Here’s the secret to success, kid –
one word: “Plastics.” Most of us have
grown up with that word in our daily
lexicon. It can mean artificial – in a
good way, or bad – and it can also
denote a kind of flexibility, allowing
something to be bent or reformed.
To most people, plastic is something that’s part of the new, modern
world, generally beginning in the 1950’s, and really hitting its
stride in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. From colorful mixing bowls, salad
tongs and napkin holders, to Barbie dolls, car parts, and iPads.
For synthetic plastics, that’s pretty much the case. In truth, many
civilizations have been using natural plastics for centuries, and in
some cases, millennia.
Highly prized for their versatility, the list of natural plastics is
long indeed: tortoise shell, bone, skin, rawhide, sinew, hair,
scales, bird beaks, amber, horn, and many others.
They can be carved and, in some cases woven, but their ability to
be heat-formed into complex shapes is what makes some of
them truly special.
For centuries, cow horn was heated and pressed into molds to
make everything from wall art to ornate boxes and jewelry. In
early America, this artform really flourished during the 1800’s, as
demand for affordable cameos and fancy belt buckles grew.
Artisans had to be careful not to overheat the material or it
would turn green and become worthless. It probably comes as
no surprise that a craftsman’s young apprentices would often try
to rush their work and apply too much heat, earning them the
now-familiar label of greenhorn.