Where does the line between art and industry lie?
Rachel Eva and Shawn Michael, a Hillcrest couple who together make up Work of My Hands, are in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund their new project. They aim to explore the boundaries between art for art’s sake and the products of industry. The Standard Spoon concept is simple: a bar spoon with a swivelling handle for stirring cocktails. The idea isn’t unique — Eva cites decades-old expired patents for similar inventions — but the duo’s approach to craftsmanship is interesting.
Both Eva and Michael identify with the “maker” movement, a modern day arts and crafts culture that emphasizes handiwork and the importance of the creative process. Shawn Michael is a hair stylist by trade, but good at working with his hands in other respects. When he wanted a household bar, he built one. It took much planning and several days of constant work, but the finished bar looks original to the Craftsman-era house.
That’s why, when Michael endorses a prototype for the Standard Spoon, you can bet he knows how to make it himself, or at least understands the mechanics and material sciences behind the product. From a business standpoint, that keeps with the popular nugget of conventional wisdom that says, “don’t invest in something you don’t understand.”
But Michael and Eva aren’t industrialists. They aren’t restaurateurs. They’re not even bartenders.
They’re artists who racked up Kickstarter success in 2012, raising money to fund a sculptural lighting project for the Mission Federal Artwalk. That project succeeded, but it didn’t earn any money. Fine arts projects can be, at best, a break-even game. Since neither Eva nor Michael enjoys the luxury of independent wealth, the two artists want to find a way to produce something economically viable, yet also artistically satisfying.
“I need to be creative,” says Eva, prompting Shawn Michael to jump in.
“You’re either fulfilling someone else’s dreams, or you’re fulfilling your own,” he says, sure that he’s quoting someone, but not entirely sure who it is.
“We knew we had to monetize our creativity,” Eva continues. “One way to do that was to take our art and distill it down to more low-fidelity products….but at the same time there’s a little bit of selling your soul in that. The whole point of our art is to create things that are custom and one-of-a-kind. We have conversations going back five years about how we reject the “put a bird on it” mentality of just making something hip and fun so you can sell a lot of stuff.
“We’ve come up with ideas before where people say, ‘oh, we really love that. Can you make me one of those?’ But all we can say to that is, ‘Well, we’ve already made it.’
The Standard Spoon represents something that the two only have to make once, in the design and prototyping phases. After that, the manufacturing process continues, and the artists can turn their minds to other projects.
But, why bar spoons? Is there a desperate lacuna in the restaurant supply chain, such that bars are clamoring for a reliable source of spoons to swish the ice in their Manhattans? No. There isn’t, and the Standard Spoon’s creators recognize that. They realize they stand no chance of competing with a huge factory in Asia that can stamp out spoons, selling them for pennies and shipping globally.
Rachel Eva and Shawn Michael perceive a demand for artistry. The “craft cocktail” scene inspires them. They are self-described cocktail dorks, frequent guests of local bars and restaurants where old-school bartending has smashed up against the social mores of the farm-to-table foods movement. They are true believers in the art and craft of drinking, and they sense that people like themselves — professionals behind a bar and pro-level imbibers alike — will want a spoon because it is beautiful, because it will last forever, and because it represents someone’s dreams.