Mar 18, 2007

I Believe in Artisans

By Liz Adair

Two days ago I stood on the third floor of the new, still-under-construction, Skagit Valley Hospital, looked out at a bulldozer being offloaded from a lowboy trailer, and thought, “It doesn’t get much better than this.”

With a hard hat on my head I had just toured the new Emergency Department, new Surgery wing, new Family Birth Center and the two new Med/Surg wings. I had passed countless artisans, tools swinging from their belts, plying their crafts, and I felt again the wonder at the cooperative process whereby an idea is turned into a working reality.

I first experienced that wonder when I was a young woman. I had moved to Northern Arizona with my family for the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. We moved to Page before the bridge was built, so when my brother and I came home from BYU for holidays, we had to park on the north side, walk across a swinging bridge, and be picked up on the south by my parents. The bottom of the bridge was made of expanded metal that you could look down through. For a long time there were no sides, just cables strung along at waist height, but finally the contractor installed chicken wire from the deck up to the horizontal cables. But that is a digression.

As I grew older and watched the different stages of the massive concrete Glen Canyon Dam, I was aware of the contribution made by each of hundreds of people I knew personally in the success of that project, and I marveled at the concept of orchestrating all those endeavors toward a single goal as huge as that one.

I became a teacher, and with that and rearing my family, I was removed from the world of building things for a lot of years. However, ten years ago I had the opportunity to join my husband on a job site. It was a dicey job, the Owner had delayed the start of construction, and the contractor knew there would be a claim against the Owner, so documentation of everything was a necessity. They couldn’t find anyone to do the job adequately, so I was elected. I left a dream job as Director of Education at Sylvan Learning Center to go sleep on an air mattress, use a sanican, and document a running battle with the Owner. I loved every minute of it.

I discovered anew the joy that comes with building something of worth, something that will last. I discovered again the wonder of the cooperative process that takes an idea and turns it into a solid, functioning reality.

I also discovered anew the ingenuity and problem-solving ability of skilled craftsmen. The company my husband worked for liked to take on edgy projects, projects where there was a high element of risk, and he was their superintendent of choice on those projects. I used to smile as I processed the time cards at the number of reversals, thinking we must have a lot of dyslexics in our midst. But talk about problem solvers! Talk about skill and craftsmanship! Talk about fearlessness! They were awesome, and I was blown away each time I donned a hard hat and watched them at work.

In my current job, I’m a step removed from the hands-on-edness of those days, but I’m close enough so that, though I don’t see and talk with the craftsmen themselves, I still feel that I’m a part of the process.

Each Monday morning as I drive to seminary, I listen to an essay on NPR called “This I Believe.” Each time, I have the urge to write one that says, “I believe that America—indeed, the world—is what it is because of the skill, ingenuity, and problem solving ability of the artisans who work with their hands, building our homes and our infrastructure.”

I’ll never write that essay. But I wrote this one.


  1. Liz,
    You are such an interesting person! I love to hear about your many different experiences...this one included. I agree with the things you said. I love it when many people take small pieces of big projects...everyone carrying their load and doing thier part. The results are mind boggling!This has great potential as an object lesson for visiting teaching...and many other things, of course...may I share it with my sisters? My husband thinks it is a great start for a project management training book.

  2. Kari,

    Use this in any way you wish.

    Interesting about your husband's comment, because the next book I write will be a project management training book. Specifically project management in healthcare construction. It won't be my words; I will be a facilitator, a midwife, if you will.

    Great minds, you know, run in parallel paths.

  3. Liz, you did it again! Great blog. I'm thinking you will never run out of fascinating life sketches. And what great conclusions you draw. I hope you have written your complete (to date) autobiography. I'd love to be able to read it.

    I especially enjoyued the description of walking across what is now the Glen Canyon Dam. It brought back dim memories of when we walked with our kids part way across before the roadway was paved. It was dizzying to see so far below our feet. And that's all I remember of that. And I always knew I should be keeping a journal. No telling what fabulous experiences I've totally lost.

    Thanks for inspiring me. I love you.


  4. Liz, what great clarity of vision you have with your expericnes - and you have so many of them! Every time I read your blog, I think, is there nothing she hasn't done?


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