Category Archives: Women in woodworking

No.

This is the fifth in a series of posts related to the tales in Making Things Work. These posts are not excerpts from the book. This one relates most closely to the tale entitled “No.” Due to operator error, the previous post in this series, “Beggars Can Be Choosers,” did not appear on the Lost Art Press site. You can find it here.

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On 06/07/2018 12:23 AM, Mr. X wrote:

Nancy

A few years ago I was looking for an Arts & Crafts bookcase to build for my den.  I am a retired draftsman, so I was able to pick and choose components from different designs and combine them into one.  But even after looking at so many different designs I still couldn’t find one that really made me happy.  And I looked at a lot.  Then one day I received my copy of Popular Woodworking and there on the cover of that issue was the very one I wanted.  It was perfect.  So with my drafting background I began to draw a bookcase a little taller, a bit wider and a little bit deeper, all the while keeping your basic design.  It came out beautifully, which leads me to my question.  I’ve recently been asked to put a price tag on it for a possible commission. But I’m not sure what to say. Can you help?

*

Mr. X,

I’m glad you found my design to your liking.

I don’t suggest prices to other woodworkers. I think I recall seeing a post by Chris Schwarz recently that was perfectly in sync with my own longstanding reasons for this policy. I’m a professional designer and furniture maker. My livelihood depends on this work. Those who are retired or have alternative sources of support may price their work quite differently from how I do. How you price your work is your business.

With best wishes,

Nancy

Beggars can be choosers

Beggars can be choosers

This is the fourth in a series of posts related to the tales in Making Things Work. These posts are new material, not excerpts. 

Nancy with poptart in Brendan's Pop Tart chair

Eat and be happy. In this case, I was not eating, but pretending to take a bite of a sprinkles-bedecked Pop-Tart supplied by Brendan Gaffney, who was explaining his name for the upholstery fabric he used on this “Fat Man Pop-Tart” chair. (Pretending because if I’m going to splurge on sweets, I would rather eat cheese danish or Gateau Na Na. (Photo by Brendan Gaffney.)

Early on in my time pursuing a City & Guilds of London Certificate in Furniture Craft I attended all-day classes. It was still autumn, so at 1 p.m. I rode my bicycle to a small park near the college and ate my lunch while sitting on a bench. It was heaven.

I took the same lunch every day: a sandwich made from home-baked wholewheat bread with a couple of paper-thin slices of cheddar–no butter, lest I gain an ounce, let alone a pound. In those quasi-anorexic days the best compliment anyone could pay me was “Dear, you’re looking quite thin. Are you sure you’re OK?” When someone said I looked “well” I knew they really meant I’d gained weight, so I doubled down on the caloric austerity.*

The sandwich was always followed by an apple. There’s nothing in the States to compare with a Cox’s Orange Pippin, though an orchard near Bloomington, Indiana now sells a variety called Gold Rush with papery brownish-green skin and a firm white center that rival the English apples known as Golden Russets, my second-favorite variety.*

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The divine Golden Russet of my youth.

One day I had just unwrapped my sandwich and was about to bite into the first half when an elderly woman approached me. I’m calling her “elderly” because that’s how she seemed at the time, though nearly 40 years on I’m aware that she was probably no older than I am today. “Can you spare ‘alf that sarny?” she asked, “sarny” being the widespread pronunciation of an abbreviation for “sandwich.” I briefly contemplated the sacrifice–I would be borderline-hungry the rest of the afternoon. But this person needed nutrition, and I wanted to help her out.

“Certainly,” I said, handing her the second half.

She took one bite and tossed the half-sandwich on the ground.

“There’s no butter on it!” she said in disgust.

Sometimes, it seems, you just can’t win.

 

*I am not glorifying anorexia. Having lived through a mere brush with that condition and its attendant health problems, not to mention the ongoing, unrelenting pressure on women in particular to equate thinness with attractiveness and self-worth, I still battle the pressure to be thin.

**The Gold Rush sold in Bloomington is not the same as an English Gold Rush. It’s far closer to a Golden Russet. Something seems to have been lost in translation.

ONE RESPONSE TO “BEGGARS CAN BE CHOOSERS”

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Perception is not reality

Note: This is the third in a series of posts related to the tales in Making Things Work. The posts are new material, not excerpted from the book. Each post is tied to one or more of the book’s chapters, here “A Case of Mistaken Identity.”

