The Never-won-an-award Furniture Maker (Me)

Meet your judge. The baby Schwarz.

When I was in journalism school we were encouraged (nay, forced) to enter our work in journalism contests. We were told that we’d never get a job without a long list of awards on our resumes.

Freaked to the bone, I did as I was told.

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When I got my first newspaper job, I became skeptical of contests. Here’s why. When the newspaper’s publisher (the big, big boss) met me, he said: “I’ve wanted to meet you ever since I read your resume. Under ‘professional memberships’ you listed the Radio Shack Battery Club, and we couldn’t stop laughing. We had to interview you! Good job.”

Then, a few months later, I was asked to be a judge in a journalism contest. The editor dumped a dozen stories on my desk and said: “Read these before lunch and decide who wins first, second and third.” Yup, let a junior reporter with six months of professional experience decide who wins the award for best feature writing in Nebraska.

After that day, I never entered another professional contest again.

Maybe it’s my profound dislike of hierarchy, but I have never understood contests in the same way I don’t understand watching sports, running a marathon or rank-ordering anything. Ask me about my favorite band, movie or restaurant, and I’ll just stammer. I know I’m odd, but I cannot fathom making something first or last.

This is not because I’m some hippie slug. I am the most competitive person I know. I just don’t see the point in spending energy to compete in someone’s artificial framework. I’d rather make something – a book, a cabinet, a chair – and sell it. Teach someone to do something. Read a book. Fill the bird feeder. 

So it should come as no surprise that I’ve never entered a furniture-making or design contest. I’ve judged a few, and that process reinforced my unease. Even when there is a panel of judges (which is ideal), there’s always one person who barks louder than everyone else and runs the show.

And I was flummoxed as to how to judge a piece of furniture for a “Best of Show” award. I’ve seen hundreds of flawless Windsor chairs and Issac Youngs clocks in my time. Shouldn’t all these win? They are perfect. And what do you do with well-designed and original pieces that have cosmetic flaws?

Sure, you can write rules and directions for judges that guide them on making decisions. But in the end, it’s too artificial and arbitrary for my taste.

So all this is to say that we are winning an award next week. We didn’t enter a contest; we were simply notified. Sure, I could refuse the award, but to me that takes as much ego as entering a contest. So I’m just going to smile, wave and be thankful that someone likes us.

— Christopher Schwarz


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