Design Assignment

1.1 – Good Design
Grandmothers paint box 2Mandy and I are taking an online course titled “Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society. Week one assignment was to consider the artifacts  used regularly and respond to the question “Do any of these artifacts evoke a reaction of “I love this” every time you use it?”

To find an object that I enjoy using to the point that I love it was more difficult than I initially thought when first reading about the assignment. I own many objects that I feel serve me well and I derive often feelings of great pleasure from their direct use. Yet few give me a feeling of pleasure to the point of having love for the object. I own many objects which I have made myself and therefore have a relationship with that is beyond the simple function of the object. Other objects I own have some association such as having belonged to a loved family member or other person which in turn gives me great pleasure in interacting with, but few to the point of love. I also am a bit confused about how my tools might even fit into this discussion. I have a number of fine old woodworking tools that I dearly enjoy owning and using, as well as some really fine brushes and some handmade paints that I treasure. Consistently I find that it is some association beyond the object itself, that being its past or who its previous owners were to me that imparts a sensation of love for an object.

For this assignment, I think I will select my grandmothers paint box. The choice may be a mistake. As paint boxes go it is not a very good one. It’s not very big nor is it laid out in a manner conducive to holding paint efficiently. It’s appropriate for this discussion because it is charged with a familial history which causes it to far exceed the use of the box for storing paint, far beyond the actual object itself. My reasons for using the box have little to do with its intended design nor its performance while doing so.

I am a painter and I credit my grandmother as being the one of a handful of persons most responsible for this vocation.The paint box was put into this service by my grandmother The paint box was never designed for being a paint box, in fact it was originally the lunch box my grandfather carried to work for better than thirty years.I came to own the box only after she passed. For this class however, I think that I should put the emotional history of this box aside and first focus upon the box as the object it actually is, focus upon its design and original function.

This paint box is made of aluminum and was likely manufactured sometime in the late 1930′s or early 1940′s. I base that on my grandmothers claim that my grandfather carried his lunch in the box for thirty years. He retired in the mid 1970′s so its simple math. I see no point in debunking her stated age of the box. The box is about a foot in length, five inches in width and about ten inches in height.The overall design of the box is what I associate with that of an early American workers classic lunch-box design. It vaguely resembles the same general shape as a mid-western American dairy barn with its high elliptical domed lid. At the top of the lid is a handle for carrying the box. The height of the lid is slightly more than half of the overall height of the box and is hinged along one of its long sides in what appears to be a piano style hinge. On the opposite side of the lid is a pair of protruding nubs which are engaged by a pair of latches attached to the lower section of the box, The latches are hinged at their attachment point and swing upward to engage the nubs on the lid. There are indentations in the nubs which allow the latches to snugly engage the nubs and not disengage haphazardly.

By appearances the high elliptical domed lid was meant to enclose a thermos (long-lost).The lid interior has a shaped wire which could wrap around the thermos holding it snugly into the top of the domed lid. The shaped wire was attached to the lid of the box on each end in a manner as to allow it to swivel down and away from the thermos releasing the thermos from its position in the lid of the box. The lower interior of the box features an open/ non-segregated space which appears to make it suitable for wrapped sandwiches or a variety of other food items.

The metal box has been worn smooth from age and use. There is no paint or finish on the surface of the box, yet it appears to have an oiled patina which may have been caused by being touched with human hands for many years. There are no rust-like pitting marks or oxidation due largely to the aluminum being a material which neither rust nor oxidizes. There are no sharp edges or corners however there are many small dents and creases which enhance the effect of age. The many small scratches and indentations filled with dark matter, likely a fine dirt, appearing to be bound into the perceived patina caused by human touch.

The wear of the box and its history is likely the greatest source of visual attraction I have for this box. I can think of all the days my grandfather went off to work, all the days my grandmother made his lunch and put it in for him. I think of my mother interacting with the box and how it might have symbolic association with the father she deeply loved and looked to for everything she needed. I can see the box as a symbol of his contribution to the family he worked so very hard to care and provide for.I have seen the look in her eyes as she describes her father and I clearly know how she admired his work and his heart. I have heard my mothers stories of growing up and know of their struggle.  My grandfathers very act of using the same lunch box continually for thirty years describes the self-less thrift that was necessary to provide for his families needs. Upon his retirement my grandmother appropriated the box to hold her paints and brushes in. She encouraged me to paint when I was a young man and I remember her getting the box out and showing me her supplies as well as telling me the story of the box. I remember she once told me she used the box  not because it was such a good box, but because it was his. Such was their love for each other.

I have spent most of my adult life as a painter, engaging in it in one form or another, professionally and by choice. If I were ever to use this box it would likely hold less than a hundredth of one percent of my own paint supplies. I could see myself keeping my finest paints in this box. Paints I consider my most valuable in that they may be colors that are now most costly to buy, some even impossible. While I will not hesitate to use these paints when warranted, I would do so only very rarely. I would also keep a few of my finest brushes in there. I would also put just a few other of my own treasures in it as well, a photo of my kids and one of my wife whom I truly love.

The only things that are in the box now are a handful of my grandmothers paints. She left them there. Grumbacher and Liquitex; brands I would never buy for use myself, much less treasure.  I guess perhaps I will continue to leave them in the box and not use it for myself. My grandmothers paints are in there because they were hers, in the box that was his.

Grandmothers paint box 1
The assignment I was given asked me to say why my chosen object is important to me in a hundred words. Only seven words describes its actual use; “My grandmothers best paints are in it”.   It takes a thousand to describe why.

Its Time to Go

Thomas Nelson

I am posting current images of my paintings as they are about to come off the easel. I am going to try this blog layout to see how well it works for this type of presentation.

The image I am posting first is a yet unfinished work titled “Its Time to Go”, oil on canvas 36′ x 36″.  I am painting a series which depicts the thoughts of a woman living in Houston as she sits stuck in traffic out on a multi-lane highway.  Her thoughts wonder to her childhood growing up on an Appalachian farm in south-eastern Ohio. As memories often are, she holds farm life in a somewhat romanticized way; her father and brothers are monumental in her eyes.  She thinks about the beauty of the farm, some of the moments she distinctly recalls such as carrying water out to the field hands putting up hay on a hot day. She also remembers her father driving out across the fields on his beloved tractor, and the day in which he did not return. She remembers his funeral and how it seemed that every person in the township came to see them. She remembers the auction of the farm and the day in which they spent a few last moments alone with her mother before driving away to live in a new place.

Its Time to Go

Like many other mid-west transplants, she wonders how she got so far away from home. I  certainly felt that during the many years I lived in Phoenix and other cities. I think fewer than a half dozen of the people I grew up with still live in that same neighborhood,  and many of those I  have since spoke with who have moved away share the uneasy feelings I am trying to express.  It will take dozens of paintings to tell this story; eight are finished already.  I have entered some of them into some of the better art shows here in Ohio.

The painting I produced last summer  titled “Fields of Home” won Best of Show at the Ohio Annual held at the Zanesville Art Museum in 2012.  It was a wonderful surprise  and winning in Zanesville made me very happy as I remember going to that museum as a child. This year I am entering Time to Go and Making Haste in the summer shows and look forward to seeing how they are received. I am planning on debuting my Appalachian Farms/Migration show at the Le Fevre Gallery on the campus of The Ohio State University in the autumn of 2014, marking the ten year anniversary of my Bachelor of Fine Arts show in which I became the first person to hold a BFA  show in that gallery space.


 Fields of Home

Fields of Home