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Carter & Co - An Embodiment of Our Lifely Philosophy
Yesterday Larry and I needed to go to the small town of St. Helena, California, to pick up my medical records from the hospital where I went to the emergency room after I fell and broke a kneecap last July.
It gave me an opportunity to visit, for the second time, a small shop called Carter & Co, which is on the main shopping street. I first found this shop last June, when we visited St. Helena to celebrate my birthday.
Before I go on about the shop, I should tell you more about St. Helena. It is a town in the Napa Valley of California, famous worldwide for its growing of wine grapes and making of some of the finest wine in the world. Winemakers and connoisseurs from around the world come here for the wines and the corresponding food that has arisen along side. It is definitely a place that caters to people with money, but at the same time, it is an agricultural community—their reason-of-being is not to sell fancy things, but to grow the finest grapes and make the finest wine. Wine being, from my viewpoint, not necessary to human existence, but is something that has a long and traditional history as an activity between the fruits of nature and the skill and creativity of humans.
And so one could say that what I am about to tell you is only for the wealthy, but in fact, it’s not. It is simply an expression of a way of being in relation to all Life that happens to be being expressed in this community. It could just as easily—and is—being done in much simpler ways elsewhere—but I happened to be in St. Helena and observed that even in this place where the people who live here and the people who visit could buy whatever they want, this simple shop is thriving.
The space itself is in an old building with big windows on the street side, old hardwood floors, and high ceilings. The items for sale are displayed spread out on shelves and tables so there is space around each item. As I was browsing yesterday, at one point I noticed I just wanted to be in the space. It wasn’t even about looking at anything, I just wanted to be in the space where my own lifely philosophy was being so beautifully presented. Which goes to the fact that what we called Lifely isn’t being defined by us, it is simply a word that we have chosen to give a name to something that already exists in the world but isn’t widely known or noticed or practiced.
But here, in this shop, our Lifely philosophy is alive and well.
When I walked into the store yesterday, The first thing I saw was a table with a large—I think wood, I wasn’t paying attention to the details—flat bowl with an abundance of paperwhite narcissus bulbs, each one showing its aliveness by just spouting an inch or two. Next to them were several bulbs in containers that were already forced and showing their flowers, so you could see the end result of these sprouting bulbs. Without using any signage, you could see what you would get in the future if you purchased these bulbs and grew them yourself.
The second thing I noticed was a long narrow table that drew me further into the store, set for a festive dinner. Above the table, there was a wooden ladder laid on its side, hanging below the lighting, covered with evergreen bough that were cut in such a way that they looked like boughs of the tree itself instead of boughs that came from a commercial florist. And hanging below the boughs were very large and long pinecones, giving the effect, when you sat at the table, of sitting beneath an evergreen tree. There were no gaudy Christmas decorations. But everywhere you looked, they had brought “winter” indoors.
Because of covid, only a small number of shoppers were allowed into the shop at one time, so there were barriers at doorways to block entrance, both at the front door and the three rooms. But these barriers were made of ordinary twine of a unobtrusive beige color, with small bunches of local tree leaves spaced discreetly along the string.
Everything sold in this store is handmade with materials from nature. Now I see they are bringing in products with with similar ethos from other places.
I wanted to take photos but it seemed not right. The proper way to present this would be in handmade drawings or paintings.
They have clothing now from dosa, mostly solid color natural fiber fabrics made beautiful through simple design intricacies rather than print on the fabric. But there was one dress make from a pink fabric where the pattern was so subtly woven into the fabric that you could barely see it, yet it lent a texture to the fabric that elevated it to art.
In addition to the beautiful handmade things, there are also many unusual books related to the making by hand everyday objects. On a previous visit I purchased a book on design principles from nature to be used in making furniture by hand, so the built object would have the same proportions as living forms created by nature. These books are each laid out flat on a table or propped up on a rack, no rows of books crammed on shelves showing only the spine.
When I left the shop what came to me was everything about this shop is “the materials of nature meeting the artistry of man through his hands.” Not that man’s artistry is greater than the artistry of nature, but that here the ethos is for man to create as nature creates using the materials provided by nature, rather than manufacturing randomly as happens in industrial production.
This method of production could be applied by anyone, anywhere, at any price range. And it could be done by each and every one of us acquiring the skills to make things ourselves with our own two hands.
Indeed, many of the books in the shop are about cooking, and many of the items sold are various items for cooking and serving food. The owner and creator of the shop, Richard Carter, is a potter. And that is something each and every person can do. Preparing my food with my own two hands, using simple tools, in my own home, bringing my own creativity to edible materials found in nature around me in my garden and local farmer’s markets…that is the basis of human production right there.
We don’t need machines to make things for us. We are perfectly capable of making them ourselves from materials gathered on human scale from the Earth.
A shop like Carter & Co. inspires me to gain more skill as an artist in the creation of my everyday world.
From the website…written by a visitor...
Carter and Co is a stoneware dinnerware line and a store in Saint Helena, California. But it is also a protest. It is a treasure-bearing vessel bringing a town back to its glory. It is an ever-amalgamating ribbon of light with objects that sing their own truths. It is a Butoh dancer. It is a butcher shop. It is clay and fire and salt. It is chemistry. It is a linen napkin. It is a broken sphere, turned on its side. It is me and it is you and it is all the hearts pumping blood that have stepped foot here before us. It is made of starstuff…
the way you do anything is the way you do everything. That, in this life, we build the worlds we want to live in…
Richard Carter’s worlds are made of fire — outward reflections of an inner flame. His 85-acre ranch in Pope Valley is the stuff of legend. The winding road there is flanked with thick-trunked Redwoods, their bark flung in the road as if from the hands of dramatic lovers. When you arrive, you leave your phone in the car. You slough off the self you brought with you and find yourself anew. You look down at the Earth beneath your boots, and feel like it’s made for you. (This is a new way of seeing.) Olive trees glint in the light. Hawks dive for figs. Dried branches hang on white walls. Stacks of bricks resemble unearthed totems from an ancient religion. Art is alive here.
Everything you touch seems to transfer some kind of meaning to you. It’s just a feeling. You put your ear to the wall and can almost hear the rushing blood in the chests of the men who built this house, who would later go on to have eleven children. When you visit, you sleep in a room with no heat under a million wool blankets...
Richard Carter is an artist and a potter who attributes his success to his mentors. He, too, is a mentor now, championing the importance of form and nature. He believes in beauty and material and the intelligence in things. The pleasures of eating that come when you’re conscious of the lives and the world from which the food comes. He believes in radical freedoms, and builds monuments to those who never got the chance to live theirs.
Richard is made of fire, but he is not afraid to show us the darkness. His work, and his life, tells us what the world has meant to him, in the dark places and in the light. He culls influence from the natural world and the teachings of Bauhaus. From Drag Queens and trans activists and Marguerite Wildenhain who once said that “The craftsman is, above everything else, the man who sees and who is intensely moved by what he sees.” She taught that one’s surroundings can bring to life that “which lies dormant in the soul, asking to be formed...
It is this that the world at large is hungry for. In an age of information, we yearn for ancient wisdom. In a world of screens, let us discover what exalted things our bare hands can make. Let us remember what our senses are for. Let us sing of tragedy and love and loss and injustice. Let’s stand before beauty, elbows crooked and mouths agape, and truly look, with our whole bodies. In a world of excess and noise and constant distraction, let us protect the things that do not ask of us, but give to us instead.
This is Carter and Co — a chance to encounter delight, transcendence and new ways of seeing. The beautiful, useful things that move culture forward, and send us into ourselves, like a seedling thrusting towards new light.
There is much for me to learn here. I am inspired. There are people in the world doing wonderful things. The sprouting bulbs in the doorway remind me that what we are doing with Lifely and what makers of everyday art like this are doing may not be very visible on the surface now, but the bulb has been planted and it’s sprouting and it will emerge in the world in all it’s glory.
The website does not yet reflect the current evolution of the shop. It will give you a taste and information, but there is so much more.