The Craftsman: Issue n.007 — April 2018

Gianfranco Chicco
The Craftman Newsletter
6 min readApr 4, 2018

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A collection of products and experiences celebrating craftsmanship, paying homage to those who take the expression of our humanity to a higher level.

“The truth of a thing is the feel of a thing, not the think of it”.
Stanley Kubrick

Photo by Gianfranco Chicco

Bottega Storica Pettinaroli, Milan

“We apply the classic method because it makes sense”. Those were Francesco Pettinaroli’s words when I asked him about why their way of doing things has remained mostly unchanged since 1881 at the Milanese “Bottega Storica” Pettinaroli, a traditional stationery and printing shop. It opened next to the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which had been completed just 4 years earlier, and it has recently moved to a stone’s throw from the prestigious Brera Academy of Fine Arts and the Teatro alla Scala. While I’d visited Pettinaroli several times over the years, I was now ready to order my personal business cards from them.

The participation in the family business was a natural development for Francesco, currently the fourth generation, to whom his father never put any pressure to carry on with the activity. The second of three brothers, he took part in the shop’s activity since he was a little boy, first by helping with the deliveries and later via his interest in fine paper, elegant workmanship and antique prints. Talking about succession, he acknowledges how no one wants to be the one ending generational handing down, but sooner or later things have to end. He has three daughters, and just like his father, he doesn’t impose any expectations of continuity, though the middle one shows interest in carrying on with the shop. A shop that has kept its essence thanks to having been always in the family, with each successor protecting the work done so far while adding something of their own to complement the traditional paper offering, like individually scouted Italian-made articles grounded in traditional artisanship, including leather coin holders and maps from all over the world.

Visit to order business cards, wedding invitations, antique prints, handmade leather accessories or just to admire the shop’s furniture, which includes a few 137 year old pieces from the first location. (Photo: Gianfranco Chicco) Via Brera, 4, 20121 Milano, Italy

Photo: courtesy of Studio Morrama

Studio Morrama’s Angle Razor, Kickstarter

Jo Barnard is the founder of Morrama, a 3 y.o. London based industrial design agency that works with startups. It has recently signed on their 100th client and launched the first product done for themselves: the Angle razor. It all started when a client commissioned the design of a shavette — the kind of razor you’ll find at a barber’s shop — but halfway through decided he didn’t want it anymore. The team had already invested a significant amount of time on a prototype they were proud of, so they decided to buy back the IP and launch it under their own new brand: Studio Morrama.

Very much like in Shintoism, Jo believes that products have a soul — the soul of the craftsmen that made them — and that when you look into them you can still see the original idea in there. Morrama have been playing around with the word “Essentialism” to describe their work, which is not about minimalism but stripping the design back whilst maintaining their goal for an improved user experience, making products that are not out of reach for the majority.

While the angle razor is not cheap, it is designed to last a lifetime and repay itself rather quickly given that it uses readily available disposable blades. This has certainly resonated with a large audience, with the Angle razor being featured everywhere, from Uncrate to Design Milk to Wallpaper, becoming a great business card for what Morrama stands for. I wonder what will their next product be and how will that define them.

Photo by Gianfranco Chicco

Why We Make Things & Why It Matters, Peter Korn

With the tagline The Education of a Craftsman, Peter Korn’s book was an absolute delight to read. It deals both with craft and craftsmanship via the author’s 40+ years of first finding and then exercising his voice as a carpenter, a furniture maker and a teacher.

I probably have Japanese-tinted glasses when I look at things in general, and at several points Korn’s writing reminded me of the basis of Shintoism (which I also mentioned in the Morrama story above). For example with the reference to the objects having “mana”, when he argues that contemporary craft is primarily about addressing the spiritual needs of its maker, with the objects having their very own spiritual weight: “Once it enters the world, an object gathers history and associations on its own”. It also made me wonder what does it say about our spirits when much of our furniture are prefabs from IKEA (which for the record I have a positive relationship with). By the end of it, the book had instilled in me the question of what a good life might be, something I’m currently working on.

Below are a few brief passages that resonated with me:

“[…] whatever our motivations may be, the bottom line is always the same: we engage in the creative process to become more of whom we’d like to be and, just as important, to discover more of whom we might become”. “To live a good life is to participate deeply and meaningfully in the shared life of humanity”. “As a carpenter I had worked with my hands. As a furniture maker I began to work creatively with my hands, which made all the difference”. “Craft is a cultural construct that evolves in response to changing mindsets and conditions of society”. “Craft is especially fulfilling because its materiality anchors the craftsman’s understanding in reality”. “We think with materials and objects at least as much as we think with words, perhaps far more. They are conduits through which we construct our selves and our world”.

“My experience has been that the effort to bring something new and meaningful into the world — whether in the arts, the kitchen, or the marketplace — is exactly what generates the sense of meaning and fulfilment for which so many of us yearn so deeply”.

Penguin, Amazon [UK / US]

Keeping Traditional Japanese Sword Making Alive

This 4-minute documentary commissioned by Etsy features Korehira Wataname, one of only 30 people who are currently making a living as a traditional Japanese swordsmith. Based in Hokkaido, Northern Japan, Wataname started making swords 40 years ago because he loved them, and later his priority shifted to the need of passing along the aesthetics and soul of the Japanese people through his swords, making sure that the craft survives him as true to its nature as possible. In the video you’ll see this reflected in the following quote (emphasis mine):

“I want my disciple to surpass me as a sword maker. It is my duty to build up a disciple better than me. Otherwise, the tradition will wear thin with time. What I received from my master is not only the technique but also his passion for sword making.”

Watch the video here.

The Search For The Essence of Surfing

Bradley Tangonan made this beautiful short film about Tom Pōhaku Stone, a traditional surfboard craftsman in Hawaii. Just watch it and pay attention to the different sounds of water (make sure you have the audio up or are wearing good headphones).

Watch the video here.

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Gianfranco Chicco
The Craftman Newsletter

Curator of The Craftsman Newsletter. Conference director for hire, digital-physical experiences, marketing & storytelling. Japanophile. ✌