I was at a birthday party held at a place in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard called Construction Kids and while watching the kids build objects out of pieces of scrap wood, I found these old graphic design tools hanging on the wall. Unlike the bins of supplies and building tools in the room that were in regular use, these rusted drawing tools were hung as a display. I know it seems so obvious, but sometimes it’s not until you see these objects arranged like artifacts that you realize just how many of these tools that we used to use every single day are obsolete. It’s not like I ever declared “it’s time to retire the T Square!”, but it did make me think about the fact that there is a whole world of objects, tools and art supplies that the girls might never even know about.
It seems really unimaginable now that newspapers and magazines were all physically laid out by hand in the form of boards and strips of paper back in olden times. It even seems crazy when I think about the fact that this was happening in my lifetime. One of my first jobs out of college was in the publishing industry in mid 90s Portland and for a year and a half, I cut strips of paper to be laid out on boards with wax that were then sent to a printer every week. I don’t think it was until I moved back to NY in late 96 that my jobs went all computer, though we were still making paper prototypes for clients and assembling them with an x-acto knife and rubber cement. I still use my x-acto knife and metal straight edge ruler all the time. They must be at least 15 years old, but I do sometimes think about those art supplies that I haven’t touched since: letraset transfer letters, the Staedtler drafting tools, Shaedler rules, my plexi triangle, the green ellipse templates. You can see many of these objects at The Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies for those of you who might be too young to remember what any of these things are. Some of those tools I’ve kept in an old art box (I know I still have my calligraphy pens and I still have unopened packages of kneaded erasers), but most of the stuff has been lost over time in various moves across states.
Sometimes I miss those days. You worked with your hands a lot, physically cutting and gluing things, getting dirty, shaking canisters of film for developing, swishing paper that you just exposed to film in trays with rubber tipped thongs for developing, using actual tools that you held in your hands. It was art, it was messy. And it’s not just art and design, but music too – physically splicing audio tape to make loops, patching cords to make samples. We even made our own stereo speakers in school one year (so much math involved in speaker building and tuning). There’s still a huge interest in analog audio, but I feel like a lot of those old art supplies are relics now, gone like the rotary phone and those big volumes of Encyclopedias that we used as kids (let’s add the Yellow Pages and the fax machine to that list soon, please).
Maybe that’s why I stood in front of that wall at Construction Kids for so long, just kind of taking in the gravity of what those retired relics stood for. Things change all the time and we need to adapt. It’s true with everything, isn’t it? Technology, life, expectations, dreams, goal, even relationships with people…