3 Archetypes of American Manliness- Part II: The Heroic Artisan

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 7, 2010 · 38 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

Today we will cover the second of three archetypes of American manliness proposed by Michael Kimmel in his book, Manhood in America. But before we delve into describing the Heroic Artisan, I think it would be beneficial to briefly review just what an archetype is. I noticed some confusion in the comments about the Genteel Patriarch stemming from reading the description of that archetype as straightforward history.

An archetype is a symbol, an ideal example, a model or prototype. These symbols stand in for a set of qualities and characteristics and are part of the cultural consciousness; we pattern ourselves after them. Archetypes may arise from real historical circumstances, but their correspondence to “reality” varies. An example of a distinctly American archetype would be the cowboy. Just hearing the word cowboy conjures up images of the rough and rugged loner, trotting along on his trusty steed in the desert, playing cards, and getting into shootouts in town. The reality of the American cowboy was quite different-”real” cowboys entered into unions, worked long, unglamorous hours on cattle drives, and rarely, if ever got into showdowns. But the archetype of the cowboy says something about how we think of ourselves as Americans-gritty and self-reliant, forged in a wild past. And this symbol informs our identity.

So it is with these three archetypes of American manliness. What we are describing in this series is both the history which beget and diminished the archetype and the ideal that the archetype represented. These archetypes are symbols of manliness-part history, part idealized legend.

With that out of the way, let us dive into the Heroic Artisan archetype.

The Heroic Artisan

According to Kimmel, the Heroic Artisan, like the Genteel Patriarch, was an ideal of masculinity transplanted from Europe to the American colonies. He was the honest craftsman, sleeves rolled up, apron tied around his body, toiling away in his small, independently-owned shop. The Heroic Artisan could be found working and tinkering in breweries, printing houses, and blacksmith shops throughout the new nation. Farmers who owned and worked small pieces of land (unlike the Genteel Patriarch’s vast estates) could also be counted among the ranks of the Heroic Artisan.

For the Heroic Artisan, manliness meant primarily independence and self-reliance. His independence made him an invaluable citizen of the new republic: a man whose vote could not be bought or sold. Although fiercely independent, the Heroic Artisan also valued community. He was loyal to his fellow craftsmen, treated his customers/neighbors fairly, and embraced his civic duties. He was the patriarch of his family, and with his shop often located in or near his family’s house, was able to oversee his household throughout the day.

Work relationships were very personal for the Heroic Artisan. He didn’t hire random strangers to work in his shop, but took in the sons of neighbors and friends as apprentices, teaching them all the secrets of his craftsman’s guild. Thus, the Heroic Artisan didn’t see himself as merely a boss, but rather as a mentor who had a responsibility not only to mold his young apprentice into a master craftsman, but also to initiate him into manhood.

The Heroic Artisan was driven by a philosophy of producerism, a code which said that manly virtue was only earned though hard work and creating more than you consumed. The Heroic Artisan made real, tangible, quality goods with his hands; there was a direct link between his labor and the final product. His work not only provided a living but also gave him an identity of which he could be proud. His products were made to last; they had to be-his personal reputation as a craftsman, and as a man, period, was on the line.

The Heroic Artisan saw the Genteel Patriarch’s decadent wealth as a corrupting influence on manliness. Extreme wealth, to the Heroic Artisan, made men lazy, slothful, and effeminate. And even if the Genteel Patriarch created more than he consumed, it didn’t count in the Heroic Artisan’s book because the Genteel Patriarch didn’t create that wealth with the sweat of his own brow, with his own rough worn hands. How one made his living was paramount to the Heroic Artisan.

The Decline of the Heroic Artisan

At the beginning of the 19th century, America was a nation of Heroic Artisans. Nine out of every ten American men owned their own shop, store, or small farm. However, this ideal of manliness would soon move from reality to archetype. As the United States became more industrialized throughout the 19th century, the Heroic Artisan quickly became nearly obsolete. Work that once required the knowledge and skill of a master craftsman could be done cheaper and faster with a machine.

