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Appreciating beauty of ordinary things

The Augusta Festival has filled the Elkins City Park with music and local folk craft items for sale this time of year for many years. It has been my favorite place to buy Christmas presents, and I sincerely hope that it will come back to life after COVID-19.

For most of the last 24 years my post in the park has been in the booth of my sister, potter Scottie Wiest. Many of her friends and mine would drop by that booth to visit and pick up a pottery gift for a wedding or birthday. They can still buy Scottie’s pottery at the Del Monte on Railroad Avenue, but it is not the same thing as having a chance to talk to the potter herself and gain a sense of her hands-on philosophy.

After finishing her degree as an art major, Scottie went to Japan to teach English at a girls’ school in Kyoto. There she found an opportunity to work under the guidance of potter Kawai Kanjiro, who was considered an ancient treasure in the arts. He was one of two artists named this week in The Economist for his mingei wares that represent art crafts created for the masses.

Mingei wares are beautiful, everyday things that are available to everyone. This eastern idea that art is something each of us should be able to enjoy is very different from the western tradition that great art has to be so expensive and exclusive that only the kings and popes of Europe could afford it.

Often in western culture only the very rich are able to collect authentic art, and the poor must be content with cheap copies that are machine made. The touch of a human hand and the experience of a human eye are not valued in a meaningful way by practical people in the west.

For the last century collectors in Japan have been treasuring miscellaneous craft items that visitors can see at the Nihon Mingeikan folk art museum in Tokyo. These handmade mingei wares are craft items that people see every day, but they have their own balance and beauty.

In western culture we do not seem to appreciate such utilitarian objects. They are common place like the essential workers who do work everybody needs to have done such as grocery and mail delivery or electrical and plumbing repairs. In other parts of the world such workers earn a living wage.

After we come through this crisis period, I hope our culture will be more reflective, and people will begin to recognize the value of everyday objects and become willing to pay more to people who do essential work every day.

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