Friday Bridge Fish Bar

The fish and chips bar, Friday Bridge. Image by Lynne J. Jenkins from her blog Echoes of the Past

It was one of those early summer days when the damp chill of spring has retreated just enough that you’re ready to bare some skin to the sun. 16 degrees Centigrade, 61 Fahrenheit—one of my favorite mnemonics.

The Second World War had ended 35 years before, but judging by its freshness in the national psyche, at least among people I knew (you could still hear “Bloody Yanks—over-fed, over-sexed, and over here” at any blue-collar workplace frequented by men of a certain age), the elapsed time might as well have been no more than a week. Being not only a bloody Yank, but also female (in a trade dominated by men), and sufficiently middle-class to have graduated with a A-Levels (in a trade then dominated by people from the working class), I was a magnet for extra resentment.

In those days I didn’t have friends as such. My friend was my first dog, Oscar, the runt of a litter born after my mother’s bearded collie, Alistair, escaped and mated with the neighbors’ Irish setter, Sherry. But even if those men of a certain age in the village and the nearby town of Wisbech weren’t my friends, I hoped they would at least accept me as an honorary member of their number. I admired their work ethic, their skill at car repair and gardening, the way they kept their homes well maintained and neat as a pin.

I’d recently completed my City & Guilds training in Furniture Craft Part I and turned 21. I’d built a simple workbench and put it in front of the dining room window, a few feet away from a small combination jointer-planer. After augmenting this equipment with a router and some cheap hand tools, I was ready to try my hand at earning a living as a custom furniture maker. I had a few small commissions—a chest of drawers for a neighbor, a spice cabinet, a Welsh dresser, a simple bed.

Nancy with Welsh dresser base 1980

Welsh dresser base in pine. Front yard of the schoolmaster’s cottage, Friday Bridge, Cambridgeshire, 1980, with the Chequers Pub in the background.

As a hedge against the chasm of structureless days and irregular income, I lived by compulsive self-discipline. My meals were the same every day: breakfast of porridge with honey; an austere cheese sandwich on homemade bread followed by an apple for lunch; vegetable soup for dinner. On Saturday I allowed myself a quarter-pound of roasted peanuts from the village store cum Post Office on Well End as a special treat. I tracked my spending down to the half-penny in a narrow-ruled pocket notebook and scheduled my work days to the minute.

8 a.m.: Start

11 a.m.: 10-minute tea break

1 p.m.: Lunch: edifying myself with books on woodworking and philosophy while eating sandwich and apple

2-5: Back at the bench.

The word “fun” did not feature in my lexicon. It was irrelevant to the kind of serious life I intended to live. Given the chance to do work I found meaningful, I’d gladly settle for predictability and the equivalent of minimum wage.

Nancy with Oscar 1980

Oscar as a puppy. Front yard, schoolmaster’s cottage, Friday Bridge.

But this one day—so balmy, so green—felt wasted indoors. I had my bike; it was my sole form of transportation in every season. If there was ever a day made for bicycling, this was it. I could quickly eat my lunch, then take the bike out for a spin.

On the other hand, what if someone saw me? They might think I was goofing off. The shame would be unbearable, even if I was simply outside to enjoy a half-hour of fresh air in the middle of a regimented workday.

Don’t be stupid, I told myself. Do you really want your life to revolve around what other people think? I decided to risk it.

I set off to the east along a narrow road flanked by brick row houses and bungalows. It didn’t take long for the village to dissolve into farm fields beneath a broad blue sky. The lupins were in full riotous bloom. Apricot verbascums with raspberry centers brightened the gravel at the roadside. Butterflies fluttered past as I pedaled slowly, intoxicated by the sweet scent of stocks. This brief bit of pleasure was balm to my soul.

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Stocks, one of the most popular flowers in Friday Bridge gardens when we lived there. (Image: Burpee)

After a quarter-hour of this reverie I realized it was time to turn back. I was pedaling happily through a neighborhood near my home when I spotted an old man in a yard at my left. Apparently he’d been sweeping a path. Of course. One of those men who kept their place spotless. How lovely! I thought. But wait… Now he was shaking the broom in my direction. And…hang on…what was that he was shouting in my direction?

“You don’t know you’ve been born!”

I knew I should not have gone for that ride.

