WHEN I VIEWED PORTRAITS set into former window spaces in an aged industrial brick building on Madison’s East Side, I saw strength.
Strength in the bulk of bodies. Strength in the machines depicted. Strength in the hands and arms and faces of those who labored inside. Strength of work ethic and determination and skill.
Pride surged, not because of a personal connection to those employed by Madison-Kipp Corporation, but because of the blue collar connection. Too often, society dismisses as secondary those who put hands to machines, hands to tools, hands to steering wheels…
But I recognize their value, for my father and his father before him and the generation prior worked the land. Farming. To feed their families. To feed others. Dirt and grease and backbreaking hard work defined their days. So I honor these men in the history of my life, including my husband, Randy, an automotive machinist for 40-plus years. A customer recently called him “an institution.” That seems fitting given his career longevity and the rarity of his skill set. I have no idea what Randy’s customers will do when he retires because no apprentice waits in the wings.
Even with a renewed interest in the need for hands-on skilled workers, I don’t expect young people to necessarily embrace these jobs. The four-year college degree mindset has been too long embedded in our psyche. Yet, the need for mechanics, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, factory workers, etc., will only grow as Baby Boomers retire.
I am grateful for those who work with their hands. They keep our vehicles running, our houses repaired, our grocery store shelves stocked, our factories running…
When I studied the portraits on the Kipp building along the Capital City State Trail, I noticed, too, the drab shades of brown, grey, blue, green, no single person standing out in flashy colors. Too often those employed by manufacturers, warehouses and more go unnoticed, blending into the landscape of our lives.
So to see this art, this very public art, recognize the often unrecognized pleases me. I value these men and women and the work they do. And now this art which honors them.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling