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A Family of Makers

Heidi Shenk art daily life

It wasn't until recently that I really thought about the family I am a part of as all being one in the same. And I don't mean that we're all the same people. We're all very different, but we all have something in common with our occupations-- we're makers. This was the norm growing up, so I don't think I ever thought anything of it. Certainly, I had always felt a bit out of the norm while explaining my parents' occupations, but it was also what has always been, and so I knew nothing else.

It wasn't until recently when I wrote this post, and my dad happened to like it, that I remembered my battles are the same ones that many in my family have fought over the years. Yes, we've talked about these topics quite a bit, but I just never stopped to think that we're in our own little world-- a world that many don't quite understand or will ever understand. We're outside of the box drawn by traditional career pathways and social norms, making a living off of something we're all passionate about doing-- making things.

My father is a luthier. For those that aren't familiar with that word, he builds instruments for a living-- mostly acoustic guitars and mandolins. He taught himself how to build his first guitar in his 20s, and he kept building them. He is a master woodworker outside of the guitar making realm as well, having spent years also building furniture and creating beautifully detailed woodwork in others' homes and ours as well. When my sister and I were little, he was a stay at home dad. His guitar shop was in a spare room in our house and he was able to work away while also taking care of us at home. In high school, I would go straight to his guitar shop after school, and I worked with him to build my own electric guitar.

My mother is a baker. She owns and operates a European style bakery that offers bread, pastries, and other food options. She bakes a large portion of her bread in a woodfired oven that my dad built. Her bakery began in the same spare room that my father's guitar shop used to be. She moved a massive four shelf commercial oven into the room when I was in elementary school. 21 years ago, the demand for her bread grew so much that she moved the bakery into a larger space outside of our home and officially opened the bakery. Several years later, she moved the bakery again into an even larger space, where she is currently located. I grew up with amazing bread and food as the norm and early on, I spent my summer working for her, running the cash register and serving customers.

And my sister knits and paints. Her knitted and painted apparel is her occupation. I don't ever remember a time when my sister wasn't making something. Growing up, we'd spent countless hours at a newspaper covered table painting with watercolors. Or we'd be up in the wee hours hunched over our sketch books with a fist full of markers. In high school we shared art projects. She brought home a mosaic, I a massive charcoal drawing. She a painting on canvas or board, I a piece of pottery thrown on the wheel. As siblings often do, we didn't always agree on everything and have had our fair share of bumps in the road, but one thing we've always been able to connect with is making.

Recently, I began to realize that making is something that extends far beyond just our immediate family. My grandmother, who recently passed away, was an amazing quilter. She had many patterns and works published over the years and even had her own fabric store for quite some time. She was always making something and often sold her wares at craft markets much like my sister and I do today. I have a cousin who is painter. An aunt who is an amazing knitter and book maker. A second cousin who is an incredible potter. Another cousin who makes films. An uncle who directs plays and creates costumes. Another cousin who is constantly making whether it be all sorts of amazing food, building his own house, or installing new floors in his second home. And when I stop to think about it all, I wonder if making is in our blood. But genetic or not, I feel proud to be part of the tradition of makers in our family.

Are you a maker? Are many others in your family makers as well, or did you choose to take a different path than those around you?


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