Real wages for skilled labor declined as small craftsmen tried to compete with the large factories sprouting up across the American landscape. No longer able to support themselves or their families, many craftsmen and laborers closed down their shops and went to work in factories owned by another man. Instead of spending hours concentrating on skilled tasks, men were now given a single, mindless job to perform over and over again. Workers lost their physical connection to the final product and became alienated from their labor. The world seemed to have been flipped upside-down; those on the ground who actually made things were underpaid and undervalued while those at the very top, who made their living through invisible deals at an office thousands of miles away, cultivated enormous wealth. The Heroic Artisan had lost the autonomy he valued so much. This loss of independence was equated with a loss of manhood.

Historian Elliot Gorn posed the questions these when were now faced with:

“Where would a sense of maleness come from for the worker who sat at a desk all day? How could one be manly without independence? Where was virility to be found in increasingly faceless bureaucracies? How might clerks or salesmen feel masculine doing ‘women’s work’? What became of rugged individualism inside intensively rationalized corporations? How could a man be a patriarch when his job kept him away from home for most of his waking hours?”

However, the Heroic Artisan didn’t bow out without a fight. Throughout the 19th century, tradesmen formed working man’s political parties and unions in an attempt to hold onto their status, livelihoods, and political power. The pamphlets and literature put out by these parties extolled the virtue of the manly autonomy that trade and craft work provided, while equating factory work with political, economic, and even sexual emasculation. As one tradesman from 1834 saw it, the factory system was “calculated to change the character of a people from bold and free to enervated, dependent, and slavish.”

The battle against industrialization was futile, of course. The market economy demanded efficiency and cost cutting over craftsmanship and pride. The Heroic Artisan would not be the ideal or archetype that would guide American manliness into the 20th century. The Self-Made Man archetype was better suited for the impersonal, fast-paced, and industrialized society that America became after the Civil War.

The Heroic Artisan’s Influence on Modern American Manliness

The outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and the shift to an information economy has turned the Heroic Artisan into much more legend than reality. Many a cubicle-dweller has whiled away the time at work dreaming about owning a little shop, making furniture or repairing motorcycles. Comics like Dilbert and movies like Office Space mine humor from the alienation men feel from their work, and the ridiculousness of jobs which seem utterly unconnected to any tangible product or anything productive at all. Shop classes have been stripped from the curriculum of high schools, and blue collar jobs are undervalued and unappreciated. Learning a trade is sadly seen not as heroic, but as the resort of those who cannot hack it in college.

Yet the pull of the Heroic Artisan archetype is still felt by many men, a standard by which they unconsciously measure their lives. In fact, the further we move away from the Heroic Artisan archetype, the more we seem to long to be connected to it. No matter the ubiquity and prestige of white-collar work, there’s something deep in the male consciousness which longs to be working with one’s hands in some way. It is also what drives the masculine appreciation for quality, well-crafted goods. We admire and wish to support our craftsmen brothers, even if we ourselves will never belong to the guild. We want to know that real brow sweat and passion went into making something.

Savvy marketers understand the influence of the Heroic Artisan stereotype. They pitch products that involve accessorizing (like Toyota Scions) in an attempt to give men the feel of “creating.” Or they market their product as giving men access to the lineage of Heroic Artisans. This commercial for the new Jeep Cherokee is a prime example of this:

Other companies like LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, and Woolrich have started touting their history and heritage while rolling out new items that are modeled on products from their archives. And a new style sensibility has developed, with men ditching their Ed Hardy tees for flannel Woolrich shirts and axe slings. Men are increasingly eschewing cheap, mass-produced goods for those which claim an artisanal heritage are more expensive but made to last. Witness for example the popularity of blogs like A Continuous Lean. While they may not know it, adopters of this trend are really seeking to get in touch with the Heroic Artisan archetype.

3 Archetypes of American Manliness Series: 
Part I: The Genteel Patriarch
Part II: The Heroic Artisan
Part III: The Self-Made Man

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nathan September 7, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Great article!

Also, I have to say that the Mike Rowe talk you linked to has to be one of the more powerful things I’ve seen in a long time.

2 Charles the Brewer September 7, 2010 at 9:19 pm

“I’m too poor to buy cheap things.”

This very line of thought led me to buy the only belt I wear! It’s brass-buckled and made of gunleather, crafted to my specifications by the El Paso Saddlery.


