Last week, as I was in my studio putting together a file cabinet and my husband was downstairs putting together bookcases, both of us sprawled on the floor, gripping screwdrivers and sweating over the fine points of the pictures in IKEA how-to pamphlets, it occurred to me that we were as close as many of us get in the 21st century to being homesteaders. In the middle of it all, what sprang to my mind were the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, a series my daughter and I spent many happy hours reading together. They're great books, full of time, place, and human drama, but in addition, I especially loved the detailed descriptions of how they made the things they needed to eat, to sit on, to work with, to live. I've always liked making things with my hands - what better description of an artist? - and I also made a good living for a few years in New York City drawing How-To instructions for everything from knitting to digging wells. I'm therefore a bit of a connoiseur of how-to instructions - IKEA, incidentally, does a very good job most of the time.
There is something so satisfying about the task of building something for daily use - a plain box becomes a heap of disparate pieces of metal or wood, then a side appears and stands on the floor, then a drawer materializes after the effort of attaching and screwing correctly; at the end the finished product sits in front of you where there was nothing before and you feel the pride of a task completed. It may not be an entire log cabin chinked well for the winter, but it's yours and you made it.