One thought I’ve had from time to time, even discussed with other whipmakers, in regards to the subject of whipmaking…when is a whipmaker considered a professional whipmaker? Though I myself do build whips as my main profession, I don’t regard myself as a professional whipmaker. Now & then, while surfing the web, I’ll come across someone’s website & read the words, "I’ve been making whips professionally for [some number of years]." This statement isn’t unique to any one person, so please understand, I’m not focusing on any individual, but on the subject of professional whipmaking. Also, it isn’t my intent to cause speculation of anyone that does claim to be a professional, so please don’t read into this as anything more than that.
When someone states that they’ve been making whips professionally for a certain length of time, are they a self-proclaimed professional? Did they become a professional after a specified number of years? Do you see what I’m getting at here…what is a professional whipmaker and how does a person become one? If you could take a poll of every single whipmaker that’s ever lived, past & present, I’m sure the opinions would be as diverse as they are interesting.
Australia is rich in many traditions, whipmaking being just one of those jewels. Long ago, someone learning the trade of whipmaking would work a number of years as an apprentice to an established whipmaker, being taught the craft under the watchful eye of his or her mentor. This is still true today, though not with all who learn this meticulous craft. Most of the whipmakers in this country are labeled as self-taught. Here in the U.S., whipmaking was quickly becoming a dying trade until, with the help of the big screen, a man named David Morgan did much to help recapture the interest in building whips. His example helped turn the attention of would-be whipmakers back to the Australian principles that had influenced Mr. Morgan’s own whipmaking. Today, scores of people can trace their first interest in whips back to the Indiana Jones movies and the man who made the early whips used in the filmmaking, David Morgan.
Who am I to say who’s a professional and who isn’t? Perhaps those who’ve been taught in the traditional Australian way should decide. Maybe those who study whips in general or historians of the trade would be better equipped to outline the requirements of a professional whipmaker. Or possibly those who have handled a vast assortment of whips from artisans around the world and over many decades. Each of us has his own criteria, I believe, for determining who we feel deserves the title of professional whipmaker. Here are just a few of my observations of some of the top whipmakers of today.
1. The top whipmakers of today consistently offer quality products. Each of them has his/her own standard of quality. What one may feel is a good product, another may not allow to leave the shop. He or she decides what their standard is, consistently adhering to it. Because of this, people come to expect a consistent level of quality.
2. The top whipmakers are always learning. They’re very teachable, as much now as when they started. They can never know enough about their craft. They read everything they can get their hands on, talk with other whipmakers, share ideas, practice, practice, practice. They’re always learning.
3. Because the top whipmakers are always learning, they are always improving. I remember reading in a forum years ago a statement by Paul Stenhouse. It was to the effect that his skill was to the point of refining, "always refining." If I were to look at say, a Joe Strain whip, from 2 years back, and then one he finished today, there may not be any noticeable differences to me. Yet there may be to him. He could tell you what he does better today, though his skill is already head & shoulders above most others. The differences may be subtle, as refinement usually is. The top whipmakers are always improving, forever raising their own standards.
4. The top whipmakers act professional. For them, whipmaking is a livelihood, not a means to simply make money. Many refer to it as a passion, an art. For them, it’s about making the best product they can make and not making a name for themselves. They are respectful of their peers and always remember who went before them. They take pride in their craft, are gracious, and would never intentionally say or do anything to hurt this craft or anyone else dedicated to its furtherance.
5. To a professional, it’s never about the title & always about the work. If ones takes whipmaking seriously, is committed to always learning & improving, then at some point, he or she will be taken seriously by others. Maybe that’s what ultimately being a professional is.
In the end, each of us has his or her own ideas on what a professional whipmaker is. For in this vocation, the lines aren’t clearly drawn. There are no schools or universities handing out diplomas or degrees in whipmaking. No board of trustees or panel to stand before & answer endless questions. No written or physical test determining one’s whipmaking status. If one must seek to be known as a professional whipmaker, then learn as much as possible, constantly work at improving your skills, act professional & strive to make the best whips you can possibly make. I think maybe, if we just focused on those things, the word professional wouldn’t really matter all that much.
Thanks for reading~ Steve.