Summer Issue 2023

Editor's Letter

I am writing this letter to you on the hottest day of the year – at least, so far. My apartment is on the second floor of a building that was built in the 1930s, and while the hardwood floors are something to be admired, the lack of air conditioning is not. The shades have been drawn, and my two box fans hum tirelessly throughout the day. They’re stalwart soldiers, and yet I have still melted into a puddle of gloop that spills across the subway tiles of my bathroom. I am malleable. I am viscous. I am pliable. I’m just really, really sweaty.

Sweltering, too, in the heat of his workshop was Samuel Downs, an early 19th century blacksmith from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Operating during the sunset years of the Industrial Revolution, Downs was no stranger to the erosion of wealth and power that once rested in the calloused hands of small business owners. Despite the looming threat of obsolescence, Downs took an apprentice beneath his wing – a final chance to pass along his insider knowledge to a younger artisan with a sharper eye and a stronger back. Toiling alongside his teacher was James Long, who signed his name to a contract that placed him under Downs’ care for the duration of “four years and two months.” The contract also outlined, quite meticulously, the terms and conditions of their master-apprentice relationship.

Long was required to keep his master’s secrets and “his lawful commands every where gladly obey.” Rest days from the grueling studio were but mere fantasy as Long was “not [to] absent himself day nor night from his master’s service without his leave; nor haunt ale-houses, taverns or play-houses; but in all things behave himself as a faithful apprentice ought to do.” The apprentice was cautioned not to “waste his said master’s goods” nor “do [any] damage to his said master.”

Of course, Downs was responsible for upholding his end of the bargain as well. Per the written agreement, “…the said master shall use the utmost of his endeavors to teach our cause to be taught or instructed…in the trade or mystery of a Blacksmith.” He also had to fork over some cash for meals, tuition, and “two new suits.” It’s called “balance,” babe.

Mahan, Jason M. 1835. The Private Instructor, or Mathematics Simplified, comprising everything necessary in arithmetic, bookkeeping, conveyancing, mesuration, and gauging, to form
and complete the man of business
. N.P.: Harrisburg.

At once a tool for sharing knowledge and ensuring the longevity of a particular trade, the master-apprentice model also underscores the value of soft skills – work ethic, curiosity, exploration, and engagement. There exists a sense of play, an exchange of experiences, and a mutual respect for the process. The contributors for our Summer 2023 issue are intimately familiar with the complexities and nuances of this centuries-old approach to labor and production. Miranda Brown stitches together the stories of two Latin American women who share a passion for quilting. Jayne Moore Waldrop examines the nature-inspired pieces of a renowned wood carver. Finally, Sue Massek reflects on her own journey as a singer-songwriter inspired by her Appalachian roots.

As always, I’m beyond thrilled to share our latest issue with you, and I hope it stokes the fire of discovery in your own life. Not the strongest metaphor, I admit, so let’s blame it on the heat.

Eternally indentured to you, dear reader,
Delainey Bowers, Editor in Chief