These days, there’s something almost revolutionary about working in a manual trade—in creating a thing, in experiencing the the tactile fruits of physical labor. As our world and work increasingly move online, there are still those working to perfect a craft, who are tied to their toolbox rather than to their inbox. We asked four Cambridge makers to tell us about working with their hands.
Owner, Hub Bicycle Company
Emily Thibodeau has been working in bike shops for more than 20 years, and she currently owns Hub Bicycle Company in Inman Square. At the shop, she expertly repairs and builds bikes by hand with her team of mechanics, in addition to teaching workshops ranging from flat tire fixes to a more intensive six-class maintenance series. She’s naturally a lover of projects that have complete stories, and she sees a bicycle repair as a fun challenge with a beginning, a middle and an end.
“Bicycles are one of the few things we have left that get repaired,” she explains. “There are so few things in life now. Bikes can be repaired and serviced, and I think that’s really special. It’s very satisfying to take something that doesn’t work and make it awesome. Or to take something that works enough and then make it work to the best of its ability.”
Bike repairs are hard work on mechanics’ hands. With so many small components, you have to be strong but also possess precise fine motor skills. In addition to balancing this duality, Thibodeau enjoys the customer relationships that develop in a speciality shop like Hub Bicycle. She likes to solve problems, and she appreciates the unique experience of being able to help people improve or build their dream machines.
Her one tip for all cyclists? “There are really only two things that any person needs to do with their bike. One: keep air in the tires, and two: lubricate the chain. Do those things, and you’ll be happy.”
Co-Owner, Redemption Tattoo
As a kid, Erick Lynch always had a love for drawing, and at age 13, after seeing a movie that showed someone creating their own tattoo, he started tattooing himself. This quickly turned into tattooing his friends, which eventually led to opening Redemption Tattoo with partner Mike Shea in 2002. “I never planned to tattoo; this is just all that I’ve done,” Lynch says. “I don’t consider it work. This is what I do.”
Before they opened Redemption together, Lynch and Shea worked in New Hampshire. Tattooing was illegal in Massachusetts until 2000, when a Superior Court judge struck down the 38-year-old ban, allowing the two friends to move their craft to Cambridge. “I wanted to be back in the city doing something, and we’ve had this place for over 14 years now,” Lynch says. “I’m proud of that … of building a business.”
At Redemption Tattoo, everything from the sketches and designs to operating the tools is done entirely by hand. “I think of it as a craft because we work with our hands. Everything’s hand-drawn. And the equipment that we deal with is all hands-on,” Lynch explains. “But that’s why I enjoy it. Actually sitting down and tattooing is my off-time.”
This manual process allows artists to grow through the trade itself. “When you work with people who have different styles and ideas,” says Lynch, “You learn with them.” The communal aspect of the craft itself extends to the relationship between the artist and the client, and the trust involved there. “When you spend a lot of time with someone, you get to know the person. And when I have a great client, it makes my life so much better.”
Lead Butcher, Savenor’s Market
“My one piece of advice,” offers Christopher Walker, “is to never be afraid to get messy.”
Walker, Savenor’s Market’s lead butcher, is candid about his lifelong passion for the culinary arts and his interest in the relationship between people and food. He wants people who walk into Savenor’s to feel like participants rather than just shoppers. “We really try to connect with farmers to create a partnership, and we make sure everyone in our staff is well-versed in an array of cuts. We’ve developed a strong relationship that connects the farm to the butcher to the customer,” he explains. “We’re a craft butcher shop that works with farms and aims to teach, as well as supply people with healthy, well-sourced meat.”
To help achieve this goal, Savenor’s offers private classes in knife skills, pasta making and even one called “Whole Animal Butchery.” People have traveled all the way from Louisiana and New York for these hands-on courses, where Walker happily shares his culinary expertise and explains the fundamentals of butchery and the importance of respecting the whole animal, always with the objective of empowering his students.
“Butchery is like holding a pencil,” he says. “I can show you my exact way of doing it, and in 10 minutes, you’ll be doing something totally different. It really doesn’t matter. Of course, there are certain basics to properly holding a knife, but you know you’re truly engulfed in your craft when you pick up your tool one day, whether it be a knife or a paintbrush, and you do something original and it feels totally natural.”
By day, Nina Park is a high school English Teacher at Boston Public Schools. But when she’s off the clock, she’s a nail artist. She’s able to paint vivid designs in impressive detail—especially considering the tiny size of the canvas with which she has to work. Her nail art has been received with enthusiasm by everyone to the amateur manicure fan to couture designers; on top of gaining over 43,000 Instagram followers, she has worked behind the scenes with models at New York Fashion Week and has collaborated with the MFA.
“I just really enjoy being able to sit down and clear my head of everything else, and then focus on the design,” Nina explained. “So it’s unbelievable, to me, that people are really interested in this! I feel so lucky and am just amazed by the responses. So much of what [nail artists] do is all about trying something new and putting yourself out there. It’s a lot like when I’m putting together a lesson for school. I think, ‘Oh, I hope this works. I hope they get this idea!’ You just have to take risks and you learn from your mistakes. And you keep doing the things that work.”
There is a lot of overlap between Nina’s work as a BPS teacher and her art; not only does she offer manicures to her honor roll students, but she teaches nail art sessions for teenagers at the Cambridge Public Library.
“I get to know kids from other high schools who I would never otherwise meet, and it’s great because I get to see these students not just as students but as people, which is so fun. We relate on a different level, and I don’t have to be like, ‘Where’s your homework?’ Here I can be more of a mentor, painting nails together with them.”