Column: In good hands

“The craftspeople I’ve met have taught me much more than I could have imagined,” says Design Stories columnist Hanna-Katariina Mononen as she reflects on what makes handmade objects so special.

The Nikari Biennale stool and an LP player in the background
“The touch of another person is in a way imprinted on the handmade object,” ponders Hanna-Katariina Mononen. The Biennale stool is made masterfully by Nikari's cabinetmakers.

I’M CERTAINLY NOT ALONE with the thought, which I’ve often had, that what makes a handmade object special is its story. But I’m no longer so sure about that. If the story is something along the lines of “person X made object Y by hand”, that’s not exactly a bestseller. However, there is an extraordinary value in making things by hand, whether it be in all its simplicity just the fundamental experience of connection with another human being. The touch of another person is in a way imprinted on the object. Maybe you can think of that as a story, too.

But I don’t think that the magic of handmade items is that you can notice the handprint of the maker. Some people say that a vinyl record should have a satisfying crackle in the sound, but the truth is that that’s just a scratched record or a faulty needle. The precision and skill of a professional can lead to miraculous feats, and you might not always recognize something handmade as actually having been made by hand. As far as I’m concerned, however, the maker’s mark can be visible, even if I listen to my vinyl without any noise.

• Read also: Nikari’s Biennale stool is made masterfully and meticulously >

The craftspeople I have met over the years have taught me much more than I could have imagined. Not about technique, but about appreciation. I have sat in the same ceramics workshop with someone who made their career in the Arabia factory painting by hand. When this person twirled the cups in their hands and let the brush dance, or glazed the inside of a vase just like that, I could only stare, dumbfounded. The antique shop’s Valencia and Kosmos ceramics have since shown themselves to me in a whole new light. And I’m not even going to get started in talking about the other ceramicists, woodworkers and textile workers I’ve met.

“Handicrafts are a vanishing cultural heritage, as evidenced by the ever-dwindling number of craftspeople. Fortunately, there are exceptions.”

All too often, craftsmanship is seen as old-fashioned, but that makes as narrow-minded and makes as much sense as writing off tires as a run-of-the-mill choice when designing a new electric car model. Far from being something passé and made redundant by technology, handmade is renewable, adaptable and, above all, evolving like everything else.

However, with the world wanting more and more things to be faster and faster, the capacity of artisans who work with their hands is quickly stretched to its limits. That is why handicrafts are a vanishing cultural heritage, as evidenced by the ever-dwindling number of craftspeople. Fortunately, there are exceptions: companies that cherish old technologies, employ the people who master them, and even revive old craft skills in their production. And of course, there are people who choose to support and value handmade in what they buy. Human hands may be slower than a machine, but they are also more sensitive to analyzing form and materials and to creating individual solutions to ensure quality.

A skilled professional is capable of achieving the desired result, having invested their passion, time, dedication and skill. That’s story enough.

Helsinki Biennal 2023
Alma Heikkilä: coadapted with (sopeutua yhdessä), 2023. Image: HAM / Helsinki Biennial / Kirsi Halkola

My recommendation: Helsinki Biennial 2023

THE HELSINKI BIENNIAL is being held again this year. Spreading across Helsinki’s Vallisaari island, HAM Helsinki Art Museum and at several other places in the city, the art event is a great way to spend a day off in late summer and early autumn. The exhibition, curated by Joasia Krysa and comprising works by nearly thirty artists or artist groups, is open until 17 September 2023.

Hanna-Katariina Mononen

The author, Hanna-Katariina Mononen, reflects on the issues of a beautiful and sustainable life in her monthly column for Design Stories. She thinks that just like in life, in the home, the most beautiful parts are unplanned – and often relatively ordinary as well.

Text and image: Hanna-Katariina Mononen

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