keener of sight and hearing and fleeter of foot than is the present inhabitant of these islands (England 1910). He surely, too, possessed greater powers of endurance.

And the process of decadence is still going on. The marvellous skill of hand, which was developed by our ancestors is being lost by degenerate descendants. Typewriters destroy fine calligraphy and sewing machines fine sewing. We are compelled to own that the human being is not showing signs of advancement but of decay.

The simple craftsman have all but disappeared. Spinning and weaving have vanished and with them have vanished the sensitiveness of the hands of millions of men and women in the country.

The knitting machine has destroyed the sensitiveness of the hand demanded by knitting. Embroidery has gone the same road. Lacemaking too. Even the shoemaker,who is all artist in his way, has gone the same road.

So it is with everything else. Paper making and book binding, as a means of hand culture, have practically ceased to exist. Wood engraving and line engraving have vanished.

It is not only with the finer uses of the hand that the machine has done its devastating work. There are a thousand and one machines that are taking the place of human muscle. These machines do not tend to improve the physical development of the man. "