Home, Sweet Home

By 1929 there were fifteen patents for powered machines fitted with a rotary agitator. 76 Percent of the washing machines listed in the 1930 Electrical Merchandising Index employ the agitation principle.

Patents for industrial machines, steam engines, and tools, even when radical, retain an aura of discipline, of professionalism, of seriousness. It may be poetry, but in Hexameter. When we reach Home, the everyday life, everyone's a poet. Blank verse reigns supreme. This is true democracy. No experts, just good ideas. Some successful, some less so, but above all, a jolly free-for-all.

Men and women of all ages and colors affirm their intuitions, insights, and practical wisdom in handling their environment: how to best store eggs to ship to market, store the garbage till the next pickup, build a folding ironing table, collapse a clothes dryer in the most compact or convenient shape, design a clothes pounder that really pounds the clothes well, a washing machine that doesn't rip all your buttons, etc., etc.

Here imagination takes its flight. Arcane geometry, mechanics' secrets, painstaking experimentation have little say now, except perhaps for the sewing machine, which was not destined for the Home in the first place. Here more than anywhere else, we see at work that spirit of which de Tocqueville said:

The American [is] above all, an innovator. That spirit is to be found, in fact, in all his works... He carries it everywhere, to the deep of the woods as to the bosom of cities.

In the ninenteenth century, home was the true frontier for the inventor. But, if some invent "things," others have to invent new routines, reinvent their lives around the novelties at home, at work, and in between. Here we have to carry the spirit of invention to the very bosom of our being. We have to reinvent ourselves to fit our own inventions: a spiralling feedback of continuous changes.

Images of model clothes pounders from the exhibition.

In this universal and relative shift of everything with respect to everything else, to make sense of it all we have no choice but find the still layer of our very substance that knows no change. For beneath and around the restless mind that creates inventions, lies a deeper mind yet, calmer and more serene, that does not seek to improve the human condition, but accept it–inventions and all–and in its daily round around the new gadgets, oozes imperceptibly, giving life and meaning to all it touches, unobtrusively, matter-of-factly:

The trash bin is overflowing under the sink. It's time to feed the big outdoor garbage can again. How quickly it happens ... how astonishing that every week my bins are full to the brim with the wastes of my daily existence.

with stillness it may turn to prayer:

Keep me mindful of what I take into my home, the items brought to substitute for real living–the food and drink I consume instead of examining my feelings. Help me slowly to surrender all excess.*

*These verses are not patented, just copyrighted = 1991 by Gunilla Norris. From Being Home: A 1/4 book of Meditations. Reprinted by permission of Bell Tower, an imprint of Harmony Books.


Read "A Brief History of the Washing Machine"
[pdf file]

Download Printable Catalog of the Exhibition
[pdf file]