An Architect: The Farmer’s Poet

I was raised on a farm just as my father and grandfather were before me. Except, my father, probably, knew around age 5 that I was never going to grow up and take over the family business.

The bane of my childhood was the dusty, cluttered, and dreaded “shop.” The shop was the daily site where my father and grandpa repaired, built, and cussed at broken machinery. My brother and I would be forced to “help” out in the shop. But instead of learning any valuable skills, I think we were just needed for our skinny arms to reach the bolts that were dropped into the combine header. The shop was boring, and even the daily conservative talk radio broadcast through the dusty workshop couldn’t placate this 5th grader’s boredom.

The one saving grace hidden within the confines of the shop was a metal folding chair. This bedraggled folding chair, with a duct-taped seat, would inevitably find its way out into the middle of the shop floor to reprieve my weary body from staring at broken machinery.

Maybe my brother was actually helping out, because I can only ever recall one folding chair. But my brother had longer arms than me – so he was, probably, more useful anyways.

The previous generations of my father and grandfather learned valuable skills; they could rebuild an engine, build a sandblaster, construct a hydraulic attachment for the Bobcat that could dig trees, install air brakes on a truck, and build a hydraulic snow plow for the tractor. Inside the shop there was a metal lathe, two welders, a full wood shop and an endless array of tools. However, all the years of my shop experience only taught me the difference between red and blue Loctite – and how to sit in a chair.

The only times I was eager to enter the shop was to use the cans of spray-paint. I think the only person who loved spray-paint more than myself was my Grandpa – because he always bought SOOOO much spray-paint. There was the Rust-Oleums and the primers for the equipment, but then there were the varying shades of green, the Rust Red, Barn Red, and Burnt Red, the typical black and white cans, and the 7 cans of navy blue. Navy blue was my favorite.

I would spray-paint scrap boards, and make signs. Or one time we made “rafts” for the nearby pond. My brother and sister built a large wooden raft together. But I wanted my own raft. So I spent an entire afternoon building my raft, spray-painting it navy blue, and sponge-painting seahorses on it for added flair.

The pond, once stocked with Rainbow Trout, had since only been stocked with algae, leeches, and even larger leeches. Thus, a durable raft to float on top of the water was ideal. However, all I can remember is my brother and sister gleefully sitting on top of their wooden raft, while I dangled onto my spray-painted scrap of wood – with my lower extremities submerged into the murky filth.

I can’t recall what my actual raft looked like, but I’m pretty sure I just painted a log and called it a “raft.” However, what I can recall is the grotesqueness of pulling over-indulged leaches off of my body.

Sadly, my handyman skills have barely improved. Which would be fine, if spray-painting was a useful life skill – but unless your name is Banksy, spray-painting is not a worthy financial endeavor.

In 1780 Mathematicks: Politicks=Architecture X 3

The omnipotent Founding Fathers, including John Adams, realized that great handyman skills don’t create a great republic; rather, the backbone of America is built upon character and civic virtue.

In a 1780 letter from John Adams to to his wife (Abigail Adams), he wrote:

I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.


Fuck. Why didn’t my high-school guidance counselor give me John Adams’ hierarchical rankings of professions before I went to college. 1

Using Mathematicks: Naval Architecture > Architecture.
And Architecture = Tapestry.

I was led to believe that knowing how to re-build a tractor engine doesn’t make one a more virtuous citizen. American’s have reached a point in society, where all endeavors and skills should be rewarding. I mean, John Adams had to study Politicks and War to give ee cummings, Maya Angelou, and me the possibility to study poetry.

Indeed, in a free society we have been given the opportunity to study poetry and architecture. Except, in a capitalist society, our predecessors had to study finance and commerce, and establish a trust fund, to allow their children the right to study Poetry, Tapestry, Statuary, and Porcelaine.

adamswig2John Adams wanted to give his children and grandchildren the freedom to pursue any profession. However, I think he may have been too optimistic as his own son (J. Quincy Adams) also went into politicks. And even today, the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of John Adams would, arguably, have a harder time pursuing any career within the Arts.

Today, nobody one will pay me to sponge-paint seahorses on a log. Why wasn’t I learning actual skills for today’s life? I had faith in John Adams, that society valued professions outside of finance, law, and the health profession.

But architecture in society is equivalent to poetry – if only poetry required a Master’s Degree to practice.
People don’t need to hire a poet to compose a sonnet for their loved ones, and a farmer isn’t forced to recite a haiku at harvest time.

Winter wheat reaped in Fall.
Prices. Under $3 per bushel.
Pray for hail claim.

Furthermore, people don’t need an architect to keep snow out of their bedroom. But architecture shouldn’t be a frivolous expenditure solely for the monetary elitists. The skills (good) architects possess have an intrinsic value greater than any financial price.

Architecture surrounds us every waking second. Architecture creates and stimulates our emotions.
And architecture can provide tremendous value. But mostly I’m just nervous about another Housing Recession; because until the value of architecture is realized – how will I make money when my only skills in life are architecture and spray-painting wood.



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1 Also, why don’t Americans “bid each other adieu” anymore?


    • brady ernst

      I don’t actually remember which was which, do you? It was just always, “no, not that one – grab the red Loctite.” Next time I bolt something together with an impact wrench, I’ll let you know.

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