Peter Buchanan Smith was this week’s speaker at AIGA Minnesota and Walker Art Center’s Insights Lecture Series. Peter was real, unmasked and honest. He shared much from his life in the past few years because these life events helped lead to the creation of his company, Best Made.
Divorce caused Peter to move his company (and whole life) out of his home, a house he had not planned on moving out of for a very long time. He split his possessions 50/50 and moved to a tiny apartment in Manhattan. He wore a red cashmere hat for much of this hard time, which was a comfort to him, much like a security blanket.
To celebrate a friend’s birthday Peter bought $100 steaks. Of course the only way to cook expensive meat is over a wood burning fire. One problem: he had no axe to chop the wood. To Home Depot they ventured and purchased a yellow, plastic-handled axe, which was poorly designed and painful to use. Peter asked for a real axe for Christmas. And he received a yellow handled axe from the Home Depot. This started an obsession—Peter started buying every well-made axe he could find on eBay.
When asked to contribute to Partners in Spade (a gallery featuring one-off art and design pieces), he began painting the handles of axes with graphic marks. When the axes received accolades at the show, Peter painted more axes. Thus the beginning of Best Made Company. The desire to make axes stems from Peter’s need to create a simple and quality product, build the product in an inspiring place and create a community of people with which to share the products.
The newest product in Best Made’s catalog is a red hat, called the red cap of courage, inspired by the red cashmere cap Peter wore while rebuilding his life after divorce.
Peter spends his design career making CD packaging for musicians, doing magazine design, book jackets; he art directed the OP-Ed page of the New York times, does branding work for fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi and more.
My favorite design object that Peter showed was a self promotion piece in which he took a bunch of one-inch square pieces of paper, drew various patterns of polka dots on the paper, then bent and folded each piece in interesting ways. He scanned the tiny pieces of paper and made a self promo poster out of it. I just love the graceful curves of the sheets of paper contrasted by the eye-popping graphic pattern.
And it so happens that out of the dots, the painted patterns on the axes came to be. Applied to the right object in the right way, Peter thought the language of polka dots or stripes could speak volumes and be really powerful.
If you missed the lecture, you can watch it online at the Walker Channel by clicking here.