The Fixers

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In your apartment there’s probably a lamp that needs rewiring, boots that need resoling, or a book that needs rebinding–some object that you’ve yet to get fixed, though you keep saying you will…one day.

Perhaps that day is this Thursday, from 6-9, in a tiny workshop within the arcane and wonderful curiosity shop/mini-museum Proteus Gowanus. Inside the repair room, filled with thread, pliers, dead radios and chairs in disrepair, a small club of tinkerers called The Fixers Collective meets every week to mend and repurpose people’s broken down things, mostly for free.

It began last spring as part of the Gowanus gallery’s 2008 group show, called “Mend.” Among the artists were David Mahfouda, who was mending an American flag, and James Walsh, who taught a book-mending class. Soon a collaborative repair group splintered off, organized by David and christened by fellow founder and Proteus Gowanus director Tammy Pittman.

Their workshop is not the kind where you drop off your broken hand massager and go (it’s true, there is such a thing). Instead, those with broken items fill out a form online and either bring materials for the repair or specify the ones needed before Thursday’s meeting. Everyone’s encouraged to stay and help mend other items, or at least suggest a fix. So far the group’s become adept at repairing shoes and lamps, and, after two months of trial and error, they mastered the broken umbrella. “It was surprisingly hard,” James explains.

The throw-away umbrella, ironically, now helps sustain the group. When no one brings anything to fix (it happens), the group repairs old umbrellas, and later sells them for $15 with a lifetime guarantee. Or, they may not fix them at all, but instead turn them into a tote, based on a fellow fixer’s pattern. (Both are available at the “shop,” and will be on their site sometime next week.)

The group also offers monthly, focused, fix-it workshops, like tonight’s book-mending class (space is limited to 15, and costs $10 per person; rsvp here). It’s taught by James, who helps curate the gallery and event space Observatory, next door. The artist also has a residency with the Center for Book Arts and is one of the few fixers who could be considered a trained professional. He knows how to restore books–only he prefers not to return them to their original state. “My goal is making a beautiful mend, so you see the scar,” he says.

The Fixers don’t promise to fix everything, and in some cases, they may make things worse. (“We messed up someone’s blender a few weeks ago,” David admits.) They’re also working out the kinks of their “intake” process, as they’ve stopped documenting repairs for lack of time. “We’re still fixing the Fixers,” he says.

Sent by Nicole. Photos from top via Proteus Gowanus and by Richard Perry/The New York Times.

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