“These coppers, big and little, these brooms and clouts and brushes, were tools; and with them one made, not shoes or cabinet-work, but life itself. One made a climate within a climate; one made the days,–the complexion, the special flavor, the special happiness of each day as it passed; one made life.”
Willa Cather, Shadows on the Rock
Each craft has its tools. And those tools show themselves for what they are in the hands of the craftsman—in this case a woman. She knows how to use these tools because she knows what they are really for. She feels intuitively that her craft stands out from all others. She is intent on forming something much greater than cabinets.
The real fruit of her art is not tangible, even if the immediate products are. The cabinetmaker sees his hands give shape to something concrete and beautiful right before his very eyes. He quickly perceives how well he is doing, as well as when something has gone amiss. The woman of the home struggles to see the fruit of her work. Sometimes the concrete things she sees are not very beautiful. Or maybe she succeeds in making them aesthetically pleasing, but the deeper purpose remains elusive.
In no other art is there such a fine interplay, such a meaningful interweaving, of the intangible and the tangible. Such is the home, because such is human life. And a woman is at the heart of it.
Yet today it can be so difficult for a woman to discover and to practice this art—one that is so her, and so hers. Commonly ridiculed and undermined, or simply ignored, it is seldom seen for what it is, let alone reverenced, and cultivated. When still practiced, emphasis can tend toward achieving a certain look in the home, or even a certain performance of the children, missing the deeper reality. And this work in the home often remains secondary to achieving other more ‘serious’ objectives.
There is perhaps no other work so hidden, yet with such real fruits—both for those within the home and the broader community. This work is certainly not for a woman alone. Indeed, such wifery calls for and flourishes alongside a closely connected husbandry—an art similarly in need of rediscovery.
Willa Cather gives voice to what is well-nigh beyond articulation. The woman of a home has a genius—even if as yet undiscovered, even if different from her neighbor’s or her mother’s. She has a genius and an opportunity to make a climate within a climate—a work especially arduous when the broader climate is inclement.
By a studied attention to the concrete, grounded in a vision of the transcendent, and animated by a love of persons in all their richness, a woman crafts the special happiness of each day.
Willa Cather (American, 1873-1947) was a Pulitzer-winning authoress known especially for her novels of the American frontier, such as O Pioneers! and My Antonia. A personal favorite of mine is Shadows on the Rock, and the short story Neighbor Rosicky.
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