It took me years of working at the bench to come up with a response to that man’s anger, which was based on egregiously faulty inference.  On the other hand, of course, he may have just been insane. But I’m too ready to accept criticism to feel satisfied with that explanation.

The problem with passion

Note: This is the second in a series of posts related to the tales in Making Things Work. The posts are new material, not excerpted from the book, and some, such as this one, are written in a (much) drier style. Each will be tied to one or more of the book’s chapters, in this case “Living the Dream” and “Hotel California.”

Most of us think of passion in positive terms–love on steroids, if you will. Regardless of whether your passion is ignited by a lover, a pre-Civil War farmhouse or the prospect of brewing rare varieties of beer in your basement, a zillion books, seminars and websites are available to advise you on following it, and many of them all but promise that doing what you love will translate to loving what you do.

Pursuing your passion is widely understood as a prescription for happiness and fulfillment. When you’re building furniture as an avocation, outside of the work that provides your livelihood, it’s easy to maintain this understanding of passion. Feel uninspired? Run into a problem? Put the work away for a few days. Take the leap from spare- to full-time practitioner, and the realities associated with doing something day in and day out (stretches of mind-numbing monotony, minefields of bureaucracy, the occasional deranged customer, the need to negotiate between perfectionism and defaulting on your mortgage), not to mention ensuring you get paid enough to cover the multitude of expenses beyond what you need to support yourself, tend to dampen the ardor. Hence the occasional warning about trying to make a living from work you love, lest you lose your passion. See this article forwarded to me by Russell Gale, or this essay by Vic Tesolin.

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Laundry hamper in cypress, circa 2009

The problem is, the popular understanding of passion is seriously flawed. The word passion comes from a Latin verb that means to suffer, undergo, experience, endure.* While love is central to passion, passion is no easy kind of love. When we’re passionate about something, we’re driven.** We serve our passion by dealing with the trying circumstances and sometimes-maddening fallout that come in its train, every bit as much as by enjoying the satisfactions generated by our pursuit.

Doing what you love for a living demands that you cultivate a larger understanding of loving what you do–one that will accommodate the headaches, stress, sporadic income, psychological contortions required by some clients, occasional doldrums and sleepless nights that can come with being self-employed. When you think about it, this is no different from the deeply committed love that grounds a long marriage, which may involve stretches of monotony, moments of doubt, tending to a sick spouse (or parent, or child) and the occasional hour (or [come on, let’s be honest] more) of utter exasperation. As Tesolin puts it,

being a pro woodworker means you are a slave to the grind. I’ve been there and it isn’t always pretty. It’s not often you get to do the kind of work that you want, and many times you are left begging to be paid for the work you complete – not to mention all of the other drudgery like bookkeeping, accounting, website upkeep and marketing.

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Kitchen sink base cabinet with trash pull-out, 2018

So let’s say you decide you’ve had enough of professional woodworking and look for another line of work. If you get hired, congratulations; you can enjoy a regular paycheck and the freedom to enjoy woodworking in your hours outside of the job. For many people I know, that’s an enviable situation, the best of both worlds.

But what if circumstances keep you in the game? What if you apply for other work, and even get interviews, only to hear that you were a serious contender but they didn’t hire you because (a) they thought you wouldn’t want to work for an employer after running your own business for so long, (b) you’re “over qualified” or (c) they were sure you’d miss the work about which you’d been so passionate, so you’d leave the new position and go back? This is what happened to me on multiple occasions when I tried to escape from earning a living as a woodworker. I needed an income so I went back to what I knew. I soon realized I would have to find a way to make peace with my work. Passion, in the truest sense, to the rescue. This is what Making Things Work is largely about.

Grappling with this work in the most existential ways has not resulted in me losing my passion, but in learning what a deeper form of passion entails.

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For me, the opportunity to write about furniture and design, in addition to working on commissions in the shop, has been key. Research, thinking and writing about furniture and material culture in general feed my enthusiasm for that hands-on work that keeps me grounded and provides all kinds of insights for my writing.

So go ahead and do what you love. But please make sure you open your eyes before diving in.

*The same Latin word gives rise to our word passive, as in the passive versus active voice. The word “suffer” is another goldmine. From the Latin sub and ferre, it means to carry from below, i.e. to bear or endure–not the image that popular culture encourages us to associate with love.

