An Arts and Crafts Dinosaur?

Remember the movie “You’ve Got Mail” with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks?

It was playing this past weekend on the small, dusty television set I have hanging on the wall of my workshop, as I was making the quartersawn oak frames some of you will be staining, dyeing and finishing in Dennis Bertucci’s class at the Grove Park Inn in a few weeks.

In case you missed it, Meg Ryan plays the owner of a small, traditional bookstore being put out of business by a thinly disguised Barnes & Noble mega-store owned by the very rich and highly successful Tom Hanks. And to make the plot more interesting, Tom Hanks falls in love with Meg Ryan, who unknowingly carries on a series of personal emails with him in a Shakespearean case of disguised identity.

The movie was made in 1998, when both emails and conglomerate bookstores were new on the scene. I could not help but note the irony, as today, one by one, the mega-bookstores like Barnes & Noble are toppling over, their future threatened not by a resurgence of small, independent book sellers, but by the same internet than spawned emails.

All of this was more than just a passing thought for me this morning, as I sit staring at 50 cardboard boxes containing 1,500 copies of my latest venture into self-publishing, Arts & Crafts Shopmarks: 1895-1940.

When anyone has asked me for advice on writing and self-publishing, my reply was always the same: writing is easy. The real work begins when the UPS truck pulls up out front.

As someone who has also embraced the internet as a major form of communication, was I a fool to invest thousands of dollars into a traditional ink-and-paper book that arrives in a cardboard box?

Instead, should I have Kindled it?

(Soon to be a verb, like “I Googled it.” You saw it here first.)

And do Arts & Crafts collectors care enough about shopmarks to buy a softcover book containing more than 1,200 of them?

Or would you just rather wait until you can call it up on the screen of your laptop, iPad or telephone?

But, then, this morning, as I was writing my next column for Style 1900 magazine, I came across a subscriber’s question about the Chicago metalsmith Robert Jarvie (1865-1941). If you Google Robert Jarvie, as he did, you’ll find a few paragraphs that pop up on a couple of Arts & Crafts websites, but no real, in-depth examination of his work. And so I stood up, walked across the room to one of my six crammed oak bookcases, and pulled out a copy of Thomas Maher’s 1997 book The Jarvie Shop, where I found everything I needed to answer the query.

But still I have to wonder: am I just a modern day dinosaur, lumbering across the room in search of a dwindling food supply, doomed for extinction by another invisible object from outer space hurtling toward the earth?

At least the dinosaurs had one thing in their favor: ignorance was bliss.

Until next Monday,

Do have a great week!

– Bruce