The Humanity of Tools
A few years ago, at dinner in Albuquerque I asked Diana Montoya, Rio Grande’s Product Manger for Tools and Educational Materials, how she evolved into her work. “I love tools!!!” The passion with which she said those familiar words lit up her face like a 1000w light bulb, and I recognized a fellow tribe member…ok, maybe, a fellow addict. From the shiny, new, and cutting edge, to the beaten up, well loved, and time tested, for some of us tools have a mystical power, a palpable draw like Harry Potter’s phoenix feathered, magic wand.
When confronted with a new or new-to-us tool we see a gazillion possibilities that did not exist in our imaginations mere seconds before. Many of us are transported back to childhood when we watched in wonder as family members built or fixed things. – My grandfather’s basement was like a private old fashioned hardware store with jars of nuts and bolts screwed into the rafters, ready for any project that might come along. – I’ve watched friends and colleagues demonstrate new tools they’ve invented or found a new way to use, and suddenly, I can envision an entire body of work that might be possible, or an even better way to do something I already do over and over that now will be faster and more accurate.
Yes, I am a tool junky.
This wasn’t always the case. Given the limited resources of my early days as a metalsmith and later as a professional artist and single parent, I opted instead for raw materials. My hands were young, and so was my son, so if I had to choose, I chose what I could turn from the proverbial lead into gold. I chose the wire, sheet, and stones.
Now, however, I’m in a different place. There are two microscopes on my bench: one that is part of my Orion micro TIG welder, and a Leica I use for engraving. My mother has spent the better part of the last 10 years systematically going through my grandfather’s basement, so these new shiny high-tech enablers lie next to beautifully gnarled hammers, odd woodworking clamps, and the anvil that was my great-grandfather’s.
My husband Chris Balch loves to joke that he is exempt from the “no tools or gifts with plugs for wives” rule. I saw a recent Facebook post by Beth Wicker in which she mentioned all the chasing and repousse tools she was using on some new projects. I remember years ago when Beth’s husband bought my Eastern Repousse Tools for her. I’ve seen her post in the past how much she misses him, and it’s no small thing to me that when she picks up my tools to use, she fondly remembers her late husband.
Tools connect us to each other through time. I can imagine how surprised my great-grandfather would be to know his great-grand-daughter pounded out massive turtles on his anvil, and that these turtles now sail the seas on a superyacht dedicated to helping save manta rays. We’re not the only species to use tools, but our quest for better tools and better ways to make things are an integral part of our humanity.