**Note, again, the passive implication of this grammatical form.

Blame the Tuna

Note: This is the first in a series of posts related to the tales in Making Things Work. The posts are new material, not excerpted from the book. Each will be tied to one of the book’s chapters, in this case, “It’s All Problems.”

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Some people are so convinced of their powers that they seem to feel invincible. They’re too good at what they do–too rock-star “together” in general–to make mistakes. (Or perhaps they’re too deeply invested in this conceit to acknowledge that they make them.)

My attitude is closer to that of the majestic tuna I once saw in a BBC documentary about oceans. The most striking part of the film was the vision of the fish as David Attenborough calmly observed that the killer whale (clearly visible in the frame) was taking its first bite. The fish’s eyes were as steady as if it was contemplating a leaf of kelp floating by on a peaceful current. “OK,” it seemed to be saying. “So this is happening.”

It’s not that I’m defeatist about s**t happening, or that I don’t do everything in my power to avoid it. It’s that experience has liberated me from the burden of believing that when you really know what you’re doing, things just go smoothly. I’ve found that the more I know, the vaster I simply recognize my ignorance to be.*

***

The other day I was finalizing the installation of doors on a set of built-in cabinets. They hang in pairs, with one fixed by a catch and the other opened by a surface-mounted latch. Traditionally, the fixed door would have been held shut by an elbow latch, but I used a pair of rare earth magnets instead, for convenience. I’ve been using these magnets as catches for years. They’re strong, simple, and inconspicuous.

As I worked, one of the customers walked through the room and remarked that the doors looked great. He was heading toward one as though he might close it to see how it looked shut. I had just glued the magnet on the door in place with quick-setting epoxy a few minutes before, so I asked him not to shut the door, to keep the magnet from being pulled back out of its socket. Being a physicist, this customer knows all about rare earth magnets. He started telling me about them and mentioned their repulsive force, a feature that had somehow never even occurred to me. How had I been oblivious to something so important? I wondered. How had I managed never to set a magnet the wrong way? He grabbed a pair of magnets and held their negative faces toward each other, showing me how it was impossible to force them together, explaining “they’ll just flip around if you let go of one.” From now on I would certainly make a point of checking the polarity before gluing a magnet in place.

As I prepared to set the final magnet, I let it click into place and marked the back to make sure I applied the glue to the correct face. I pressed it into its socket and went back to work on the other cabinet while the epoxy hardened.

About a half-hour later, I was ready to install the keeper for the last latch. I gave the left-hand door a push so the magnets would pull the door closed and align the closing stile with that of its mate. The door popped right back at me.

How many of these magnets had I used over the years, without incident, only to screw up the polarity of the first one I’d ever checked? Classic. My mind went straight to the tuna.

I tried to pry the magnet out with the tip of my utility knife, but the epoxy had set too hard. When you’re on a job site you don’t have access to the tools and materials of a shop. You have to improvise. I needed to get this latch installed. There had to be an elegant way to fix my mistake. I unscrewed the door stop (of course I’d glued it in place for extra strength, so I had to break it free with a stout chisel and mallet), gave the surface a quick scrape, and turned it around with the back facing out.

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Ugly but eminently salvageable

I screwed it into place, marked the position of the magnet on the door, and drilled a hole for the magnet in the stop. I grabbed a magnet and checked the polarity—twice, just to make sure—then glued it in place. This time I got it right.

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Once I cleaned up the stray epoxy, it looked as good as new. The little gap at the top between the face frame and the cabinet top will be concealed by cove moulding, a detail I like to add in some cases for subtle relief.

Some may be scandalized that I find it acceptable to reverse a stop this way, leaving this imperfection on a piece of finished work. As one whose career has taken her into countless old houses, where I have seen (and learned from) all kinds of ingenious solutions made by earlier craftspersons to comparable problems in their work, I take pleasure in anticipating that some future craftsperson will come across the back of this door stop and enjoy a moment of solidarity as he or she recognizes why the magnet’s there.

*I am using the word “ignorance” according to its lexical definition, i.e. not-knowing–not in the looser sense of stupidity or uninformed bias.

