Some years ago, I was fortunate to be able to spend a couple of weeks in Spain with my aunt and cousin. It was a typical whirlwind trip but I tried to soak up everything I could about the area, in spite of catching a cold almost immediately upon getting off of the airplane! One of the highlights for me was the time we spent in Barcelona taking in the work of Catalan master architect Antonio Gaudí, who primarily practiced in Barcelona in the 19th and early 20th centuries – the images shown here are from a visit to glorious Parc Güell.
Though a singular expression, Antonio Gaudí was reflecting a strong desire prevalent among his generation to look to the past for the seeds of a new sensibility which would counteract the fragmentation and alienation of the industrial era. Gaudí was well aware of the work of contemporaries like the Pre-Raphaelite, John Ruskin, who called for a re-examination of industrial values and inspired the Arts and Crafts movement in England. Through architecture and design, Gaudí looked for his inspiration and found it in nature. Like his contemporaries, he embraced NeoGothicism and was strongly influenced by Gothic architecture; however, but he was also a keenly observant student of the nature. His intuitive grasp of the formal and mechanical essence of the natural world would provide the foundation for innovative architectural solutions reflecting the fluid lines found in nature. As a practitioner, he also had direct experience laboring with the materials that would become part of his oeuvre and continued to involve local craftsmen in the completion of each architectural project. His work reflects the successful collaboration of master architect and master craftsmen in all trades. A relatively lone voice in the architecture of his day, he challenged the hegemony of the simple geometry of square and circle. Of course, by the time of his death, his vision was to be eclipsed by European modernism as exemplified by the work of Walter Gropius, among others – the complete antithesis of Gaudí’s aesthetic.
I feel a kinship with the Pre-Raphaelites and Gaudí, and definitely walk in that the same stream. A recognition of the value of work made by hand, particularly one resonating with the pulse of nature, is what links many craft-artisans in the present era. Clearly in the late 19th century, there was a real desire (and need) to elevate hand-crafted work as a forceful counterpoint to the industrial steamroller. Arguably, this current still runs through the motivation to consciously choose Craft today. As we now begin to transition beyond the information age, it seems even more imperative that we rediscover our connection with the beauty of nature and the imperfect-perfection of hand-made work – work produced with “skillful means” at all levels.