Friday, July 30, 2010

Passing it down

Sandals: who knew they could tell you a lot about culture and learning?

Yesterday at the Bata Shoe Museum I saw a display of three different woven sandals from three different periods in one culture's history. The sole of the sandal on the left was tightly and intricately woven, very strong and quite beautiful. The sole in the middle? Still pretty nice-looking, but woven more simply in a different design and much more loosely. The third? Same design as #2 but on a much bigger scale - no doubt faster and easier to make, but nowhere near the quality of the other two.

Somewhere between the first and second sandal, that culture developed a specialty in another area of expertise, and the people who made the sandals stopped teaching the next generation the more elaborate weaving technique. And so it was lost, and the later generation was left making a beginner level sandal as though none of their ancestors had ever known anything different.

I found this so moving, even though I personally got interested in spinning and have now learned to make a viable string with nothing more than a spindle, which sort of proves that people can recapture past skills without any economic need for it. It reminded me that no matter how many advances we make as a society, much can be lost with just one generation - with just one person, come to that.

And it reminded me how great it is when people do become obsessed with a subject, and learn all about it, and pass it on to others... because you never know when that old thing will become the necessary thing.

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