A fascinating book that merges the past with the present through the craft and art of many passions. Don MacLean, a resident of Pictou, Nova Scotia, collected conversations of artists in a catalogue of genius and respect which links history, the future, and fine handiwork.
Broken into six chapters including crafts from nature, wood, folk art, and what seems his personal favourite, sporting crafts based on his love of fishing, MacLean travelled throughout Atlantic Canada to bring us, his readers, a craft in itself. A fine collection of people, including some from away who have settled in Eastern Canada, as they share their love for bringing old methods into this generation.
One constant throughout With These Hands is the question of the difference between a craft and an art. To everyone MacLean talked to the answer was different but equally as beautiful, much like the unique product they all offer the world, through what they make, the stories they share, and the teachings they offer. With almost everyone eager to hand down their knowledge, and also learn while they teach, it’s evident what was once old is becoming new again.
Featuring familiar names like Laurie Swim who, while living in Lunenburg, displayed an exhibit at our Museum of Industry featuring a moving tribute to the Halifax Explosion aptly named Hope and Survival. This exhibit included a Scroll of Remembrance which listed, in Braille, the names of the 1946 victims of the explosion, including the help of her community and four years of dedication.
Ruben Irons is another name that seems familiar as this Artistic Blacksmith spent years as the resident Blacksmith at the Hector Heritage Quay. Now living in Mount Thom after time out west and in the United States, Irons has settled and has big dreams for Pictou County in hopes that a communal forge is created where others like him can meet and work on their craft.
From rug hooking to stained glass and fishing rods, MacLean collected an extensive wishbook-style look at the ways we can support local and celebrate our province and its people. Along with craft, art, beauty, and history, one constant in this book is the idea of being as busy as a maker wants to be. The wonder of slowing down, doing what you love for as long as you want to, and rejuvenating history while being about to source material as locally as possible is what makes this book a magical piece of literature.
It is also terrific that MacLean includes a directory which lists all of the interviewed artists’ social media sites while leaving the debate of craft versus art up to the reader to ponder.

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Sarah Butland has been embracing change and local talents while staying at home and will continue to celebrate the brilliance and wonder of Pictou County throughout the summer months. With books by local authors, beaches and trails in our own backyards, and the people who bring joy and laughter virtually, there really is no place like home.