 

Working weekend with a twist

Lost Art Press class June 2019

Last weekend was one of those times when a ton of stuff comes together and gets whacked off the to-do list. First I taught a two-day class at the Lost Art Press storefront in Covington, Kentucky, a beautiful work space in a town that’s historic, picturesque, and still happily down to earth. The participants in the class (I can’t call them “students”; they already knew much of the nuts & bolts substance) were a joy–a fun, intelligent bunch of characters. (Who knew there was a Bacon Fart app? Thanks for enlightening me, Horace.)

Lost Art Press class with plate racks

Jared, Horace, Bryant, Steve, Jose, and Marc with two plate racks dry-fitted together

Adding to the fun were the culinary treats. Jose brought Gateau Na Na, a shortbread crust with pecan praline filling, from The Kitchen Shop in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. Chris supplied dangerously good cheese Danish and Schnecken from a local bakery. Every place we went for lunch or dinner had good vegetarian offerings; my favorite for lunch was Piper’s, a sandwich shop-cum-ice cream stand where everything is home made. (Try the veggie burger.) We made a pilgimage to the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar and had a final meal on Sunday evening at the fabulous A Tavola in downtown Cincinnati; their asparagus salad has just the right blend of crispness and zest for a satisfying meal. As for the roasted carrots, they should come with a warning about likely addiction.

On Monday I drove to Leesburg, Virginia, to deliver a pair of Voysey two heart chairs.

Voysey chairs for Leesburg

A pair of made-to-order chairs with rush seats woven by Cathryn Peters, The Wicker Woman

I spent the night with dear family friends Richard Busch and Olwen Woodier, who live in a converted barn. Olwen is an accomplished cook who teaches classes through her Glenfiddich Farm Cookery School and has authored several books. She also raises chickens and keeps an extensive garden that includes this sublime meadow for pollinators.

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Be still, my heart.

Richard is a professional photographer who freelanced for LIFE magazine before going on to editorial positions at other publications.

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Richard, Olwen, and Aggie the good girl

Yes, that is Jimi Hendrix, with Mick Jagger just below and to the right. Joe Cocker, Ike and Tina Turner, and other icons of the ’60s are scattered around this long wall of black and white images, along with others of friends and family, most notably some touching shots of Olwen with the couple’s daughter, Wendy. Richard launched another career as a ceramic artist after retiring. He operates Glenfiddich Farm Pottery, where he makes a variety of bowls, platters, cups, wren houses, and other wares in addition to teaching classes.

Tuesday was a 12-hour drive–altogether too much driving, but thanks to dark chocolate, coffee, and The Cinematic Orchestra, I made it home by 9. It was a wonderful weekend on all fronts.

Mackeral sky June 25 2019

Almost home

Who’s driving this bus? (with bonus features)

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For the past few days I’ve been working on a hayrake table, and I’ve been fascinated by how differently the process is unfolding from the last time I built a table of this design. The vaguely passive voice in that last sentence–“the process is unfolding” makes it sound as though I’m not so much in charge as a participant–gets at one of the things I relish about building things.

Each time you build a piece based on a familiar form, you bring insights from previous experiences. But these insights don’t always result from intentional analysis; sometimes they bubble up from the subconscious. My sharpest insights come in the wee hours–sometimes in dreams, sometimes as a consolation prize for the lack of dreams (a.k.a. insomnia). Similarly, when I’m fully engaged in building a piece, I’m part of the process. It feels like the process itself is in charge. I love the weirdness of it.

Here’s an example. Because the hayrake stretcher is the biggest challenge of the piece, I started with it this time, instead of the legs. The joinery is a puzzle; the layout proceeds in a methodical order.  The last time I cut the short stretcher rails to length before diving into the joinery. This time it occurred to me there was no need to cut them to length right off the bat. In fact, leaving them long would allow me to redo a tenon if I messed one up. I cut them to length after I’d glued up the stretcher, basing the length on the full-scale layout and checking the diagonals to make sure the whole would be square. Ratchet down the stress level.

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The stretcher assembled and pegged, with short rails still over-length

It’s a small change but an obvious improvement in method.

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High stakes. Exposed tenons join the center rail to the curved rails. I faired the curve after this final check of the fit. The black marks are from the rubber mallet; I lost track of how many times I had to put this thing together and take it apart while checking the fit of the tenon, not to mention its shoulders, which are scribed to the inside radius.

