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« Blogging, Bikes and Bullshit | Main | Positioning »

Hand Magic

In the mid 1990s I met a Native American from the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon. He told me about “Hand Magic.”

Native Americans view themselves as a part of Nature, not separate from it. Their belief is that there is but one creative source in this Universe, and man is just the vehicle through which art appears. In much the same way as a bird builds a nest, or ants build an ant hill.

When it comes to humans the Native American calls this “Hand Magic,” The Great Spirit guiding the artist’s hand through the mind and creating a piece of pottery, a blanket or some other object.

In the Middle Ages in England as in the rest of Europe men built houses with the minimum of planning or measuring. Just as there is very little planning or mesuring in a piece of Indian pottery or weaving.

Today these old crooked thatched roofed cottages still stand and the blend perfectly into the surrounding landscape. They actually add to the beauty of the English countryside.

I have come to realize only man is capable of creating ugliness. A man builds a barn in a field and paints it red; it is ugly, a blight on the environment. But as Nature takes over and the barn becomes derelict it becomes a thing of beauty; people come to photograph it, and artists paint it on canvas. (Above.)

Everything in Nature is beautiful, and if the artist is connected to this Spirit within as he/she creates, the art cannot help but be beautiful.

I have not always subscribed to this thinking, but over the years as I built bicycle frames it became an automatic process; second nature, so to speak.

Metal expands and contracts when it is heated then cools again. In time I knew which way the frame would distort and would actually start brazing with the frame out of alignment so it would be in alignment after it cooled.

The amount the frame was out of line at the start of the process was not a measured amount; it was an amount determined by eye, a feeling if you will.

After a frame was brazed and had cooled it was checked on a surface table and measured with a dial indicator. The frames were always within ten thousandth of an inch or so and therefore required a minimum of cold setting to achieve the final alignment.

When I met a customer I was building a frame for, I knew immediately what I would build for him. I would take measurements to confirm; I would not want the customer thinking I was building his frame by “Guess Work.”

In my early years as a frame builder I had also made ornamental iron work, and had painted pictures in oils. When I left the bike business, I was aware that whatever it was within my makeup that allowed me to successfully build bicycle frames, would allow me to embark on other creative endeavors.

Meeting that old Coquille Indian in Oregon confirmed what I had begun to figure out for myself. Now as a writer and songwriter, I believe as many other songwriters do that songs are already written and songwriters just pick them out of the air as they float by.

Some reading this will dismiss it as “New Age” bullshit, and that is okay because thirty or forty years ago I would have done the same.



Reader Comments (8)

Nice post Dave. I'm not into spirituality or whathaveyou but I still enjoyed it. Especially the part about correctly guessing which way a frame would distort as you brazed it.

November 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlemmiwinks

Who knows, or really cares, where this connection with something "bigger than me" comes from. All I know is that there are moments in time-out-of-time when I recognize I'm in precisely the right place, doing the precisely right thing, in precisely the right way, and everything seems in harmony. It's simply good and true and seamless. And, when it happens, I'm happy to have it.

November 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

Dave didn't say it but a more correct word would have been predicting which way the frame would move. The process here is programming the hind brain so actions are automatic and it takes a lot of experience to achieve that, Bounce by Matthew Syed describes the process related to sports. Creativity is slightly different, more of a left brain / right brain process. But whatever model we use to explain the processes involved, being able to come up with the goods is the important aspect.

November 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpeter

Well said. It's true that hand made things, made from natural and local materials, even by poor people, tend to be, if not beautiful, at least harmonious with the landscape -- I think of the traditional African wattle and mud and thatched huts, or the hogans of the Navajo made from tree trunks, stones, and mud. It's interesting that this harmony shows itself in various ways in the craft of frame building.

I remember reading in Peaks and Lamas, the account by Marco Pallis of an immediately pre-WWII Himalayan trek, how he found the local clothing of hand-spun and hand woven wool always looked good even if worn and old, while the worn out cast-offs of the cities always looked shoddy.

November 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick Moore

Dave for once I have not much to comment on, MY idea of spiritualy is snuggling up with MY wife of fify years, Good scotch, Roaring warn fire,Listening to Miles Davis and 'Kinda Blue' on my old victrola.

December 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump

Interesting! Everything in nature is beautiful... By implication things out of nature will struggle to match that beauty. Take steel. That's quite a long way removed from anyting truly natural in that it is made by forcing natural processes to reverse. Then make it into tubes - long thin straight tubes quite unlike anything in nature. Now take those tubes and make them into another form not encountered in nature (you know where this next bit is going don't you!) Make them into a double triange frame. A mass of dead straight lines no matter how fancy your lugs. Eventually you can attach wheels - free rolling circular devices so removed from anything natural that the Inca's didn't even have them.
There is nothing at all natural about a bicycle - at least in some ways. Yet I would contend that they can be things of beauty.

To me the commonality is in the making. There is nothing more natural to people than making things. Ugliness comes not from deviating from nature but in doing so in a callous and ill considered way

December 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPBA

I can dig it.

December 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersarge

Take FIVE Dave, Brubeck was just the man you write about.

December 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump
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