The chairs he has crafted could be considered finished—they are strong and sound—but the old man continues, with weary hands, to carve flourishes and curlicues into the wood, to decorate his utilitarian creations.
The folklorist, a specialist in material culture, asks the man, “Why? Who do you take the time to decorate the chairs when they are perfectly serviceable?” The old man is silent, thinking, perhaps for the first time, about his motivation, his desire. And then he answers:
“Because it pleases me.”
I heard this story, told by folklorist Henry Glassie, many years ago as an undergraduate when Glassie came to visit my college. Since then, I have thought often of the…
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