To Lead is to Serve: Mohawk Maker Quarterly #14

So, if you haven’t seen Mohawk Maker Quarterly #14 yet, you are missing out on some heady summer reading indeed! This, Mohawk’s largest issue to date, comes in at a hefty 224 pages. At first glance, its reduced 6.5 x 8.5” format makes it look like a paperback bestseller, and it’s organized into four chapters no less. But no book on your library’s shelves is going to feature eight different Mohawk papers, not to mention a surprising, sleek use of edge painting.The theme of the issue is Lead & Serve, at first a bit contradictory … until you read Tom O’Connor, Jr.’s Editor’s Letter. “Recently … a different concept of leadership has caught fire, and it feels like a fresh take on what it means to lead. In this ‘servant leadership’ model, those at the top aren’t really at the top at at all; they’re right alongside us … There’s a sort of harmonic tension in the marriage of service and leadership. To lead is to step into the unknown, wield power and savor the rewards. To serve is to put others’ needs before your own. To do both strikes a harmonious balance … These leaders don’t give orders and expect them to be obeyed; they inform and inspire others to act … They help their teams imagine new possibilities they wouldn’t otherwise see. They’re open, vulnerable, collaborative and transparent.” And with that, we’re off through four heady chapters, each a celebration of those who pave the way into new ways of living, thinking and approaching the world.

Chapter One, Into the Void, follows the life of American artist Donald Judd and his path to pioneering a new form of art, as well as a new place: Marfa, Texas. It is both visual and text essay, providing an introduction to Judd’s work and his influence on generations of artists, architects and designers.As you can see above, that’s Strathmore Wove Smoke Gray — the chapter then closes with an eye-catching 16 pages of Mohawk BriteHue Vellum Orange.

Chapter Two is all about Questions, four articles that position questioning as not just the root of all learning, but an irrefutable characteristic of true leaders. This, from the intro, feels particularly timely: “When we ask ‘why’ or ‘what if,’ we open the door to other points of view and new possibilities. Questioning challenges power structures that thrive under the cover of ignorance. Those in positions of authority don’t want the rest of us to know how decisions are made, rules are constructed, favors are granted. The status quo has its own gravitational pull. Yet when we probe longstanding assumptions and dig in to understand how systems work, we expose inefficiency, inaccuracy and injustice. Further, questioning is inherently democratic: As one bold person raises her and, everyone around her benefits from the knowledge that emerges. The real risk comes not from asking, but from refusing to ask.”The first piece, Transparency: A Transparent Ethos in the Age of being Duped, examines Elizabeth Suzann, a Nashville-based clothing studio. It made a name for itself not only through its direct-to-consumer model and less-is-more range of premium basics, but its drive for ultimate transparency.

Founder Elizabeth Pape shook up the fashion world in January 2017 with a blog post entitled Money Talk that broke down exactly why and how her garments are priced. While fast fashion clothes are inherently affordable — who doesn’t want to pay $10 for jeans? — these prices exist “through a number of shortcuts” such as “cheap fabrics produced in mills with dangerous conditions, the use of harmful, toxic synthetics, the mishandling of chemical waste and utter disregard for regulations …” You get the picture; it’s nothing you want to be a party to. “These prices are the result of squeezing every last drop of blood from a stone,” Pape concluded.Instead, her range is priced based on her lack of synthetic fabrics and garments being designed, cut, sewn, washed, packed, and shipped from its Nashville, Tennessee, headquarters (seen above). It’s an air-conditioned, airy facility full of natural light and plants where yoga breaks are encouraged. Garments are not created in the assembly-line model, and production jobs start at the same pay grade as every other entry-level position, which is well above minimum wage.

In the end, shopping ethically is all about perceived value and our own values. We can buy better things that support the kind of business practices we admire — but less of them.

Reading on, Access: Great Expectations examines architectural design and questions how we might rethink public housing, often defined up until now by its inherent lack of design and beauty. By putting so little thought into its design, the message to the marginalized is “we don’t expect much.” Instead, “at minimum, it should be functional, durable, integrated in the surrounding community and look good. If the design is flubbed, or looks cheap, it can signal collective failure.” Underlying the designs presented “is a conviction that society’s problems are neither acceptable nor insurmountable.”

My favorite from the chapter is Failure: Failed State, all about the Museum of Failure. First an exhibition in Helsingborg, Sweden in 2017 and now a permanent LA exhibition, the underlying idea is that failure is demonized rather than examined as a stepping stone to progress. Everything from the DeLorean automobile to Google Glass is included, and the photos include some real gems!The chapter closes with a visual essay. Authority: Low Class, High Minded The Lumpen Times looks at covers of the Protest journal Lumpen Magazine as an expression of the aesthetics of questioning authority.Chapter Three, The Assist, is broken into four articles that views the idea of supportive leadership, a type of leadership that helps others succeed as one that doesn’t dictate what is right for others, but instead helps others achieve success as they have defined it. My favorite was  Myth: Makers + Mythology, as it’s all about storytelling — something I always try to do in my magazine pages. “Design is about many things: users, problem solving, and information. But at its core, it’s storytelling. Myths can be instrumental in inspiring, even shaping, the design process. Much like the way Star Wars’ broad appeal from tapping into universal mythologies and archetypes that run across different cultures, so too can design drawn from common stories create more poignant, lasting work.” Another standout for me was Conditions: Magic Kingdoms (above). This examination of a pair of creative workspaces looks for the common thread that makes them tick — and wonders how we can create the right conditions for others.

The tome closes with Mohawk’s regular feature, The Movement, highlighting makers and their projects from around the world. Again, there’s a nice balance between visual and word essays, carefully curated with an eye towards to the issue’s theme. Each of the seven companies have channeled their creative energy into making environments, products and architecture that embody leadership balanced with a view to serving the needs of others. From Transsolar, a climate engineering firm, to the non-profit Bike Kitchen in San Francisco, which helps riders learn to maintain their rides, there’s a lot here!

There’s also so much variety in the paper used. From Mohawk Via Vellum to Mohawk Loop Smooth to Superfine, you do really get a sense of how the qualities of each can be harnessed to tell your own story. Hybrid Design really took this issue to the next level, and it was skillfully printed by Sandy Alexander, with bindery by Mid Island Bindery and edge painting by Exclusive Bordering & Harry Otto Printing Co.

To get this one for yourself, go here — and to sign up to receive future issues (for free!) go here. This is brain and eye candy you don’t want to miss out on!