Creativity, a dying art, is not yet dead
They say people in America don't make things anymore, which is somewhat true if you are talking about televisions, small electrical appliances and anything that has to be sewn.
But for those of you are not feeling particularly motivated to do your fair share (and get our country's reputation back as a maker of things), there's a fellow in these parts who is pulling the weight for at least a dozen of us. Maybe more.
Melvin Brown lives near Centerville, and he only went to school until the eighth grade. Which might be a good thing. There is nothing molded or standardized about him. Somewhere along the line, someone did NOT make him sit still and try to think like everyone else, even though he served in the U.S. Navy and was a machinist and a truck driver.
At 81 years of age, Brown is frothing with creativity. And he's got me thinking a lot about what that word really means.
Walking into Brown's home, which is an apartment in his daughter's house, the TV is on blast, an aroma of homemade soup cozies the air, and there is a dead wolf casually reclining on the back of the sofa. I guess it's really a dead wolf skin, but it has a lot of personality and it appears to be looking at me.
"I'll probably make a hat out of him or something," Brown remarks toward the wolf.
That would go nicely with the leather coats and moccasins Brown has already made from deer and elk hides he tanned himself … and the hats and the Native American breast plates and hunting horns and tomahawks and guns. But I'm getting ahead of the tour.
I pick up an interesting piece of jewelry off a metal display unit Brown made. Where someone else sees a bear toe and thinks "bear toe," Brown sees a bear toe and knows it will be perfect for a piece of jewelry, as long as he can get the right sliver of deer skull for the center.
There is a beautiful hunting knife nearby with a handle made from a muskrat trap spring. I feel the heavy balance of it in my hand and realize like so many of the items in Brown's house, the knife is really a piece of art.
Brown sees like an artist. He sees a honeysuckle vine choking the life out of a sapling, and in it he sees the carved walking stick he will make. He sees a discarded wooden knob and envisions a hat for the marionette he is finishing. And there on the wall is an old pair of ice tongs that have become an amazingly cool paper towel holder.
This is how he sees things. His mind is wide open to the possibilities of everything around him. And it may be this openness that lets ideas flow like a flash flood in spring.
Much of what Brown constructs is based on life in the pioneer days when people had to be creative to survive.
"I always said I was born 200 years too late," Brown remarks as he stirs a pot of vegetable soup.
Brown looks like a mountain man --tall of stature, with strong hands, a full white beard and suspenders. For a while, he was one. He and his wife, Delores, moved up to Bradford County for 16 years where he proved they had the skills to survive on their own.
"I guess she loved me," says Brown about his wife of 48 years who would follow her husband to the mountains. "She died of breast cancer in '08. I miss her still."
Albert Einstein said the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. Back in his workshop, the genius of Brown becomes obvious. Neatly packed into the room the size of a horse stall, are the fruits of his work. Rifles with poured pewter decoration and chiseled hand-carved stock, and cow-horn cups adorned with intricate scrimshaw designs.
Of course, Brown does his own scrimshaw from tools he made, held in a toolbox he designed and built himself. There's a slab of cherry wood where Brown makes his own pot pie noodles; a turkey call he invented on which he scratches a corn cob to make, alternately, a gobbler and hen call; leather hinges; lanterns; games; dancing dolls; and musical instruments.
He takes out a little device he made that looks something like a pencil compass and measures the space between my elbow and wrist and the length between my elbow and shoulder.
"I'm studying the ancient Greek ideas of proportions," explains Brown, politely declining to comment if mine are askew. "It's called the Golden Mean," and he shows me the book he's reading.
Books are where he gets all his information, including his newest interests in basket weaving and bonsai.
Brown bends down to show the slow work of hand-carving a buffalo design onto a gun stock.
"It's tedious," he says looking at his handiwork, "but I want people to know I didn't run through this earth. I walked."
I looked around his workshop, which bespoke a quest for knowledge and a spirit for putting it to use, and I knew that Melvin Brown was walking on the earth. But even with soft deerskin moccasins, he was making quite an impression.
A former Lancaster Newspapers reporter, Susan Baldrige has taught English in public schools for the past eight years. She is a correspondent for LNP. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.