incunabula n. the early stages of the development of something
When I came upon this word, I thought of mitosis. My brain instantly snapped to the images I used to stare at in biology textbooks in high school…the ones with the little pink chromosomes so neatly dividing themselves. I suppose the inference is accurate as cells are undeniably the early stages of development of something – whether it be a child or an illness. It can have both a hopeful or sinister context, like so many things in our lives. All of my unfinished knitting projects also come to mind. They are like little physical manifestation of incunabula.
Creating things excites me. My entire career has been about making things and nurturing incunabula into something tangible. Many years ago after my dreams of becoming a writer fell off due to lack of funds, a budding accounting career at Deutsche Bank proved to be the wrong path,and a job writing advertisements for clinical trials was just too boring, I fell into the role of product development for a watchband company in Rhode Island. It was a small, family oriented company. My first months were spent making spreadsheet after spreadsheet. Somehow I had become a computer whiz at Excel and I believe that was one of the reasons why I was hired. I also got to correspond with vendors in Asia, which was my favorite part. I had a wonderful boss who gave me opportunity and the ability to see and learn about the genesis of product. From drawing and concept, manufacturing and samples, to the final packaged consumer good. It was like magic. I loved seeing something come from nothing. Every trip to a store became like a museum visit, looking at things for seam lines and country of origin, trying to figure out how they were made. I fell in love with the process. Back then, I worked on watchbands and some small jewelry items, but I still treasure those years.
Later I moved on to a job at a curtain rod company with more responsibility. This time I was the driving force behind the product vision. I worked with a designer who became one of my best friends in the world and together we came up with so many ideas and worked to make them into tangible goods. I traveled to mainland China and toured the factories for my projects and my life was changed. I remember calling my husband after a long day at a resin manufacturer, crying hysterically having seen the factory dormitories where the workers slept – 6 to a room on bunk beds – in a room smaller than the average bedroom. Yet they were so sweet and courteous – and I was incredibly humbled. All of those products on those shelves were no longer inanimate objects. People made them and when I was directing my projects, these people that were grateful for a crowded bunk and a bowl of rice were responsible for the outcome. To this day I do not view the things I buy the same way.
Later on I went on to work for a tabletop company handling their crystal and glass product. Glass blowing was like watching incunabula in action. I traveled all over Eastern Europe visiting small glass factories and watching small glowing blobs of sand turn into beautiful glass vases and bowls by someone turning a pipe, blowing and making it look so easy. I traveled in cars across the rolling hills of Poland and Romania visiting places that are probably gone as the art of glass blowing and making has shrunk considerably. Even back when I was there the workers would talk about how so many of them had moved to cities to become taxi drivers or other working class professionals as the money was good and they didn’t have to worry about factories closing. The American taste had changed and no one really spent money on handmade, lead crystal or glass. I feel special having been able to witness such a beautiful art and to have met such amazing artists.
The culmination of my product career was at a company best known for it’s signature blue box and amazing jewelry. Way back when I started working with watchbands, I remember coming home my first week on the job, completely excited and overwhelmed, and saying to my husband “Someday I could work for Tiffany.” And then it came true. I worked on dozens of wonderful projects, some of the finest things I have ever held in my hands. Last night while I was watching Downton Abbey and noticed all of the ladies wearing diamond tiaras, I remembered the tiara I last worked on before I left on maternity leave and it made me incredibly proud and happy.
I have been part of many an incunabula over these years. My career was very much my child and now it is all grown up. I made the choice to stay home and nurture a new incunabula – my son, Graham – and the journey will be no less difficult or rewarding. Through these many years of working I have learned how to bring an idea to fruition and nurture it to completion. In a way I was training for this all along.