Linear Thinking

WE HUMANS SUFFER FROM THE DELUSION that the world would be a better place if it would just submit to our wisdom and will. Modern man’s desire to control is evidenced in the way he categorizes, organizes and measures everything in his grasp, often through the use of straight lines and rectangles. From a window seat at 30,000 feet it is obvious that this thinking has had an impact on the landscape. Man has been busy dissecting the graceful countryside into rectilinear parcels of ownership and use, so that much of the blue planet now resembles a library globe, the kind that divides the world into color-coded political areas to show that people on one side of an invisible line need to be aware that people on the other side are, well, different.

The rest of Nature isn’t nearly as fond of straight edges as man seems to be. Wonders of natural beauty as vast as desert dunes or as tiny as an alpine flower seldom exhibit a single straight line. Nature adores fluidity in line and form—while man is most comfortable when evidence of this spontaneity is placed in a frame or box. A Mackintosh rose is lovely to human minds, but its boxed, rhythmic design would look completely out of place in a garden of disobedient natural roses.

Could it be that this appreciation of definitive, confining lines is the reason we are drawn to the Craftsman style? Or is it perhaps something else? Even though the Craftsman style is considered to be close to nature, there is no denying that Craftsman bungalows and furnishings are blatant statements of simple linear art—a bold contradiction of the excessive decoration of an earlier period. Still, I think the appeal of this rectilinear style is really based on a celebration both of man’s abilities and of nature. It is the basic honesty of Craftsman work that draws us to it: honesty in materials,. honesty in design and finish, and honesty in representing the skills of its human creator. Part of the appeal of your bungalow or favorite Craftsman piece is that it is so deliciously straightforward — the honest result of hand tools working natural materials.

Perhaps the most satisfying line of all is an emotional one connecting the viewer and the craftsman. This can be a vague and misty path, but it leads to a human connection of great value. A friend once explained the wonder and pleasure she has experienced since she purchased a small side table at an estate sale. It is a Craftsman table, but not much beyond that is known about it. She placed it against her bedroom wall where it became the first thing she sees each morning as she opens her sleepy eyes, and the sight of that humble table never fails to start her day on a good note. Sometimes she takes a few minutes just to admire it, tracing the graceful grain of ancient oak as it is revealed in the warmth of morning’s soft light, wondering at the table’s confident stance on sturdy, well-proportioned legs.

In those pensive moments she often wonders who created the table. Was it made by the skilled, gnarled hands of an old man or by the delicate fingers of a young woman apprenticed to a craft commune? Or maybe it is the result of many hands and varied skills. She doesn’t know, and it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that my friend and the creator of that table are sharing a silent moment of appreciation, the kind you feel when you watch a beautiful sunset with a total stranger. That little table has brought a bigger world to my friend, just as you might experience while admiring your bungalow or reflecting on its builders and previous owners. At moments like these, across a span of decades and distance and free of any need to control, a straight line connects two hearts.

Looking forward to hearing from you,



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