I don’t post to advertise but to offer evidence. Men often comment on the simple but obviously skilled craftsmanship 131 years in development. It’ll last until I die or get fat. Why not make all your purchases investments like that?

3 Aaron September 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm

honestly the jeep ad give me chills. and I’m not a jeep guy at all i drive a subaru, haha.

4 Carson September 7, 2010 at 10:21 pm

This post reminded me of a great book that elegantly elaborates more on this content: Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford. Anyone who shares the unfortunate feeling that tradesmen are becoming obsolete but hopes for the social realization of their importance will appreciate what both the author has to say and what he has personally done to skew this trend.

5 Charles September 7, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Geez that Jeep commercial is good. Almost made me a little misty eyed. I guess that’s the power of tapping right into the heroic artisan archetype in my consciousness.

6 a. September 8, 2010 at 1:31 am

i am a business student but have always desired to make things. i really identify with description a lot but it is very depressing to see that this archetype has become more of a legend than something i can work towards and make a living with. excellent article, if only history would hurry up and repeat itself (back to those days)….

7 Rich P September 8, 2010 at 2:59 am

to A:

It’s not too late. We might not make things with our hands, but any work we go into with a serious mind, a sense of pride, and constant mindfulness for just business practices and solid products is always noble, no matter how far removed we might be from the grease and sweat of the workshop. We are men. We do things right. We call our brothers out when they forget their manly obligations to the job, to society, and to themselves. This is what we do. We do things right.

8 Titus Techera September 8, 2010 at 3:29 am

I get what an artisan is. And I also get the difference between industrial power and a human being’s skill. But I completely fail to see by what definition this can be heroic. If you look at the numbers – if nine out of ten men were in the category, it can’t have been heroic. I wonder if it can be now, being utterly defeated. If you look at the thing done – what could possibly have been heroic? Read Ben Franklin’s Autobiography – no heroism whatsoever.

9 Lumberjack September 8, 2010 at 6:19 am

I think you miss the point, Titus.

A hero archetypes need not be only the 1-Chosen-from-a-million Medusa slaying Greek-epic variety.

It is a heroic pursuit, as said in the article, to produce more than you consume. It means you’re being ultra-manly by actually contributing to society, rather than leeching your livelihood from the sweat of another man’s brow.

Doctors, lawyers, business executives and the whole slew of professionals and service economy parasites just get a cut of what someone else has produced. If the manufactures, who actually CREATE wealth from raw materials in the first place, were to stop, all these information age jobs would dry up, immediately.

The reverse is not true.

10 The Counselor September 8, 2010 at 10:03 am

@ Lumberjack:

I agree with your point about how, if those who actually create wealth from raw materials were to stop, many of the “supporting” jobs you have mentioned would disappear. However, classifying doctors, lawyers, business executives etc. as “parasites” ignores a large part of commercial reality. Would we really say that the doctors who discovered penicillin and other life-saving antibiotics were “parasites” who created no benefit for society? Of course not—thanks to their work the human lifespan has been dramatically extended. Or, what about the lawyers who help the manufacturers protect their inventions through patent infringement lawsuits? Yes, the lawyer may “just get a cut” of the manufacturer’s wealth for supplying his knowledge and skill, but would the manufacturer have been better off by trying to “wing it” in protecting his trade secrets from competitors who were determined to steal them? I will be the first to admit (and I’m a lawyer) that overzealous litigation has been a ruinous experience for this country, but that doesn’t mean that all lawsuits are unfounded.

Do understand that I see the larger point you are making, but that I disagree with the notion that business professionals are parasites who only gain by taking from those who labor. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates might not have spent a day working in a coal mine or car factory, but it would be the rare person who would credibly say that they are parasites who haven’t made worthwhile contributions to society.

11 Michael Kaiser September 8, 2010 at 10:22 am

Ahhh, finally! I’m a blacksmith (functional/ornamental wrought iron, no horseshoes) that owns his own small independent shop. It’s refreshing to get some acknowledgement every once and a while! Excellent article.

