Made in England: The Artisans Behind the Handbuilt Bicycle
A copy of Made in England: The Artisans Behind the Handbuilt Bicycle by Matthew Sowter and Ricky Feather arrived last week after I had pre-ordered it some time ago. Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with some of the best artisans in their respective fields (unrelated to bicycles). I love hanging out at workshops, watching them literally create something. The smell of the raw materials, fumes, dust, stale coffee, overflowing ashtrays… the sound of filing, hammering, polishing, waxing, sewing, lighting of the gas torch… the soft light cutting through the workshop from the north facing windows. And, I love steel bikes. When the title was announced, I click-click-clicked to pre-order it straightaway.
Short of visiting the featured artisans’ workshops yourself, Sowter and Feather allow you to get a glimpse of the human beings behind the handbuilt bikes. The emotive photographs shot by Kayti Peschke add colour, texture and mood to the frank words of the builders that reveal a small but important part of their personalities.
Actually, I think Made in England is one of the best branding initiatives that I have seen in a long time.
In almost any product category, at the top end of the market, it is less about transactions and more about relationships. It is about human beings, the personalities and the hands behind the products and the names, and the people that seek them out. No different with bikes.
The authors touch on one notion that provokes a bit of thought. Can a craft be an art? Common rhetoric tends to indicate an assumption that art is a higher form of output than craft. I do not agree with this assumption. It is true that classic disciplines in art, such as fine, decorative, literary, performance and martial arts, require mastery of the relevant crafts, but I am not convinced that one ranks higher than the other. The authors ask the question to be deliberately provocative, playing on the assumption embedded in common parlance.
To get a peek into the minds of some young and old artisanal frame builders working in England today, order your copy today at www.pushprojects.net. It’s worth every penny and then some.
The brand names featured in the book are:
Reynolds, Chickens, Demon, Donhou, Feather, Lee Cooper, Mather, Roberts, Ron Cooper, Rourke, Ted James, Woodrup and Dave Yates
All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.
Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.
For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.
Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.
In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.
Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean.
Else our lives are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
Stumble as they seek to climb.
Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall to-morrow find its place.
Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.
— The Builders by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow