BLOG 38 / "5 Days a Butcher" / by steve joseph

“David the Butcher” made during my 6 week residency at NorthLands Creative Glass in Scotland, 2008

“David the Butcher” made during my 6 week residency at NorthLands Creative Glass in Scotland, 2008

DURING MY FIRST RESIDENCY AT NORTHLANDS CREATIVE GLASS, BACK IN 2008, my project was to paint portraits of townspeople in stained glass. The very first was David, who was the town butcher. He was super friendly, always had a white jacket and white hat on, and his store was spotless.

11 years later I found myself relating to David, and his occupation, much more than expected.

Once a year when business is slow, I look for part time jobs in New York. In 2017 I thought I would like be a part time dog groomer. I met with a professional dog grooming company on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, worked with them for 2 days and decided it was not for me.

Fast forward to 2019.

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I got a bad case of cabin fever while making art for an show at the Pittsburgh Center for Glass. I basically locked myself in my studio for 4 long winter months and was literally climbing the walls. I felt the longest conversation I had during this time was with the checkout persons at my local supermarket.

After those 4 months I decided to search for a part time job in my neighborhood. I could make a little money, meet a whole new group of people, and converse with the public. I applied for a job opening at Whole Foods on the Bowery and Houston street. One week later I found myself being interviewed and getting a part time job in, you guessed it, the meat department.

Soon I found myself wearing a starched white jacket, just like David the butcher back in Scotland. As a vegetarian I was nervous I would be put-off when handling meat, but after one day I quickly adjusted and was having conversations with the shoppers while weighing up their purchases. Being up close and personal strangers was fun, and being close to raw meat was surprisingly not bad at all. The only yucky part was the smell, which I adjusted to. There was and raw meat you found stuck to the bottom of your work boots when you got home. Other than that all went well, and my cabin fever was cured.

I got a great education on all type of meats, sausages, bones, fat, cleaning and sanitizing, and working with and cleaning huge machinery. It was a very physical job. Soon I was using super sharp knives to cut meat for customers. The amount of hamburger meat we sold every day was incredible, you could make a sculpture the size of a 10 year old child!

On my 5th day at work, I had a discussion with my boss about my upcoming teaching schedule. I needed 4 weeks off to teach. He originally thought this would be fine but his manager said this was too much for a brand new employee. That afternoon I turned in my 20% discount ID card, but I was allowed to keep the Whole Foods hat. My boss told me I can return to Whole Foods when I had a more open schedule.

My lesson learned was, when you have a new idea, try it out as soon as possible. See if you like it by doing. I gained allot from working 5 days as a butcher. I really appreciate the knowledge butchers have, and how physically hard people in the service industry work, and how I don’t want to be one.