12 Turling September 8, 2010 at 10:38 am

Excellent post. If my son wishes to learn a trade rather then go to college, I will be the first in line to support him. When all is said and done, what you do has to get you out of bed in the morning. Notice I said “get” you out of bed, not “force” you out of bed. I don’t want him to make the mistakes dad made, as I’m sure many fathers have said. Right now, he wants to be Mike Rowe. So, Mike, if you’re reading, and plan on retiring in 15 years, I have your replacement in the backyard buidling stuff. And, yea, he’s filthy.

13 Loris September 8, 2010 at 10:49 am

I definitely get this! By day, I’m a technical writer, by night I sew. Working with my hands lets me exercise different parts of my brain and makes me more creative.

14 Josh September 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I instantly thought of the character Samuel in Steinbeck’s East of Eden while reading this article. And I concur that there is an inexorable pull in this cubicle-dwellers life to produce, rather than to consume. I’ve started reading the Bible again lately and it reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes. Work has intrinsic value by, but I think production is actually what it’s referring to.

15 Anthony September 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm

A great book to read on the hisotry of the labor movement in the US is, Labor in the USA: A History by Ronald L. Filippelli. After reading this and other books on the history of unionism and the industrial revolution, I must diagree with the satement that 9 out of every 10 men owned their own shop. I can’t see how that’s true based on the apprenticeship programs in place when artisans were the backbone of society and not “mega-corps.”

That being said, I think the indenturing of craftsmen into the mindless daily grind is why so many professional men turn to woodworking and other hands-on activities to unwind and decompress. If the American economy continues to decline, we may very well see a return to smaller, nearly self-sufficient communities.

16 Cameron September 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm

It’s worth mentioning as well that the industrial revolution and the death of the artisan has led to the demise of fathers in the home. It used to be that boys (and girls) worked alongside their parents in the family business. Now the father is out of the home for often 60+ hours a week, leaving sons without any masculine role model. As a result, a lot of us as men have no idea who we are. In a lot of ways, we were raising better men when craftmanship was the norm.

17 Steve Cianca September 8, 2010 at 1:02 pm

@ Counselor

As a fellow lawyer, I agree completely with your comments. Professionals may not work with their hands, but their skills help the craftsmen to stay strong (doctors), grow their business (bankers) and protect their livelihood (lawyers). I also agree that over-zealous litigation has been the bane of modern society.

@ Rich P

You, my friend, have in your pithy reply summed up what it means to be a man. Excellent comment, well said. “We are men. Men do things right.” There’s nothing more to add.

18 Jared September 8, 2010 at 1:02 pm

I most strongly identify with the heroic artisan of the three heroic American archetypes. I have a bachelor’s degree, and I’m going back to community college to get a one year certificate in welding. I can use that in a million and one ways, and it will earn me more than my four year degree ever did. One of the real values of being an artisan is that people judge your work by how well you do it, not by how much they like you. I ran screaming from corporate culture because a promotion wasn’t dependent on how well I did my job. It was dependent on making my coworkers and bosses like me.

19 Francis Mathew September 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Excuse me. But a hero is after all a conventionally flawed character, so flawed and so ‘different’ that he bears a heavy responsible and his whole life is geared to the realisation of one task which might well prove his undoing. The hero and the scapegoat are not so different the one from the other. The manner of his death makes the hero. In fine, the hero is necessarily tragic. I don’t, nay, can’t conceive of a hero, who after some heroic act, sinks into a life of quiet social respectability and notability. The inaction, procrastination,meditation of Achilles, Hamlet, finally winding up in some fatal action. Just my opinion, of course.


ps – But, the founders of civilisation are heroes, and most have led tragic lives and known tragic deaths. Samson Agonistes.

20 Jake September 8, 2010 at 2:32 pm

That’s awesome. When I graduated from high school a few years ago, I decided I wanted to be a MAN. So I designed and built my own forge. There is just something awesome about working with your hands. All that exists is you and your work, there are no problems that cannot be worked out by the dropping of your hammer. You just work slowly and methodically shaping the metal to however you see fit. Your work is something you have absolute control over even if you have control over nothing else. Of course the same could be said about all sorts of crafts besides blacksmithing but anyways I just felt like rambling :D

*My ninth grade teacher was right, I will make a great old man :p

21 Chris kavanaugh September 8, 2010 at 2:37 pm

The ‘cowboy’ is america’s knight errant. And, while the current Rennaissance Faire meets Tombstone fad seeks to own and define him: The myth goes on evolving. But the naysayers who rightly emasculate him to hired employee without adventure are equally promoting a myth.
I offer you A Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams. Adam’s was a working cowboy and his in print book a direct record. In this work, Andy describes a trailpartner named ‘the rebel’ from his service in the Confederacy. The rebel was in a saloon and a leather fringe jacketed, goatee and mustachioed gunman ‘slapped leather’ without warning.The rebel shot him dead.
Underneath Lester (Roy) and Marion ( john) and the Bohlin saddles is a far greater adventure.

