Nick Hand began to fully appreciate the songs and environmental work of Pete Seeger from the seat of a touring bicycle. It was in the spring, 2012, and Hand, a graphic designer from Bristol, England, had launched a 500-mile bicycle tour through New York’s Hudson Valley.

What incites an Englishman to pedal from Manhattan to Hudson Falls? For Hand, it was the love of pedaling, curiosity, and inquisitiveness.

A typographer and graphic designer, Hand is the founder of The Department of Small Works, a small business that collects stories of traditional and contemporary craftsmen and women. He’s made it his job to look between the folds, the moss and waterfalls, rooting out conversation to learn a bit about how people live.

conversations on the hudsonAs Hand ventured along the Hudson, he photographed and penned stories about farmers, sculptors, boat makers, weavers, a bicycle recycler — a cache of do-it-yourselfers both young and old tucked within the valley. The result is Conversations on the Hudson, a gentle, hand-sized book told in the residents’ own words and laden with the author’s photos.

At his launch in Manhattan, Hand met Peter Buchanan-Smith, an axe maker and founder of Best Made Co. A casualty of the economy, Buchanan-Smith began refurbishing old axes in 2009. “Everything in the world seemed complicated and there was a lack of virtues that, to me, are inherent in the axe itself, like strength and fortitude,” Buchanan told Hand. Today, he sells his axes, with their trademark painted handles, for up to $300 apiece.

Ken Greene of Accord, N.Y., in Ulster County, was a local public librarian as well as a gardener who saved seeds. “Well, we have this great library system already in place,” Greene explained to Hand. “A radically democratic institution. It seemed like a good way of sharing seeds with other gardeners. So I added seeds to the library catalog. People could come in, check them out like a book, grow them in their garden … as long as they saved some seeds from their plants to return to the library.”

Nick Hand Hudson
Nick Hand

It’s fitting that Hand, 57, used a bicycle saddled with packs to catalog the country’s rising “slow” movement. The bicycle, Hand says in a phone interview from Bristol, frees you from the bondage of the automobile, exposing you to both the elements and to others, and rekindling the idea of a handshake and a conversation.

Rubber and spokes also ribbon riders along back roads and trails. Hand’s exposure to the valley’s natural fringes inspired him to dedicate the book, in odd serendipity this week, to Seeger, “who stood up and sang the songs that needed to be heard, and launched the sloop Clearwater to save the Hudson River.”