The Difference Makers: 30 Contemporary Makers, 30 Remarkable Stories by Marc Adams

I’ve written before about my affinity for books produced by Lost Art Press. Almost without exception, the subject doesn’t matter to me. The books themselves are as much an example of craftsmanship as the content. Well written, well edited, bound in the US on excellent paper with rich photographs. If you love books like I do, these are among the best available. The Difference Makers by Marc Adams, one of the newest by LAP, is a worthy addition to the catalog and one I’m pleased to own.

Marc Adams, founder of the highly successful Marc Adams School of Woodworking (MASW) in Franklin, IN uses the book to profile 30 makers, all of whom have taught at MASW, declaring them to be the most elite craftsmen and craftswomen of our time. He writes, “These are the ‘masters’ of our generation who became well known for their works, not because of talent, but thanks to hard work, drive, and persistence.” If you’ve been a woodworker for any length of time, names such as Garrett Hack, Steve Latta, and Garry Knox Bennett will undoubtedly be familiar. However, not everyone profiled in the book is a woodworker and even some who are, successful though they may be, have probably escaped your notice.

The craftspeople profiled in the book are:

Each chapter of The Difference Makers profiles a different artist and how they came to their craft, both professional and personally. The chapters are full of great photographs and include Marc’s observations about the maker from his relationships with them.

A plane by John Economaki.

An interesting aside is that the end of each chapter contains a small list of facts about the artist: Their birthdays, spouses, kids, hobbies, craftsmanship statements, websites, and handedness, among others. One of the things that caught my attention is that these creative people are disproportionately left-handed. Of the 30 people in the book 10 of them are left-handed and a small number of those that identified as right-handed further said they were ambidextrous. Compared to the roughly 10% of people in the world that are left-handed, this seems notable and may be support for the notion that left-handed people are somehow more creative.

As I step back and review The Difference Makers as a cohesive work, rather than 30 individual profiles, two distinct themes emerge.

The first theme is that of craftsmanship and how it is defined.

“Is this an honest effort?” – Darrell Peart

“What makes a craftsman is his or her dedication to doing the job well, to learning what proportions are pleasing to the eye, to sweating the details, and not being satisfied with mediocrity. Passion and patience are handmaidens in this endeavor. Craftsmanship exists in the mind and the heart, not in the hands.” – Alf Sharp

“I am inspired by people who work diligently at their craft, daily gaining experience and expertise, who also have the willingness and ability to share and pass along the talents they have acquired.” – Tom Strangeland

A guitar headstock by Grit Laskin based on the Cellist of Sarajevo.

Craftsmanship then, is the relentless pursuit of excellence; the best you are able to do. It isn’t about high style, museum quality work, necessarily. The book shows 30 very different bodies of work, but all exhibit an attention to detail and a dedication to things made at the highest level possible that connect the individuals to the whole. Less quotable but no less important is the willingness of each of the 30 to dedicate years, if not decades, to learning their respective crafts. None of these artists became well known or financially successful overnight. It also highlights that craftsmanship has almost nothing to do with talent, but instead is rooted deeply in hard work over many years.

The second theme relates to the first: The Difference Makers clearly illustrates that these people were driven to pursue excellence, to pursue craftsmanship, by something internal that would not be quenched and in virtually every case, resulted in years of economic hardship or the willingness to allow their art to be their passion while some other pursuit provided for shelter and food.

“When you consider his vast body of work, it becomes easy to forget that he had a real job of teaching and his sculptural work was a side line.” – Michael Cooper

“Trading art work for goods or services has always been part of the way my family has survived my career over the years.” – David Franklin

“He never struck it rich, but he met the basic needs of our family,” he said. “Importantly, he always felt fulfilled as a person by pursuing what was closest to his heart and doing what he loved most.” – Chris Gochnour about his father.

“I create what I love and time is of no importance,” he says. “I love making and creating more than selling.” – Binh Pho

Sculptures by Michael Cooper.

The Difference Makers leaves me wrestling with something I’ve long thought about that is well articulated in another quote in the book:

Pablo Picasso said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain as an artist once they grow up.”

There is art in all of us but for various reasons, most of which I believe ultimately have something to do with the real or perceived need to attain a certain standard of living, we bury that art deep down inside. Most of us snuff out that spark and instead spend years working on TPS reports, leaving “art” to people like those in this book.

It doesn’t have to be that way though. If we can look past the expectation that our art has to provide financial compensation then I think we’re well on our way. Our art can and should simply be a source of joy for us. Any other benefits are secondary. We need to draw, work wood, sing, cook, or paint simply because we must and we need to do so knowing that that need is all the justification required.

But that begs the question…what is art? To me, your art isn’t just drawing, painting, or singing, though those may be instrumental to your happiness. Instead, your art can and should be your whole life. Your art can be financial analysis, motherhood, engineering, or teaching. If you approach every minute of every day through the lens of a Binh Pho, a Garry Knox Bennett, or a Garrett Hack, your life becomes art. Your life is yours to live as you see fit and to me, it seems like wasting a gift to not spend that time doing the things that bring you joy. If you don’t already have a creative outlet in your life, I encourage you to go buy a box of crayons and inhale deeply their intoxicating scent. Plunge your hands into dough. Sing in your car at the top of your lungs. Smile more. Embrace this day, this week, and this life as your masterpiece, because it is.

One of mine.

Clearly, The Difference Makers by Marc Adams has made a difference for me. I hope that you find it inspiring and a reason to be encouraged in your own art. Although you may never be featured in such a book, your art is just as important and just as inspiring.

Embossed on the cover. What’s the story here?!?

If you’re willing, I’d love for you to leave a comment and tell me about your art.

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11 thoughts on “The Difference Makers: 30 Contemporary Makers, 30 Remarkable Stories by Marc Adams

  1. Thanks for your insightful review of the book, art, craftsmanship and life. Well said! I have had the need to create my whole life. From Legos then models (even scratch built and being published/awarded) to music and of course woodworking my whole adult life.

  2. Thank you for this.
    I am a woodworker that has always been an artist. I got into working wood because I always wanted to carve. This year is the thirtieth anniversary of my business: sounds impressive but talk to my wife about it for perspective. Over the past few years I have been more and more disenchanted with my business. Not just that I don’t make money at it, but that my customers don’t appreciate the work that goes into creating and building a piece of furniture that their great grandkids will enjoy. I thank IKEA for this!
    So I turn to my old friend art. Not for making money (carvers are starvers) but to save my life. Sculpture is my passion and my air to breathe. My house is my gallery, but I can’t stop doing it.
    So I fully understand your love of tis book and your “call for artists”!

    1. Bernie, thank you so much for your thoughts. It’s an interesting place we’ve gotten to as a culture, where (generalizing) people value cheap and fast over timeless craftsmanship. I believe that makes it all the more important that people learn to embrace their own art. Over time they will learn to see and value the art in others.

    1. That’s a great question. The Difference Makers only profiles makers who taught at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. If memory serves, Peter Korn taught/teaches at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. But for that I can’t imagine him not being included.

  3. Great review. Your writing style captures the essence of the book. I have a job I enjoy but getting home to build furniture from trees I’ve cut down, milled into boards then dried in my backyard is my real passion. I’ve built most all the furniture in our house. It’s fun to step back and see something that you made that was once not there. There is a sense of satisfaction that is difficult to attain in other ways. I think the craftsmanship displayed in Marc’s book helps to provide a spark for increasing ones creativity.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I believe that people like you, doing the work they love, paid or unpaid, because they must…that’s the best example of art there is. Keep it up.

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