22 Hondo September 8, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I am, by Lumberjack’s estimation, a parasite who works in healthcare (no offense taken for the record) and I feel the pull of the artisan as well. In my case I find that release by building my own furniture and doing my own artwork for my home.

This all started a few years back when I bought a mass produced piece of fiberboard crap to act as a bookshelf. It’s “craftsmanship” was so offensive that I one day pulled what few books I felt it strong enough to support off the shelves and gave it a firm slap on the side and the whole thing folded up like a house of cards. I’d had enough. That night I sat down with my graph notebook and drew out the plans for a 6ft x 4ft behemoth to hold all my movies and whatever else I chose to put on it. I then bought and cut pressure treated 2x12s and built a book shelf so sturdy that it will outlast me. Fact is I can’t remember the last time I ever felt so fulfilled doing something and it’s an awesome looking case to boot.

My advice is even though we may have to make our living in cube farms there is no reason to starve your inner artisan. Learn to build things for yourself or others if you choose. Rather than buying a flimsy piece of MDF s**t from Target take a weekend, get together with a friend and build something or hell go to a consignment place and buy an old piece of furniture and breathe new life into it. You’ll find your reward there I promise you.

23 Aaron Dobbins September 8, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Go watch “Mike Rowe Celebrates Dirty Jobs” on Youtube.com. I think it can also be found on ted.com. Great 20 minute talk about blue collar work.

I work in social service and feel the need to work with my hands. I’m always touching up old furniture and learned how to do upholstery for small projects that I then sell and it’s true the increased sense of self worth from fixing or creating something.

24 Goddard Lewko September 8, 2010 at 8:14 pm

As much as I admire quality and commitment in craftsmanship, I feel blaming the machine for a loss of manhood is at best misleading and at worst regressive.

All the machine ever did was introduce another tool to the arsenal of the the creator. Like all tools it was born of our necessity and innovation to complete tasks that are beyond our bodily means. Similarly to other tools, it’s quality of work is directly liked to our desire for quality, for we are its wielders and ultimately we decide the specifications and applications of our tools. It only differs in the scale of its ability relative to the technical ability of its user. The workshop never left; it just became a whole lot bigger.

And good for it! Think of all that we would not have if the scale of our production could not keep up with consumption. This same ruthless drive for efficiency that made this 19th century archetype obsolete also brought about a rise in the standard of living over the same century that uplifted countless people from squalor and set the tone for the fundamental shape of modern society. A great mass of man and his tools, brought together and organized in their labor, to bring desired goods into the world on a scale that no one craftsman by himself, however legendary, could ever have dreamed accomplishing alone. Or is it only separated from one another that what we create truly counts?

No, I suppose there is a different reason for the admiration of the old craftsman. Perhaps in our appreciation of the machine as a tool we have become unwary at the helm of a great ship of industry. Grown isolated from the implements we sought to wield, we take their power for granted, and in doing so weaken our commitments to things like good work and passion. It is in this conceit that we find the hard, masculine nature of creation dulled; a loss of strength in ourselves in direct relation to the strength of our beliefs.

But know this, commentators. A tool is only ever just a tool, and all tools are great only if those who wield them are great. Do not blame your failures upon your aids, for surely your hands are your own.

25 Lumberjack September 8, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Heh, people seem to have (unsuprisingly!) latched onto my use of the word “parasite”.

Parasite has far too many negative connotations, sure, but just think of the relationship between a parasite and his host: the host produces the nutrients, and sustains the parasite. If the host dies, the parasite dies. However, if the parasite dies, the host does not. And this comparison between a manufacturing economy and a service economy that thrives because of the production of others still stands as valid.

