Mark Masters had a stable career driving a truck, supplying pipes to a maker of industrial boilers, but he didn’t have a passion.
That was until he got inspired by a TV documentary a few years ago about Elbert Hubbard’s mid-life founding of the East Aurora artisans’ community in the late 1800s.
That led Masters to his own midlife transformation – through metalsmithing. And when he was invited to give a bracelet-making demonstration at this week’s Roycroft Conference, he was beyond surprised.
“I almost fell off my chair,” said Masters.
The conference, now in its second year after hiatus of five years or so, is one of the new and expanding programs and restorations at the South Grove Street Roycroft Campus and nonprofit. A landscaping renovation is under way, as is a plan to buy the old print shop from its longtime owner, the Cornell Cooperative Extension.
The “Well Crafted Weekend” opens with an Oktoberfest party Friday and continues through next Sunday with lectures on Frank Lloyd Wright and Gustav Stickley, a bungalow house tour and demonstrations of such things as medieval manuscript illumination. (Visit roycroftcampuscorporation.com for ticket prices and details.)
Masters’ story and new skills are an example of a critical piece of this modern Roycroft renaissance, said Alan Nowicki, the Roycroft program director. “I think he just embodies what the campus is about: the whole learning process and turning it around and teaching it from that point and leading it to the next generation.”
“We don’t just want it to be a museum piece,” he said of the Roycroft. “We want it to be a working, breathing, artist community again.”
Masters, 49, still drives a truck north of Syracuse twice a week, but his experiment with Hubbard’s philosophy of trying something new by making pendants, bowls and letter openers has infused his life with art.
“Something stuck in my mind from the documentary. … He was a big believer in the second act. No one was too old to begin again,” said Masters of Hubbard. “That’s what happened to me.”
It was a stroke of luck that – a week after seeing in the documentary how Hubbard moved from being a Larkin soap company executive to a champion of the Arts and Crafts movement – Masters noticed the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo was featuring Roycroft artisan demonstrations.
Curious, he went with his daughter, watched someone make a bowl out of copper and thought, “I could do that.”
Master Artisan Frank Glapa worked using a technique known as repoussé – pressing designs into the metal. “The tools were so simple I was shocked that he was creating this beautiful bowl,” said Masters.
Yet, he admitted, “Fear almost kept me from pursuing it.”
Finally, he decided to take classes and make the trip to East Aurora from his North Buffalo home. Reminding himself of Hubbard’s infectious passion helped.
“He inspired people to come from all across the country,” Masters said. “To do that without social media – I don’t know how it happened.”
It’s interesting to Masters that when Hubbard founded the Roycroft, he was reacting to the Industrial Revolution and focusing on making things by hand instead of machine. Now there’s a kind of digital technology revolution. People are losing their jobs. Learning to make things by hand helps unlock a person’s potential, he said.
“I drive a tractor-trailer. … It’s what I do, but it’s not what I am,” he said. “I get out of bed in the morning, and I’m excited to get down in the basement and start creating new things.”