In 1952, when my parents, Weston and Brenda Andersen started Andersen Design, then called Ceramics by Andersen, there was no National Foundation For the Arts, and there was no ensuing wealth re-distributive non-profit arts industry. Even the trade shows had not yet been invented. Andersen Design was started as a leap of faith.
I grew up within the very long arc of that leap of faith, realized after I had left home to attend Pratt Institute, when the enterprise became financially successful, providing a comfortable income.
A Tradition of Innovation
The fact that Andersen Design was born in the age before government and non-profit support for the arts spread across the land, and even before the trade shows provided a venue for reaching national buyers, is an important aspect of Andersen Design’s historical significance- it was the extraordinary realization of an artistic lifestyle created on a shoestring at a time when there was no larger social structure supporting the arts. My parents created the lifestyle within the free enterprise system, which has, since the emergence of the non-profit arts industry, been widely characterized as a choice motivated exclusively by profit.
Today the concept of “public benefit ” is undergoing transformation.The introduction of the social enterprise is slowly changing that perception in which free enterprise is defined exclusively by its wealth creating function, and therefore said to be motivated only by the will to materialistic profit. Social enterprises are defined as private enterprises, having a primary reason to exist for which their wealth creating function is the means to that end and not the end in itself. Andersen Design is a social enterprise born long before social enterprises were conceptualized in contemporary political economic thought.
Weston Neil Andersen and his wife Brenda started Andersen Design during the age of plastics, with a mission to create a hand made product affordable to the middle classes, establishing a tradition of taking the road less traveled.
The enterprise trained women, formerly employed in the fish packing industry, in the artistic skills of ceramic slip casting a decorative techniques, Before long a cluster industry grew up in and around the Boothbay peninsula of Maine..Andersen Design’s seldom heralded achievement was to create a successful and individual means for making a living doing what one loves to do, the quintessential American dream, which lies at the heart of the free enterprise system. Ceramics by Andersen was production as an art form before said art form was officially invented by New York art star, Andy Warhol. Perhaps I am biased but I think my parents did it better! As others who knew my Dad will attest, he had an ability to convey a sense of meaningfulness to the process of making things. There is no way to deconstruct how that meaningfulness was conveyed, except that it permeated everything absolutely, to my own perspective. The work process was and is first and foremost meaningful in its own right as a primary foundation to beingness. I have not yet decided if it is a bane or a blessing to be raised in such a sensibility, but I think it explains why Dad seemed to have a cult hero status to many.
I now embrace my role, as custodian of a unique legacy, in creating the Andersen Design Museum of American Designer Craftsmen, the more so as the community which was our birth place is being re-invented by developers who have no interest in the history of a place. History is important but it only survives if it is recorded. Who tells the stories that become recorded history? It is my family legacy to do so and to encourage and promote the tradition of the American designer craftsmen.
For years I have been going up and down the system, both government, which is largely a public private relationship in Maine, and nonprofits alike. Finally I identified that our place, relative to “the system” is outside of it, but there exists a system outside the system which works in mysterious ways.
Our new production studio is coming along, shaping up and becoming the best production space we have ever had, even though it is financed on a shoe string. Eventually we will need some capital for fatigue mats and a good air filtering system and insurance, and so on, but we take one day at a time.
On that note, talking of working with natural talent, it is the Andersen tradition, since we have always trained employees on the job. For a long while I have been wishing to be able to train natural talent in another capacity in which I work, which is photagraphy and design, including web design.
Currently I have been photographing our vintage line for archival purposes, using the AirTable application. We have a very large vintage history. It would cost us a small fortune to hire outside professionals and so I taught myself photography, web design and Adobe photo shop skills. This is work that I enjoy and find therapeutic but there is a huge amount of it to be done.
For this purpose the photographs should maintain a consistent style which I can train others to do. Since this is a museum function,