My grandfather died this past week. In his life, he served in the Army National Guard and then worked as both a power plant engineer and boiler operator until his retirement. My family, rather than eschewing what is now called “blue collar” work, has always valued the labor and lessons of learning a craft. To this end, my uncle wrote this to honor my grandfather’s memory as a craftsman who applies the lessons of his work to life. As Matthew Crawford writes in Shop Class as Soul Craft (2009), these lessons are often presently given short shrift in the ‘new economy’ driven by the ‘new’ occupations rather than the intellectual work required to learn something–one thing that stands the test of time–really well. More to the point, Crawford, who learned a craft then did a PhD only to reject the cubicle and return to the craft, argues that we have, in encouraging an entire generation to look to liberal arts university education rather than shop class for value, has lost the profound wisdom of the craftsman.
As Crawford writes, “At the beginning of the Western tradition, sophia (wisdom) meant ‘skill’ for Homer: the technical skill of a carpenter, for example. Through pragmatic engagement, the carpenter learns the different species of wood, their fitness for such needs as load bearing and water holding, their dimensional stability with changes in the weather, and their varying resistance to rot and insects. The carpenter also gains a knowledge of universals, such as the right angle, the plumb, and the level, which are indispensable for sound construction. It is in the crafts that nature first becomes a thematic object of study, and that study is grounded by a regard for human utility.”
This post is a dedication to the craftsman, as articulated by Michael Pawelski (my uncle) upon his father’s death on July 10, 2015. —Anna-Liisa Aunio
Reflecting on my dad’s life, and how it might be best summed up, one idea overwhelmingly comes to mind: namely, my dad as “The Craftsman”.
The craftsman pursues excellence by building and creating something that is of the highest quality, something that will stand the test of time: a work of art that lasts and can be passed on from generation to generation.
As is true of any craftsman, most of my father’s failures occurred early on his endeavors; but, like all true craftsman, he learned from all of his mistakes and experiences, and got better and better at his craft over time.
I believe that in every aspect of my dad’s life he pursued the excellence of the craftsman he was. Like every old-school craftsman, he learned by trial and error to build something he could be proud of: his family, home, work, all reflected his deep-seated commitment to learning from his experiences and constantly improving. He had a natural drive to better himself, and help those around him to better themselves.
He ultimately succeeded in building a life of excellence, and he became a master of his craft. He left works of art that he could be proud of and will stand the test of time.
My dad is still looking over my shoulder, as he has for so many years, constantly making sure my works are something I can be proud of: knowledge, experience, and the desire to excel, passing from one generation to another. The art and teachings of the craftsman knows no end; it echoes through time.
Son, husband, father, brother, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle, and friend: my dad, The Craftsman.