Cutting it fine

Why do some Americans work so darn hard?

Best Buds, 12X16, $1449 framed

I don’t typically travel for fun in the summer, but with my Cody workshop cancelled due to the national car rental shortage, I had a few free days. Of course I filled them in with another trip. It wasn’t until I was unpacking my truck last night that I realized that I left my watercolor kit at my daughter’s house in New York. Oops.

 “Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing, and you’ll never be criticized,” wrote Elbert Hubbard.

In 1913, Hubbard pleaded guilty to six counts of using the US mail to distribute “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy and indecent material.” He was fined $100 and surrendered his rights as a citizen.

Apple Tree with Swing, 16X20, $1623 unframed

Here is one of the jokes that earned him disgrace:

“The bride of a year entered a drugstore.  The clerk approached.  ‘Do you exchange goods?’ she asked. ‘Oh, certainly! If anything you buy here is not satisfactory we will exchange it.’ ‘Well,’ was the reply; ‘here is one of those whirling-spray [contraceptive] affairs I bought of you, and if you please, I want you to take it back and give me a bottle of Mellin’s [baby] Food, instead.’ And outside the storm raged piteously, and the across the moor a jay-bird called to his mate, ‘Cuckoo, cuckoo!’”

Another concerned “the new stenographer whose name was Miss Mary Merryseat. But Old Man Lunkhead, Senior member of the firm of Lunkhead Sons & Co., Ltd., never having taken a course in Dickson’s Memory Method, called her Gladys.”

Owls Head Fishing Shacks, 9X12, $869 framed

Leaving aside his penchant for criminally-bad jokes, Hubbard was a busy man. He is credited with the aphorism, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” He’s best remembered for founding the Arts and Crafts Movement called Roycroft. Based on the ideas of William Morris, it was a community of printers, furniture makers, metalsmiths, leathersmiths, and bookbinders in East Aurora, NY.

Roycroft’s creed was a quote from John Ruskin: “A belief in working with the head, hand and heart and mixing enough play with the work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for health and happiness.”

It’s the ‘play’ part that is frequently neglected by Americans. I found, during my four-day interlude in New York, that I kept falling asleep. That’s a sign of exhaustion, and it’s no way to do art or anything else.

Belfast Harbor, 14X18, $1594 framed

Why do we live like this? In part, it’s training and competitiveness. And in part it’s the culture. Americans have long been the hardest-working people of all the industrialized nations

The middle class bears the brunt of our work-mania. “The average middle-class married couple with children now works a combined 3,446 hours annually, an increase of more than 600 hours—or 15 additional weeks of full-time work—since 1975,” according to the Brookings Institution.

In 1960, when I was learning to toddle, only 20% of women with children worked outside the home. Today, 70% of American children live in households where all adults are employed. That means all the unpaid work of the household is now done by parents after work and on weekends.

I’m a product of my culture, so I beat myself up for forgetting my watercolor kit. I leave to teach back-to-back workshops on Friday. I need it, and there’s no chance I can get it back in time.

Had I stayed home over the holiday weekend, I never would have mislaid it. I would have opened my gallery and maybe sold a painting. I’d have finished projects to button up for winter.

And I’d also have missed my granddaughter’s sixth birthday party. Relax, Carol, and learn to play a little.

Jesus was an Anarchist

W.W.Denslow) who illustrated the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was a Roycrofter.
This week, in honor of Dyngus Day, I’m concentrating on my home town, Buffalo, New York.
On the southern fringes of Buffalo lies the village of East Aurora, which was a center of the turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts Movement called the Roycroft.
The Roycroft was founded by Elbert Hubbard. After achieving success as traveling salesman for the Larkin Soap Company, he eventually came to the firm’s Buffalo home office, where he was an innovative and successful employee.  A visit to England exposed him to William Morris and the English Arts and Crafts Movement. After returning to Buffalo, he founded a short-run press based on Morris’ ideals. This press was called the Roycroft Press and the movement would eventually take its name.
Hubbard was a self-described anarchist and socialist living in one of America’s capitalist boomtowns. In A Message to Garcia and Thirteen Other Things, Hubbard wrote, “I am an Anarchist. All good men are Anarchists. All cultured, kindly men; all gentlemen; all just men are Anarchists. Jesus was an Anarchist.”
But don’t dismiss that statement as quaint.  The same year that A Message to Garcia was published, President William McKinley was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz on the other side of Buffalo. Anarchism was a threat to American culture on a par with fundamentalist Islamic terrorism today.
Elbert Hubbard may have described himself as a socialist, but he was clearly a genius at marketing and branding. The double barred cross and circle logo was a logo used by the Roycroft artisans to identify their products. It came to signify the Roycroft movement, used only on authentic Roycroft pieces. Even today it commands a premium.
“I believe John Ruskin, William Morris, Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Leo Tolstoy to be Prophets of God, and they should rank in mental reach and spiritual insight with Elijah, Hosea, Ezekiel, and Isaiah,” Hubbard wrote.
Somehow Hubbard managed to stay on the popular side of outrageous. He was a brilliant promoter. His championing of the Arts and Crafts movement attracted craftspeople to East Aurora, where they formed a community of almost 500 printers, bookbinders, furniture makers, and metalsmiths. Their creed was taken from John Ruskin, and it’s hard to argue with: “A belief in working with the head, hand and heart and mixing enough play with the work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for health and happiness.”
Roycroft was one of several rugged faces used around the turn of the century, when the Arts and Crafts Movement was in vogue. It was inspired by the Saturday Evening Post, and came by its current name when it was adopted by Elbert Hubbard for the Roycroft Press.
Hubbard and his wife were killed in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. The movement struggled on under the management of his son, but without Elbert Hubbard’s charisma, it foundered and closed.
The Roycroft Campus consists of fourteen buildings in the center of East Aurora. This complex has National Historic Landmark Status and includes the Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum and the Roycroft Inn.

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