07 Oct 2013

Rare Craft Roadshow Memories: Part 1

by Brand Ambassador Lorne Cousin

The Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow of 2012 now seems a distant memory, but as I look back I can’t help thinking what an eye opening and inspiring experience the whole trip was. From Denver to Seattle and Houston to New Orleans, it gave me a real insight into the world of craftsmanship across America and restored my faith in our ability to make things with our hands whilst creating something people really appreciate. The craftsmen we encountered loved their craft and made things with a passion — the same way we painstakingly craft The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch in Speyside, Scotland, several thousand miles away.

I found myself in Denver in our hand-made Morgan roadster in September where our first port of call was Finart. This might possibly have been one the coolest places we visited, as Rob McGowan and Ben Olson made furniture and artifacts by hand from recycled airplane parts! You could see the rivets still in place in aluminum wings which formed the bar of a high end hairdressing salon in New York, or the top of a coffee table gracing an apartment in downtown Denver. We were off to a flying start!

Canlis Glass

Next stop was Seattle, with the snowy mountains in the far distance. The highlight of this visit was Canlis Glass. JP Canlis takes his inspiration from nature as he crafts beautiful glass pieces reflecting memories of his youth, whether it is wheat stalks blowing in the wind or waves on the ocean. This seemed to be a recurring theme amongst craftsmen, as nature and their surroundings provided their inspiration to create beautiful pieces.

Wood and Faulk

Onwards to Portland, Oregon and a visit to Wood and Faulk, named after Woodrow and Faulkner, the cross streets where proprietor and craftsman Matt Pierce lives in Kansas! Matt and his team hand-cut and sew beautiful leather wallets, purses and belts. They are located in a disused factory with a group of other craftsmen which gives the whole place a craft commune kind of vibe. “This is intentional,” adds Matt, as they all feed off each other and share ideas, which is kind of cool—a bit like William Grant in the early days of distilling as he and his fellow distillery owners helped each other out by sharing stock and, indeed, customers when times got hard!

A drive down the coast and the fog lifted to reveal the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.  We immediately got down to the serious business of celebrating craftsmen and they don’t come much more handcrafted — and indeed, serious — than The Ladder Shop.

The Ladder Shop

This is the workshop of the San Francisco Fire Department where wooden ladders are handcrafted from the straightest, hardest Ash, Douglas Fir and Hickory. Now you might think that wooden ladders and fires do not go together, but neither do electricity pylons and metal ladders! It is the many electricity cables which criss-cross San Francisco’s narrow streets which facilitate the need for these age-old and trusted ladders. Many of them have actually been exposed to flames for up to an hour without their strength being compromised, due to the way they are built, varnished and tested. As well as being pretty, craftsmanship also saves lives, it would seem! Next stop, Tinsel Town! 

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