Luxury of the Essential

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The L. L. Bean catalog was one of my favorite things to read as a kid growing up in sixties and seventies suburbia. The autumn issue was always the best. Before L. L. Bean became synonymous with blandly practical conservatism, the catalog was filled with specialized tools for specialized activities like fly-fishing, snow shoeing and canoeing. The images were sparse and the austere copy read with an implicit ‘down east’ dryness. Reading the catalog got me interested in cross-country skiing, strip planked canoes and sharpening knives. I would ask for field coats, chamois-lined khakis and camp moccasins for Christmas. I taught myself how to wax my own skis, split wood and catch trout on the many streams surrounding Philadephia’s Main Line.

L.L Bean was proletarian, supplying hunters, trappers, fishermen and woodsmen with quality gear to support their livelihood. Bean’s products offered the luxury of the essential and represented to me a trusty touchstone amidst the angst and uncertainty of the Vietnam War. I learned that if clothing has a distinct purpose, it can transcend fashion. Emphasis shifts to the aesthetics of functionality. In many ways, my pursuit of self-sufficiency – craft – making things- begins with a fashion sensibility. The tool shapes us as much as we shape the tool.

2 replies on “Luxury of the Essential”

  1. The McCluan reference is incorrect. By stating “The tool shapes us as much as we shape the tool” makes it sound like the process is immediate. Something like ‘for every action there’s an opposite and equal re-action’. But this was not McCluan’s intent.

    The actual McCluan quote is: “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”

    The difference is beyond nuance. First we create with our tools… and we alter our environment. Then we depend on our alterations, and that’s when our tools shape us.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, but I was not intentionally referring to McCluan here. My research is directly from my own experience working with tools in the course of making things with my own hands, and any oblique congruency with the cybernetics of 30-40 years ago is purely coincidental.

    I think McCluan may have had a different definition for ‘tool’ in the situation you quote- more about communications and technology. I think when one works with tools directly with ones own hand in the manner of ‘craft’, the process actually is immediate. This is exactly my point and the point of this site- to generate original, primary source research from direct engagement with materials and processes.

    It’s also my intention to generate this kind of dialogue, so I thank you again for the engagement. It’s prompted me to revisit the work of McCluan. Keep in touch!

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