Small Town Craft
Craftsmanship is a term that is easily thrown around these days. I grew up the son of a third-generation carpenter. I had the privilege of working with my dad, Ronnie Manning, for many summers, learning the values of patience, determination and integrity in the work that he does. I was taught that “good enough” isn’t acceptable, and cutting corners will always end up with a failed outcome. He is the definition of an American Craftsman. In design and layout, every time I sit down to sketch I try to think about my father’s teachings in my craft. I try to channel that American pride of doing the project right every time I pick up a pencil or move my finger across the track-pad.
I’m not half of the craftsman that my dad is, and I definitely will never be close to the level of skill that he has developed over the decades in honing his craft. But he has inspired me immensely in my work to become a better illustrator and designer.
When I was asked to create designs for a couple of wall-murals in downtown Laurel last year, I was just blown away by being asked to be a part of the amazing movement happening in this wonderful city. I was tasked with developing a design for a sign to be painted on an embankment off of Spec-Wilson Blvd. I was trying to think of what would have caught the eye of a Laurel-ite walking down the street from the early 1900’s. Something that would embody the pride of the city’s history and heritage while maintaining a bright and positive color palette that would evoke a feeling hope for the future and solidarity of what this beautiful city stands for.
The best thing about this piece for me is that it was painted by a second-generation sign-painter here in Laurel that you might have heard of - Will Sellers. This is where the TRUE American Craftsman steps into the picture again. Seeing the design that I worked on with intent come to life by a skilled craftsman makes my heart well-up with joy and hope for the future of the Creative Industry in Mississippi and the South. Every time I see Will painting a sign that I’ve designed takes me back to working on a set of cabinets with my dad in that sweaty barn.
There’s nothing like collaborating with guys like these that settle for nothing less than the highest level of excellence in their work. These guys are a rare breed and the heroes that I look up to every day. I can’t begin to describe to you the joy that I feel right now for the folks that are staying in this beautiful state to make it better rather than leaving for over-saturated markets and concrete jungles across the country.
I’ve been designing work for Laurel Mercantile Co. for the past two years now and it still blows my mind every time I walk into the store and see my work on the shelves. I honestly don’t feel deserving to work for this incredible organization. The passion that they have for their city and the people in it motivate me every day to be a better craftsman in my trade and a better person in general. I’m realizing more and more every day that what I do isn’t just pixel-pushing or sketching iterations all day. It’s just simple storytelling. It’s communicating to the world about the beauty and significance of small-town USA. I’m just glad to be a part of it.
Ethan Manning is Laurel Mercantile Co.'s graphic designer, letterer and illustrator born and raised in South Mississippi. Ethan and his wife are serious letterpress fiends and nerds of all things typographic. He is completely infatuated with design history and how certain movements in the arts have affected the history of the world as a whole. Ethan loves researching typefaces and translating that research into hand-lettering. He lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi with his wife Leanna and our two dachshunds, Scarlett and Ruby.