Easy tapered pegs

I’m building this table in hard maple. When I drilled the tenons for drawboring, I realized I might have spaced them more appropriately for sassafras, which is soft; I was worried the oak pegs might just stop at the tenon instead of pulling it tight at the shoulder. Taking my cue from the drawbore pins, I made tapered pegs from 1/4″ oak dowel rod with a pencil sharpener to make sure the pegs would go through the holes and do their work. (With thanks to community radio station WFHB for the sounds. You can stream it from anywhere.)

Zingy cilantro pesto for pizza or pasta

One of my favorite pizzas comes from Aver’s in Bloomington and is made with cilantro pesto. The closest branch of Aver’s is several miles away from us, and they don’t deliver. So the other night I concocted a cilantro pesto of my own. So good! Here’s the recipe for my fellow garlic lovers.

1 bunch fresh cilantro

juice of 2 lemons

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 medium cloves of garlic

1/3 cup parmesan, grated

Mix ingredients in a food processor and enjoy. We added sliced onions on top for the pizza.

Timeless Design

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Timeless? Image from the laugh-out-loud-funny website McMansion Hell.

Like so many other words (curate, custom, master, local, artisan, and sustainable, to cite a few), “timeless” has been reduced to little more than a marketing term. OK, so the object being described isn’t readily associated with any particular style or period. That doesn’t make it “timeless.” What it usually means is that it hasn’t occurred to the person who wrote the marketing copy that everything, including most cutting-edge work of today (whenever “today” happens to be), will one day be associated with products that were considered desirable for a particular span of years–in other words, expressive of some period or other.

In the early 1990s, housing developers thought they could achieve “timeless design” by patching together bits of different styles into single houses: a clinker-brick façade with fake stone everywhere else, a Storybook Tudor roofline for the entryway with other rooflines for the rest of the house (“Let’s do a catslide here, for the back porch, and a mansard there at the front”). Make most of the windows look like early 20th-century metal casements (but use vinyl windows with fake muntins), and be sure to incorporate at least one grandiose multiple-story arched-top window for the Great Room, because we know everyone drools over those.

All of which is to say I’d pretty much given up on the word “timeless,” until I met Russell Gale. I’d recently arrived at the Grove Park Inn to take part in the 32nd Annual Arts and Crafts Conference. After getting my name on the sign-up sheet for the loading dock, I sat down with a cup of coffee and posted a picture of the back of the Inn, a rocky confection sometimes compared to a Hobbit castle, on Instagram.

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Back view of Asheville’s original Grove Park Inn. (The stairways and round walls are not original.)

Almost immediately there was a comment from Clark Kellogg:”@nrhiller Go see @russellgale at Grovewood!” I googled Grovewood and contacted Russell.

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Inspiring carved messages (and payment options) on the front door of the Grovewood Gallery

The next morning, Russell showed me around the gallery and other buildings. He mentioned that two or three pieces of his work were on display. This caused me a little anxiety; it’s tough to be put on the spot. Don’t tell me you’ve never found yourself verklempt in a situation where your host proudly points out his or her own work…which you find less than admirable, for whatever reason. I saw some lovely ceramics and woven textiles and admired a few pieces of striking furniture. Then Russell said “That’s my clock over there in the corner.”

I nearly fell to my knees. For me, steeped as I am in the work of English Arts and Crafts designers, and also keenly aware that so many designs for kitchens and other interior rooms marketed a century ago would be equally, if not more, at home in cutting-edge craft publications today, Russell’s clock was a truly timeless design—ironic, considering that the piece in question was a clock.

I might as well have been transported in time. I was looking at a piece of home furniture as modern as any piece of contemporary craft*, but one that also could well have been designed by one of my heroes, Ernest Gimson, a century ago.**

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Clock by Russell Gale. Granadillo, Alaskan hemlock, and snakewood. (Photo: David Welter)

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Another version of the clock, this time in Douglas fir, redwood, and yew.  (Photo: David Welter)

We talked about the clock’s design. It was Russell’s second project at the College of the Redwoods (now known as The Krenov School); he designed and built it in 2008, drawing on twofold inspiration. First, he loved the idea of a wall clock. His grandma had had one in her living room, and as Russell put it, “It just felt like this beating heart on the wall.”  He wanted the clock to incorporate bandsawn veneer, one of his areas of study, as well as a curved top and bottom made by bending over a form in a vacuum press.