Of course, there are plenty of beneficial parasite, and plenty of doctors, lawyers and business executives can be of use to a producing host and actually benefit him, but that does NOT change their relationship: service professions only exist because enough Herioc Artisans are producing more than they consume, enough surplus for the professionals to get their cut.

Ain’t nothing wrong with that, but it’s just not particularly herioc or manly. Except for doctors – saving lives is always herioc, and pretty damn manly.

Unless you’re a shrink.

26 Luke September 8, 2010 at 11:19 pm

1) A hero is someone who does what needs to be done regardless of the consequences. The consequences of a hero’s actions are generally negative, or at the very least, hard to bear. This is why someone who loses a bunch of weight is not a hero, but someone who runs into a burning building to save another is. Saying that a craftsman is heroic is accurate in that a craftsman has to sacrifice a lot in order to gain the skills they have. Further, they usually make less than a person that has taken the “easy” route and makes a living off others work.

2) I’ve long held the belief that the craftsmen are the ones that would still have a job if civilization ended tomorrow. For example, if we survived a nuclear war, who would still be able to ply their trade? Welders, mechanics, doctors, carpenters, gunsmiths, engineers, etc. would all have lots of work to do in rebuilding civilization, or in maintaining what was left. Lawyers (sorry Brett), accountants, “life coaches”, etc. would be less helpful in that their skills wouldn’t have much use in that situation.

I’m going back to school in January to learn auto mechanics. I’m an IT tech and am tired of never seeing any benefit for my labour. Work carried out in the real world, with real tools and real results beats any office job. I derived more satisfaction in changing my oil for the first time and repairing a broken heater fan in my car than I have in over ten years of IT work.

27 Brucifer September 9, 2010 at 12:17 am

There are a number of gentlemen of my acquaintance, who have college degrees and (former) white collar jobs, who have now gone blue-collar and do wonderful artisanal and bespoke work in wood, metal and leather. Do note however, that their work is geared toward those who can pay princely sums for hand-crafted, custom-designed items. Their work is priced beyond the usual reach of ‘commoners.’ If I was any good with my hands, I’d join them in making wonderful things for the wonderfully rich. Alas.

28 Michael Rogers September 9, 2010 at 2:04 am

Things arn’t all that simple! I’ve a MS in Psychology and Sociology But have spent my working life in the bolt and nut world as a space shuttle Engineer. As was pointed out, One should have a BROAD knowledge not only of what the bolts and nuts are but of gardening, wines, how other’s heads work–something Engineers are renown for NOT knowing as well as how a fuel injection system works, etc.
The nice thing about the physical world is that it follows clear rules: when I rebuild a transmission properly, it WORKS giving me closure–IE it works. with the ‘soft’ jobs, they’re never clearly fixed!

29 Zach September 9, 2010 at 12:09 pm

+1 on the Shopclass as Soul Craft reference. Crawford really explores this archetype and advocates its return.

30 Josh W. September 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm

I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it, but I saw an article a while back about how technology is beginning to flip things back to individual shops. The specific example was that one could acquire the necessary equipment for a few thousand dollars to make $100 atheltic shoes for $15 cost in your garage. I think a shift back to this would help our society immensely. I think the industrial revolution was a good thing with it’s technological advances, but I do believe it create an unnecessary degree of confusion over life in general. A man that run’s his own business pays his own bills, knows his own costs, and takes responsibilities for his own debts. Now we have all these levels of obfuscation over our lives and production that worthless tax-feeders in govt have been able to exploit to steal more of our freedom and our wealth through ridiculous and confusing regulations, taxes, inflation, and licenses while we sit back confused, but not quite sure where to point out the error.

Here’s to productive individuals creating their own wealth and future!

31 André September 11, 2010 at 4:19 am


Memorial for the legendary “de:Der Schmied von Kochel” (en:The Smith of Kochel) who is said to have fought bravely to his death as one of the last surviving revolutionaries at the churchyard of Old Church St. Margaret at Munich-Sendling on December 25th, 1705.

