Monday's Visual Treat - Day 1/ Everyday Objects of Extraordinary Design (the lead pencil)


The humble lead pencil can be used in many ways other than to which it was originally intended, such as: chopstick(s), garden stake, sundial, a measuring device, instrument of torture/hypnosis/pleasure/hygiene, a door stop, etc etc, but most importantly it is the primary writing instrument or art medium in the world, and its surprisingly simple construction is a narrow, solid pigment (usually graphite or charcoal or crayon) core inside  a protective casing (usually wood).  Invented sometime around 1550 in Cumbria, England.  The design of the lead pencil (called lead, however it is graphite) has remained virtually unchanged, other than the addition of a eraser at the end in 1858 by Hymen Lipman.  

As children, we all learned our alphabet by copying, memorizing, recognizing the sounds that corresponded to symbols that when compounded in a string of two, three, or four clumsily drawn markings meant objects that we had already encountered in our limited, cosseted existence; quickly we realized that d-o-g meant the gentle animal named Rex who greeted us at home with licks and wagged his tail in anticipation of treats, and c-a-k-e tasted good, more could be had by being good, and d-a-d liked it too.  The sweet pleasure of reading and writing cannot be overstated, and indeed the ability to express ourselves, our thoughts and desires, our dreams and fears, is integral to the process of individualization, and central to the relation of the individual vis-a-vis society.  Children, and later as adults, who have been denied the opportunity to learn to read and (w)rite sadly live in the half-shadows, ghosts as such, who cannot partake in the abundance of experiences normally available to the literate. In The Reader, actress Kate Winslet brilliantly portrays the bleak existence of Hanna Schmidt, whose great secret and shame is her illiteracy.  Tragically, her choices are limited, her decisions perhaps questionable, yet her written farewell is entirely her own.  

If one were to pause--exceedingly rare for quite a few of us in today's technology-driven world where the ANDROID, TEVO, GPS, IPAD, FACEBOOK, KINDLE, and a myriad of other devices help to regulate our very existence to the satisfaction of multinational shareholders, branding agencies and crooning portfolio managers, one could surely point out certain items that have resisted modernization, and for this the inherent clarity and simplicity of their design must yet again be lauded.  Apparently in these times there is return on the part of a small groups of weary as well as wary individuals to the tried, true, and an older technology more sympathetic to the shape of human needs, and desires. Ashlea Halpern recently wrote of The Analog Underground in NY Mag (7.7.11) where, 'A new generation of digital apostates rejects zeroes and ones in favor of celluloid, vinyl, ink, paper, and the click-clack-ding-slide of a typewriter.  It can be argued that for the purposes of convenience/efficiency/time-management/personal gain/whatever, the rapid click of text keys and its almost instant delivery reigns supreme, yet the poetic motions of characters drawn on a textile surface is matched only by the murmurs of my beating heart upon receiving a love letter proclaiming undying devotion though eternity.


PS:  Today's visual treat is offered on behalf of all educators who heroically, selflessly, and tirelessly teach each generation, and also to Ms Ebanks of the kindergarden school on Gaborel Lane in Belize CIty who instilled in me an enthusiasm of reading and writing for which I am forever indebted.