Stylistically, he wanted something more reflective of his own aesthetic. When Russell was drawing the clock and deciding on details, he had recently been immersed in Edward Barnsley’s work. “It just seemed to touch on so many genres and styles of furniture making,” he told me, “especially in his later work—it has a mid-century feel, but with stringing and beadwork you would have seen on a piece long before that.”

Unlike the bricolarchitecture of ’90s subdivisions, Russell’s clock is both contemporary and imbued with a sense of proportion, detailing, and skill distilled from more than a century of serious craft. I make no claim to defining “timeless”–well, beyond my previous sentence here, which is still just a start. But I know it when I see it.

Here are some other views of Russell’s clock.

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Detail showing beaded edges and veneered face. (Photo: David Welter)

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Interior showing details of construction and storage shelf. (Photo: David Welter)

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Detail of beading and miter. (Photo: David Welter)

*using the word in the Oxford sense of “pertaining to the present and recent times”

**Sure, by European standards a century ago still qualifies as “recent times,” but in the States we call it “historic.”

For an interview with Russell, see my post at Popular Woodworking on March 4.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

Louis of Louisville, summer 2006-Jan. 31, 2019

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Autumn 2006, a few weeks after we found each other

On a Friday in the fall of 2006 I was driving up State Road 37 to interview Philip and Phyllis Kennedy about their interest in Hoosier cabinets when my eye was caught by a small animal on the shoulder of the road. An emaciated baby squirrel, it was headed for the slow lane, where it would undoubtedly get squashed. Knowing full well that the wild animal wasn’t likely to let me near, I pulled over anyway. When I stepped out of the truck, I realized it was a kitten. I expected it to run away, but it allowed me to pick it up and put it in the truck, whereupon it began yowling.

I stopped at the next gas station and bought a bag of cat food, along with a bag of litter. The kitten showed no interest in the food and cried most of the way to my meeting. I didn’t want to leave him in the truck–it was still too hot to leave an animal in a vehicle–so I asked if I might bring him in. The Kennedys kindly said yes and gave me a box for the kitten, who yowled throughout the interview.

On the way home I took him to the vet for a quick check in case he had an i.d. chip. There was no chip; I noted that they called him “37” on the bill for the brief exam. I took him home and named him Louis after my great-grandfather Louis Adler, who had a yellow suit.

winnieandlou

Winnie adored Louis. Here they are together on the chair that caused him to become a shop cat.

Louis immediately became part of the family, asserting his authority over William and Winnie, our dogs. He was well behaved on the whole, but after defiling a special chair that had been given to me by a friend, he became the shop cat, going in and out through the dog door. With freedom to roam outdoors and a warm, safe shop, he had the best of both worlds.

Over his 12 years he met many dogs, some of whom lived here. He lorded it over them all. He’d crouch around a corner in wait, then leap out with a startling cry. Every day at 5 he’d jump through the dog door and run into the room where I fed him; if it was too cold or rainy, he’d wait in the shop instead, toying with Joey to keep himself entertained.

louisteasingjoey

“What, you think I want to play with you, dog breath? Get outta my face.”

He flirted with women visitors. Whenever someone arrived in a car, he leapt onto the hood to soak up its warmth. I’d find him in the strangest places: curled up in a flower pot, keeping watch on the arm of the radial arm saw, lying in gravel drive on a 95-degree day. (OK, to me this seems strange.)

louisisgrowing21

Often found in surprising places

He loved the garden,surveying his kingdom every morning and marking all the important plants. He loved to roll in the catmint patch. (See a video here.)

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I caught this video of Lou cavorting in the catmint this fall

As attentive as he was to his property’s borders, he was surprisingly non-confrontational toward other cats–provided that they weren’t aggressive toward him. One morning several years ago I arrived to find him sleeping on a moving pad I’d slung over a trash can to dry it out after a delivery in light rain. But it wasn’t Louis on the blanket; it was another orange cat who had presumably come through the dog door. Louis tolerated him for several days, until some friends took the interloper to live in their barn.

louisandpolaris

With one of his best friends, Polaris (Photo by Kristen Clement, a.k.a. mother of Polaris)

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His favorite place to sleep was under the joiner in a bed of chips.

Occasionally I would find him perched on the edge of the birdbath, taking a drink, though this summer (perhaps because he had gained some weight, or maybe just due to his age) he took to drinking on his tiptoes.

louisatthebirdbath

Louis had many human friends, among them those who rented my house. He was especially fond of Lauren, Kristen, and Jeffrey. He attempted (sometimes successfully) to wheedle his way into the house and had Jeffrey trained to give him treats.

