Prior to satellites, the complete mapping of the globe was done one coastline at a time. If you ever have the chance to pick up a current maritime map, you will notice that the date and surveyor (usually the UK, France, or Holland) are noted in every location plotted out. As a civilization, we have been “discovering” the globe since humans arrived on this planet. Whether you believe we appeared via evolution, divine intervention, or some spacecraft…one thing is for certain, it’s taken nearly 50,000 years to map out the surface of Earth. It is a vast mass covered by mountain ranges, endless seas, and the occasional pirate who prefers to remain off the map.
At the forefront of the mapping effort was the British Empire. In the name of the Crown, the British have played a huge role in creating a visual illustration of the Earth, and they also famously set up a few clubhouses along the way. Not all of their exploration tactics have been warmly embraced, but leaving politics, resource pillaging, and the unforgivable sin of bringing the “English Kitchen” to regions of culinary superiority aside, there is a certain “Englishness” to a globe.
In his recent body of work “Lost Ceremony,” artist & photographer, Adam Marelli asks why are ancient traditions worth preserving? To explore this concept, he worked inside of the studios of Japan’s most notable craftsmen to understand the link between belief and practice. To his surprise, Marelli discovered that in spite of the Japanese craftsmen’s distinguished histories, each generation must prove themselves, not only to stand up to history, but to deserve a place in the future. If a master craftsman hopes to leave a legacy, they must examine themselves artistically, philosophically, and practically every step of the way. In the end, craft is simply a tool for unlocking the mystery of a meaningful existence.
“The paradox of balancing the past with the future is the invisible force that lies at the heart of the Japanese craftsman.”
by Adam Marelli
Squero di San Trovaso
The sign on the door reads “Vietato L’accesso” One of the two remaining boatyards in Venice is closed to the public, but a chance opportunity shed new light on an old tradition.
Is a gondola a gimick reserved for tourists or is it a piece of cultural heritage, kept alive so that future generations will never forget that Venice was built on water? Everyone seems to have a different take, but whether they are loved or abhorred, gondolas still slide up and down the canals each day.
On the back waters of Duorsoduro, Squero di San Trovaso is protected from the the rough water, heavy foot traffic, and prying eyes of any unscheduled visit. This is where gondolas are born and go to be repaired.
Disguised beneath a coat of black paint, gondolas are complex asumentrical boats, hand made from over two hundred individual pieces of wood, in eight different species. The paint unifies the design into a single form.
The Venetians have a particular fondness of trees. Ironic for a city of stone and water. The trees are all hidden. Venice sits on a pad of a few million logs driven into the silt. Every foundation in Venice is supported by a network of tree trunks, shaprened to a point. These trees distribute the weight of the buildings so the city does not crumble to the ground. Wood keeps Venice floating and moving through the water.
Invited by a Chief
Tanna [ V A N U A T U ]
George Nakashima Woodworker
New Hope, Pennsylvania
George Nakashima made imperfection famous. After enduring a Japanese internment camp with his family during World War 2, he went on to train as an architect and then open a furniture making studio in eastern Pennsylvania. As his daughter Mira describes, “Dad couldn’t afford choice lumber, so he started using boards with raw edges.”
These natural edge pieces of wood became a signature feature of Nakashima furniture and would go on to influence generations of furniture makers to apply the wabi-sabi aesthetic to furniture making.
Today, the workshop is run by George’s daughter Mira and her team of craftsman. Mira and I were introduced through Fujin Butsudo, who was our mentoring monk at a Zen monastery. Our shared love of craftsmanship and philosophy led to a three month period where I photographed the craftsman at work. As Mira said to me, “We have someone to photography the buildings designed by Dad, we have someone else to shoot the furniture, but I’ve not found someone to shoot along side the craftsmen.”
For any admirer of furniture the Nakashima compound is a dreamland. George designed all of the buildings that fuse European Modernism with Japanese restraint. And in the back of the property is a small hanger that houses a collection of wood slabs that George accumulated over his lifetime. Some of the trees in the collection are now extinct or nearly impossible to come by in larger sizes. It is a unique operation and one that continues George’s distinct style and unique approach to design.
Merz b. Schwanen
Albstadt & Berlin, Germany
It is said that the soil is Albstadt has four rocks for every potato. This is why the region became famous for fabric production, rather than farming. The clothing produced was so famous that when neighboring Bavaria used to invade they would steal the shirts off the bodies of the Swabian soldiers.
After the wars however, production dwindled. Like many industrial areas across Europe, work moved to cheaper locations across Asia and South America. But designers Peter and Gitta Plotnicki approached the Schwanen family to purchase their operation.
Today the run Merz B. Schwanen (roughly translating to Mark the Swan) and produce their own line of circular knit clothing line. Shirts age with a wonderful softness and maintain a connection to a lost era of clothing design. Their work caught the attention of Monocle Magazine and Nigel Cabourn to create collaboration lines for a specialty clientele.
From thread to finished product, they oversee every step in the process. Peter maintains that the machines are finicky and need constant tuning by their resident mechanics. Otherwise the weave will not be consistent. It is a daily balance to keep things humming, but the results are a shirt that feels like it will last one hundred years.