Jess Osserman


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I want to design, to build, to make beautiful things. Is it the act of creation that I seek? Does this make a me vain and powerhungry person? Or is this a beautiful and simple desire, is it possibly what makes us human, the drive to create something beautiful in the world. I have wanted to be a political activist, a community organizer, a teacher. I have wanted to be the person who changes the world, who solves big problems and helps people. These are my heroines. They fight. I wanted to be a fighter, I wanted to have that drive because surely, I do feel rage. I do see injustice and it eats me up. But I am not a fighter, and I am not an organizer, and I am not even a true leader. I am not fiery and when I am it takes all of my energy and then I go home and have a good cry and curl up and knit. Because I am a maker. I like the thankless job, I like the details and the tactile and the incredible potential in the small. And so I have to be a maker and maybe in a small way, that makes me fighter. I stitch alone in my room, I hand cut a joint and I make something beautiful with my hands. No, it’s not a revolution, but it is my humble rebellion. I can at least show that there is an alternative to sweat shops and chemically infused particleboard furniture.
Making by hand is a slow process and a traditional one. I want to explore design ideas and the movement of the aesthetic world, I want to participate in a very tactile way and make things as much as I can by hand. Of course I also want to get shit done, to accomplish, to present, to revel in the beauty of what is made. This is where my ego lies. I do not want a room of people looking at me and listening to me speak. I want just one person using what I have made and knowing that the person who made it was a good person and made it well and with beauty. I also want the world to exist in a way that this is can be a reasonable way to spend one’s time. Perhaps this is very selfish of me, or nostalgic. But I do day dream of the apocalypse, of peak oil, of the collapse of capitalism, when we no longer have the internet and electricity and cars and factory farmed everything imported from everywhere. I think that what I make and what other craftspeople make is superior to anything manufactured, not only for the environmental and political reasons, but also because there is a spiritual essence in all of us and I believe when we invest ourselves into our work there is some quality that cannot be recreated by a machine. With my eyes and hands I can sense nuances in what I make that are entirely inefficient. There is no commercial viability for such beauty and care, it does not fit into the capitalist economy. It is designed to last for many generations, to be beautiful, to be a cultural artifact for just as long. This is a value that no factory made piece can compare to. The thoughtful selection of each board, the careful feeling of every edge, the attention, the spirit, the life invested in it and yes, the time! You have a table that was made in 3 hours, verses 3 months, that is no different than buying fast food. Economically you will find a similar comparison, perhaps you will spend over 10 times as much as you would on a happy meal to eat a thoughtful dinner, made by a human hand and created with time and patience, food grown nearby and tended by a farmer. We have found an inherent value in this when it comes to food but we are not there yet as a culture to see it in our furniture, in our built world. But maybe in time, this ethos, this idea which is written off as hipster idealism, will trickle down into our homes. Maybe with some radical shift in the economy we will reject the idea that more is more and return to a world where less is more. Maybe when we have all Marie Kondo’d the unloved excess from our lives there will be space, both physical and emotional, a space that is so vast that we willingly part with a month’s rent in order to have something we love fill it up. Where one beautiful handmade thing can somehow fill the void of all the junk, turning obsolete as we blink, all the rickety trendy things we couldn’t leave Ikea without. And maybe when the consequences of an ever growing capitalist world economy hit home, when the dream of exponential growth hits the realities of the planet’s capacity we will think about our stuff in a new light. Maybe we will look at all that manufactured, exported and plastic stuff and we will crave something made slowly, with local natural materials from nearby and made by a human that we have met and whose livelihood we care about. Maybe that human is you.