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Why I Make: Because Beauty Still Matters

Click on the above photos to see their Kanji titles and captions.

Click on the above photos to see their Kanji titles and captions.


Click on the above photos to see their Kanji titles and captions.


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I make simply because I have to. It is like having to breathe to live. It is that instinctual and primal drive.

I have always made things. When I was a little boy, my mother used to make me a concoction of flour, salt, water, and some mystery ingredients… basically a dough that could be sculpted into terrain. I’d gather twigs to serve as trees, grab some of my toy knights, and make a scene. When I was in the opera business (making scenes for a living), I would invariably find myself tipping a stage hand to let me use the backstage machinery to make a box or set of shelves for somebody. When I made my “debut” in the fine craft world at the Philly Show last year, while I certainly appreciated the positive feedback, I found myself getting very antsy to be back in my studio covered in sawdust and paint. It’s like blood pumping through my body… it happens whether I want it to or not. I have to be making something.

People tell me I’m a perfectionist, and I say, “Yes, I am. Thank you for the compliment.” People also graciously tell me that the pieces I make are beautiful. A Japanese woman told me that holding a bowl I’d made for her made her feel “comfortable.” I think having beautiful, well-made objects in one’s home makes it a happier place to live. Beauty still matters, and I feel that sending beautiful objects out into the world is the first line of defense against the ugliness, mediocrity, and transience that are increasingly so pervasive in our world.

I was singing a pops concert once when I noticed a man sitting in one of the front rows holding his hat in his lap. He was tapping on the sides of the hat in time with the music. I realized, in a flash, that that man would go home from the theater happier than when he’d arrived, and that what I was doing would make a difference in his life, even if only for that evening. I feel I am doing the same thing now, but, hopefully, the tangible nature of the objects I create will make the happiness last a bit longer than one evening.

Why do I make? Because I have to, and I love to. Let’s put it this way: Were I to win the lottery tomorrow, after cashing the check and taking my wife to Paris, I’d get up the morning after we returned and do exactly what I do every other morning… pour a cup of coffee and turn on the lathe.


Artisan Michael Scarborough creates furniture and decorative arts pieces in historical styles ranging from Momoyama Japan to Mid-century Modern.  His work has been exhibited at the American Folk Art Museum, the Delaware Art Museum and can be found in private collections across the country. See more of Michael's pieces on his website, or view them in person at booth #2704 at our American Craft Council Show in Baltimore, Feb. 24-26, 2012.

Why I Make is a guest series exploring the human impulse to create. Read more posts in the Why I Make archives or submit your own story.




Michael, Thank you so much for this. So well said and much appreciated.

Congratulations, Michael! You have achieved what so many artists strive for: you are so happy, challenged and stimulated by what you do, that even if you won the lotto, you'd go right back to your daily routine, making beautiful things. Well said. It's a gift to find that kind of satisfaction.

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