Vox Populi

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Video: Pioneer Axe

Forged by craft: the last axes made by eye and muscle, before automation took over

At the dawn of the 20th century, Oakland, Maine was part of New England’s thriving manufacturing economy, and was known as the axe-making capital of the world. But by the 1960s, the rise of mass and foreign production had forced almost a dozen Oakland axe manufacturers to close up shop. Filmed in 1964 by the Maine-based photographer and filmmaker Peter Vogt, Pioneer Axe documents the forging of fine axes at Oakland’s last operating workshop, Emerson & Stevens, just months before it, too, was forced out of business. Shot on 35mm black-and-white film, the short captures each stage of the process as this small factory churns out blades with swift efficiency by melding human and machine labour. With its focus on both the craft and the market undercurrents threatening it, the film examines forces of automation and international trade that remain extremely relevant in the US economy today.

Director: Peter Vogt

Text: Aeon

Running time: 10:47

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Pioneer Axe

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