The Choices We Make

The Choices We Make

Published on Wednesday, May 16, 2012. This article appears in the June/July 2012 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Author Monica Moses
Margaux and Walter Kent

Artists and collectors Margaux and Walter Kent exemplify the well-crafted life. Photo: Chris Crisman

My parents recently moved into assisted living, and my siblings and I had the bittersweet task of cleaning out our childhood home. It’s a project that inevitably leads to recollection: Sorting my dad’s big-band albums meant recalling bill-paying Saturdays, when he put on baggy pants, ate French burnt peanuts, and worried aloud that the way things were going, we were all headed to the poorhouse. Then there were the reverberations of my patrician mother’s strange love of junk mail and her 374 hobbies, 371 of them abandoned.

This emptying-out was an especially big job, because my parents bought the place in 1966, and let’s just say that William Morris’ maxim – have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful – held no sway in our family.

It’s disconcerting enough to sift through someone else’s stuff, deciding what to keep and what to toss. It feels callous, insensitive, much too intimate. But the really haunting part is to glimpse the lives lived, the choices made. I found myself wondering what somebody would think if he or she came to clean out my house. What’s with all those books I’ve acquired on perspective drawing? How about the bins of crumbling polymer bricks? And why have I never done anything with them? Fear? Perfectionism? Attention deficit disorder?

Many of us want to live thoughtfully, artfully. But if you look around our homes, you’ll see piles, desk drawers, even whole rooms of unrealized dreams. As a magazine staff, we hope to inspire you to bridge the gap between your artful intentions and the choices you make every day. As we imagine it, art is not something you hang on a wall or put on a pedestal and forget. It is a conscious way of life.

Master enamelist June Schwarcz is a model of thoughtful, artful living. Schwarcz is 93, and as focused on her art form as ever. Tell her she’s remarkable for continuing to work, and she’ll wave you off. “With a limited time to live, there’s a decision to make every day – what to spend it on, what to create,” she says. Look inside Schwarcz’s home and studio, and you can’t miss her intentionality.

The same is true of Margaux and Walter Kent, the subjects of Crafted Lives, a new department in the magazine. Walter Kent built their art studio. The couple is launching an edible backyard landscaping business, with the goal of re-creating the spaces and lifestyle of 19th-century home­steaders who came to Philadelphia. They collect art, yes, but their definition includes skulls, an old leg brace, an antique pistol. Their 4-year-old learned the alphabet by pounding metal type into reclaimed leather.

Artful living means different things to different people. To some, it’s precious time in the studio. To others, it’s kitchen gardens, handcrafted bicycles, and artisan chocolate. The key is to figure out what it means to you. And act on it.