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Lauren gave me this sweet portrait of Lou in the zinnia garden from when he was still a young cat.

***

Last night, when I fed him, he showed no interest in his food. I opened a different can, thinking he might be tired of the first kind (and knowing that he sometimes just left food until later in the night). When I went to work this morning, I found him curled up in his bed of wood chips, as usual, but the food was still there. He’d pressed it down with his nose, as he did when he didn’t really like something. I gave him some affection and went to work.

We’ve been keeping the dog door closed at night the past few months, for Lou’s safety. Coyotes have been coming closer and closer to the shop. I’d forgotten to remove the barricades before I started to work. While applying finish to a current job, I saw him go over to the dog door. Finding it closed, he wandered over to the space beneath the sawbench, where I kept a bit of sawdust for him to use as litter. As soon as I was done with the brush, I opened the dog door and called him. No answer. I went to look for him under the sawbench and found him lying on the floor. Not normal. When I got close enough to see his head, I realized he appeared motionless. He had no expression. His body was limp and still warm.

I called Mark, who listened for a heartbeat. There was none. Do cats have heart attacks? I have no idea what caused his death. He’d been the picture of health. We are desolated.

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Sleep well, my little orange friend.

Thank you for the opportunity

I’m thrilled to announce that I will be showing my work at the 32nd Arts and Crafts Conference at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn next February. I’ve long wished to exhibit my work at this splendid gathering, which I first attended about 16 years ago. It has been damn-near impossible to break in, partly because of a longtime policy whereby once an exhibitor has a booth, he or she may return annually. So I stopped trying and told myself to be grateful that I wasn’t making an 8-1/2-hour drive with a trailer full of heavy furniture and spending days standing around talking to strangers in a loud, stuffy room.

English A&C promotional pic

A string of events led to this chance. I recently put the publisher of my book English Arts & Crafts Furniture in touch with the operator of the conference bookstore. (Could there be a more ideal marketing venue for this book than this event at the Grove Park Inn?) Putting these people together involved contacting Bruce Johnson, the event’s director. When a furniture maker from California decided to retire from the show, he offered a booth to me.

Everything that happens is a product of numerous factors. In this case three editors who have worked with me to publish my Arts and Crafts furniture have my heartfelt thanks.*

    • Patricia Poore at Old-House Journal was the first to publish any of my writing. Over the years she has made space for my writing and furniture in Arts & Crafts Homes and the Revival, Old-House Interiors, and related magazines.
    • Anissa Kapsales at Fine Woodworking has worked with me on several articles.
    • Megan Fitzpatrick, longtime editor at Popular Woodworking (who now runs her own business, Rude Mechanicals Press), invited me to write a project article on an Arts and Crafts bookcase inspired by the designs of English furniture manufacturer Harris Lebus. When her books editor, Scott Francis, pitched the idea of a book on English Arts and Crafts furniture, she referred him to me.

One of the best things about working with this trio of women, each of whom I admire deeply (for more reasons than would be appropriate to relate here), is that I now call each of them a friend.

***

Like writing a book, doing a furniture show is a major undertaking. Out-of-town shows involve long drives, heavy lifting, and talking to strangers for hours each day. Sometimes sales amount to far less than the cost to participate. (For Michael Fortune’s take on marketing through shows, read this.) My husband used to think I was mad to put in the work for no discernible monetary return. But now he gets it. You have to put in the work and the time to get opportunities to do the kind of work you love.

Too many people imagine that invitations to write books or build kitchens in cool old houses just fall in my lap (and the laps of others who do work that looks enviable). They don’t. These opportunities result from hard-core slog–and in turn they require more. Overall, as long as my back, eyes, and hands hold out, I say the slogging’s worthwhile.

*listed in chronological order

Patricia Poore and Mark and Nancy

After admiring Patricia Poore’s work for many years, Mark finally got to meet her during a trip to Massachusetts in 2017.

    • Anissa and Joey 2018

      Joey loves Anissa too.

      Megan and Chris

      Megan with Chris Schwarz at the end of a work party, August 2017. (Chris was lending his sturdy, if exhausted, shoulder to his equally exhausted colleague and friend.)