David Pye
David Pye

MC: Are you that interested in objects as such, or is it the process of making that’s important?

DP: Oh my God no, oh Lord no! The result is what matters. Because if it’s bad, one tries desperately to think of a way of improving it. If you can’t alter it you chuck it away under the bench but if it’s good that — after all — is what you’re there for. And if it’s good it’s going to be around. Remember those chairs I told you about. Well, some old chap, probably from the village here, in 1700-and-something, made those chairs. Who it was nobody knows, but the chairs are still around and they started me on furniture and the number of people I’ve had through my hands as a result — well that’s what they did.

MC: I was being provocative, but there are movements in art currently which claim that the process is all-important. You go to the theatre and suspect that the important moments were those in rehearsal, for the actors themselves.

DP: Oh no. A tree is known by its fruit, not its good intentions. What matters is the result: I believe that very strongly. But I want to say a few more things about wood. You can make anything of it, and one man with a chest of tools can do the whole thing himself. It is capable of being treated both freely and in a highly regulated way. Unlike blacksmithing, which generally gets deader the nearer it gets to highly regulated workmanship. Look at the railings round the Albert Memorial: you’d think they were cast iron, but they’re not, they’re wrought iron, every scroll the spit and image of the next, so regulated it’s not true. With wood you can have the best of both worlds. Another great recommendation is that you can work wood anywhere. I made a chest of drawers — not a bad one either, though I say it as I shouldn’t — on the top of another chest of drawers. It’s upstairs now. From that point of view, for a chap who is stuck with another job, there’s a lot to said for it.

MC: So you don’t have this attitude to the word ‘professional’ that some people have when they write in to Crafts magazine. They say, ‘You show a lot of work by people whom I happen to know are also teaching. They are therefore not professional craftsmen.’

DP: God Almighty.

MC: And they say that the true test of a craftsman is whether he can make his living by his work. ‘Yours sincerely, etc.’

DP: No test of a craftsman at all. The only test of a craftsman is the quality of his work. There is no other test. Full stop. In fact some of the best workmanship is done by amateurs. Probably always will be. But the one thing you don’t learn working as an amateur — that is when you only work evenings and weekends and earn your bread and butter doing something totally different: you don’t learn to work quickly, so you don’t get the chance to make enough mistakes. I’ve never been in quite that position as a teacher. I could work about zoo days a year at making. Doing it purely as an amateur you don’t get much speed into it. Speed in itself doesn’t matter a bit, but it is very very important to make a lot, so that you can make a lot of mistakes and learn from them. The other thing is, unless you’ve had training as a designer, you’re going to do some rather awful things. Anyone can learn to make things, it’s designing them and getting rid of them that’s difficult. But I’ve discussed all these things at length in the book.

Marigold Coleman interviewing David Pye in Crafts (London, England) no217 82-4 Mr/Ap 2009

This interview originally ran in Crafts No.20, May/June 1976