I have mentioned more than once how thankful I am to you for encouraging and inspiring me to make the pop-up paper house even better; now I'd like to thank a few other people.
This campaign was MUCH more work than I'd anticipated, but I loved every minute of it, particularly getting up close and personal to the manufacturing process. There's been a cultural movement lately to eat locally, and to learn where our food comes from -- but the same interest hasn't yet transferred to products. We have become separated from the objects which surround us; we think of them as being made in factories by machines. Once in a while a horrifying fire, or a desperate note slipped into a Halloween decoration will remind us that there are people behind our stuff, but for the most part they remain anonymous, invisible, or simply forgotten.
It was a treat to ride my bike over to the factory to supervise the details of the house kit fabrication, and it was especially gratifying to see the genuine enthusiasm and care that everyone put in the project. I love that every single element of the pop-up house, even the box itself came from Brooklyn, yet the people who worked on it came from all over the world: Russia, Mexico, China, Switzerland, and yes, also America, to name just a few. But it got even better. I had the privilege of standing side by side with the workers for a few days as we packed up the boxes. I assembled all the special orders while they made the regular kits. The experience gave me a new appreciation for all things manufactured.
There is no such thing as automation. EVERYTHING is hand-made. Machines might be speeding things up, but someone is feeding the machine, sorting the pieces, risking their fingers, spending hours, days and years on their feet lifting and moving stuff. One Polish lady, probably around my age (though she already had grandchildren) told me she had been there for twenty three years: "It's heavy," she added, and it struck me that she was speaking metaphorically, she was not talking about the huge stack of mat boards in her arms. She had my number: before I left she offered me a boxful of the pretty, colored mat board scraps, because she knew I would want to make something with them.
If you are fortunate enough to live in a country where fair labor laws are enforced, you can buy products made locally. There won't be blood on your purchase, but there will still be plenty of sweat. It's hard work. I was only on the factory floor for a couple of days, I didn't even work as many hours as the others, but when got home my feet were swollen, my arms sore, and all I could do was stagger to bed. It is a feeling I hope I will never forget.
Before I toss something out rather than fixing it, I want to remember the miner, whose coal powers the factories. I want to remember the fork lift driver, the floor manager, and the woman who pushes boxes into the hot shrink-wrap machine, one every five seconds, twelve per minute, 720 per hour… The hundreds of faces behind each small item we consume. We never see them or hear their names -- except, in my case, for those who made the pop-up paper house kit a reality.
I intended to take a photo of everyone who worked on the house to share with you, but they were all reluctant: "Why do you want our picture?" They didn't think anyone would care, and I was too shy to explain. So I took pictures and shot short videos of the machines, and promised I would leave out their faces and names. I still want to acknowledge them, and to thank them here. The owner, whose son, it turns out, attends the same middle school as mine. He gave his long-haired cat a mohawk cut for the hot summer months. The foreman, kind as could be and a whiz with all the cranky machinery. His wife who has been working there with him for 17 years. The grandmother and the quiet man who silently gave me a bottle of ice-cold water, with a smile. The young lady who tactfully pointed out that I had messed up one of the kits I'd assembled. The young man who helped me with my computer files and the half a dozen guys at the cardboard warehouse in Red Hook who gathered around to help me choose the box. The die-maker and the offset printer I didn't get to meet. Thank you all!