32 Dawud September 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I hang wallpaper for a living. There is nothing like seeing the results of my work come together at the end of the day. I don’t print the wallpaper itself, but I have the skills and the tools to put it on the walls and do it right. I’ve seen DIY jobs that are absolutely pitiful, and it makes me feel good that I can take a plain room and turn it into something beautiful and eye-catching in a few hours with only a bucket of paste, a paint roller, a small plastic straightedge/smoother and a few razor blades. 8 years in, and I’m working on picking up the business side of things so I can fully break out on my own and be prepared to take over for the man that trained me when he’s ready to leave the business.

33 Kyle September 15, 2010 at 2:56 pm

You don’t have to craft physical goods directly with your hands to live the life of this archetype. The heroic artisan is Howard Rourk from The Fountainhead to a tee. He was an architect and took immense pleasure in seeing a building that he had designed, but not built, being erected.

All that’s necessary is to put the pride of craftsmanship in to your work. If you love being a programmer you can have the heroic artisan’s pride in a feature you designed and coded being implemented into a program. A blogger can have the heroic artisan’s pride in a well built site that has a large following. The heroic artisan is still alive today.

34 TomH September 15, 2010 at 4:03 pm

As the son of a cowboy and someone who did a little cowboying in his youth, I find the reference to the cowboy of myth interesting in the context of the “heroic artisan.” The cowboy, whether the original trail drive version or his modern counterpart, produces nothing. (Building fence does not count.) At base, he takes care of cattle, and many of his job skills are more related to horsemanship than to animal husbandry. So mentioning “cowboy” in a piece on the “heroic artisan” is either pro forma or myth piled on myth.

35 Sir Andrew McConathy September 16, 2010 at 4:09 pm

As a Blacksmith, Boat builder, Clockmaker, Carpenter, Gunsmith, and Wilderness guide I put my hart sole and honor in to my work. I often have to tell my customers that fine work is worth the price, you will only buy it once, and consider this as a gift to your grandchildren (whether you have them yet or not). With the flimflammery of modern goods it is difficult hold to your values in a world $20 Wal-Mart coats and $ .10 disposable razors. But you will find that people will begin to listen and understand when you show them true quality, Filson Mackinaw coats, straight razors, Saddle Back leather bags, wooden boats, pocket watches, blued firearms, burl wood pipes, and manly professionalism. When my customers ask how I do what I do I tell them that there is a great deal of skill involved, but the quality of the things around me help to amplify that skill. Just show them what they are missing they will come around, they do for me, but I do have a big hammer to back me up.
Now Go Make Something!

36 Ben Weeks September 17, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I’m an artist. In response to any denigrating comments about white collar workers: my lawyer’s induction into and mastery of the esoteric culture of law protects my interests and enables me to produce work with less exposure to legal risks. It’s like having General Patton advising you when you’re playing a game of risk or having someone give you a bullet proof vest in a gang ridden city-it’s access to cultural power I’d otherwise not have. There’s no molten lava or steel hammers in my lawyer’s office, but he certainly wields powerful intellectual tools well.

Great article, insights about this archetype and comments! Here’s another example of this archetype at play: http://vimeo.com/13664547

37 The Backyard Harmonica Teacher September 17, 2010 at 10:14 pm

I’m a crafter coming into the discussion here from the “Man Up” post Brett McKay put together on Etsy today (the marketplace for all things handmade). I handmake something I call the FlashHarp and sell it over there on Etsy. Depending on your politics, the FlashHarp is either the world’s most useful harmonica (liberal?) or the world’s most soulful flash drive (conservative?). Maybe it doesn’t depend on your politics at all. It is what it is. But to get back to the point, I do believe you’ve hit on a great topic here to write about. I say it’s high time for high praise for the handcrafter and I’m much obliged to you for the recognition. As a handcrafter myself, I know firsthand the gratification of inventing something. Making the article by myself, in my own shop, with my own hands, and then selling it, to my own customers, is extremely gratifying. This article is validation of what I am attempting to do, and it just felt real good to read it. I want to say thanks, but that feels vain and self laudatory. I’ll just say, good job. Nice work. Well done.
Best Regards,
The Backyard Harmonica Teacher
Check out my shop over at Etsy at: http://www.backyardbrand.com

38 Charles the Brewer September 21, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Lumberjack: you’re confusing parasitism and mutualism.

Sir Andrew McConathy: you’ve nailed six out of seven occupations that I find most fascinating. Cheers!

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