Bread and craft

Yesterday’s post on Tartine’s bread wizard Chad Robinson, reminded me of one of the core stories I enjoy and often tell when I give presentations on my work. The story came from the inspiring Tasmanian woodworker and sculptor Gay Hawkes who was renown, when I was getting started, for her reinterpretation of the bush vernacular furniture of the (perhaps mythical) colonial chair bodger Jimmy Possum.

On Mt. Wellington, Gay Hawkes

Gay used to say that the ultimate craft was bread baking.

The baker starts in the wee hours of the morning when everyone is asleep and the world is dark and foggy.

She starts up the ovens, gets the chill off her bones and unwraps the basic tools of her trade.

The ingredients are simple and primal – flour, eggs, water, yeast, salt, oil.

When they are mixed, there is an alchemy which transforms and synthesizes the simple ingredients in extraordinary ways.

The work requires strength, care, patience and risk.

The results are delicious, varied, and lie at the very core of human culture.

By sun-up the work is done, the shelves are laden.

When the bakery doors open there is a flood of hungry customers who demolish the baker’s work with gusto and joy.

The baker cleans the tools of her trade, closes shop and goes home to rest.

There is very little waste.

Early in the morning the baker wakes and goes through the whole process once more!

With perhaps a subtle shift in recipe or process to test a new idea or improve an already proven formula.

Isn’t this the essence of CRAFT?


  1. I wonder how much of the process is entrusted to the hands of the bread maker. How much of the daily variations and development of the loaf, the innovation over a lifetime of bread making, is entrusted to the physical knowledge of the makers hands.
    Thanks Donno.


  2. The hands of god. Yummy!


  3. Hi Donald,

    In Vermont there are many people in touch with the ancient powers & rhythms of bread and the ways it unifies us as humans. Check out Bread & Puppet Theatre:
    and another righteous bread spot: the O’Bread Bakery which is in an amazing building on a large farm on the lake:


  4. Wonderful story, Donald. This would make a lovely children’s book, with hand drawn illustrations, maybe woodblock prints. I could imagine a series related to elementary crafts featuring real people who make their living by making simple things in a daily, seasonal, ritualistic way..


    1. Nice idea. Let’s work on that together. We could do it in woodblock and letterpress and have those crafts in the book too. A kind inverted metatext.


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