Category Archives: Women in woodworking

Adam Nahas, Cyclops Studios: Foundryman-metal smith

Adam Nahas is an artist who makes his living by offering resources and creative services to other artists, in addition to selling his own work. “The sculpture business never really is consistent,” he says, describing one of the realities of a professional artist’s life. “So I’ve done my best to make myself versatile, taking jobs as they come to me.”

Adam Nahas

Adam Nahas

Nahas has run Cyclops Studios, a multi-service art business offering project design, modeling, metalworking, welding, and more since 2005. He became interested in sculptural art in college at Indiana University after starting out as a singer/performer, then switched to theater. Theater work sparked his interest in stage craft, which led him to special effects and mold making, then finally to casting and metalsmith work; this in turn delivered him into majoring in fine arts. He graduated in 2007 with a BFA in studio art with concentrations in sculpture and metals and a minor in art history.

While at college, Nahas did an internship with Mark Parmenter at the White River Foundry in nearby Owen County. Mark and his shop foreman, Charlie Savage, taught him to make molds, build armatures, cast various alloys, form patinas, and chase (the technique of sculpting details on the face of hammered metalwork) – a range of skills applicable not just to fine arts metalwork but to hardware and architectural components such as handrails and decorative fixtures.

Nahas has long been active in Bloomington’s arts scene. His first studio was in a small warehouse that he shared with multi-disciplinary art friends from his college years. Within a few years it expanded and became established as the Trained Eye Arts Center, sharing space in an larger warehouse along the railroad tracks, now the B-Line Trail. Besides pursuing their own work, they held demonstrations and classes and did benefit shows for area nonprofits. Nahas is also a longstanding member of the illustrious Krampus Krewe, that group of creative souls who put on Bloomington’s annual Krampus Nacht. (You can see a video of the fire breathing Krampus from the 2017 event here.)

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The pulls Adam made for my latest reproduction Harris Lebus sideboard, one of the projects in my book about English Arts & Crafts Furniture, forthcoming from Popular Woodworking in June 2018.

In 2014 Nahas took the business model of Trained Eye Arts and started a new venture called Artisan Alley, a community of artists who collaborate and share common space and amenities, encompassing a tool library, gallery, and events venue while offering professional fabrication and artistic services for hire. It’s an outgrowth of his affable nature and skills as an organizer, combined with a real-world need to make a living. “My market shouldn’t just be the end customer,” he realized a few years back. “My market should be the artists: a community of artists that support artists.”

Utility Dovetails – Nancy Hiller on furniture in the wild

Over the Wireless

IMG_8006These dovetails (which Jim McConnell joked may have been cut with an axe) are rough in the extreme, but the drawer still moves smoothly after many decades in use.Whenever we stay in holiday cottages I find myself drawn to the old pieces of furniture you usually find in these places. I open the drawes to check for fit and look at the dovetails, peek inside casework to look at joinery and for evidence of whether the maker processed their stock by hand. As I’ve written about before, such pieces can be a useful education in furniture that was made for daily use by ordinary folk, I have found that such exploration can be really useful to illustrate, and ground, the principles that Joshua and the team write about in Mortise & Tenon. The Cotswolds cottage we stayed in earlier this month was stuffed with furniture that had…

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Variations on a theme

It’s always interesting when readers take a design from a published article and turn it into something new. Robert Gaughan recently got in touch with some pictures of a doll display cabinet he built for his wife, based on the English Arts & Crafts style bookcase I made for the December 2015 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. It’s a dramatic example of the point I made in a post about not getting too hung up on following published instructions.

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Robert Gaughan made this display cabinet for his wife’s doll collection, adapting the design of a bookcase I wrote about in Popular Woodworking.

Here’s a little excerpt from Bob’s message explaining the changes he made:

I was trying to build an A&C style case to somewhat match my A&C tall clock I had just completed. However, for the clock I made coved molding under the top, (I’ll email you a separate picture so you can see what I mean). I didn’t want to add molding for the doll case because of wood movement on such a large case top. Your decorative brackets and top attachment were a great alternative and I loved the overall look of your bookcase.

I added the “hidden” drawers as usable space and this allows the dolls on the bottom/floor shelf to be at eye level with the glass in the doors. My only other  changes (besides the dimensions, lights (to display dolls), and overlapping oak case sides), was the tongue and grove wainscoting back. Also, the top and bottom decorative bevels (and the small bead frame around the doors) were made with walnut for a little wood contrast.

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A good view of Bob’s display case showing the decorative sides, hidden drawers, and back

The other design details Bob refers to are in a case clock he built, shown in the image below, which he sent with his other pictures.

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Lovely work, Bob. Thank you for taking the bookcase design in a new and artful direction.

Hoosier kitchen cabinetry for sale

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A picture of very similar cabinets (note: this is NOT the seller’s kitchen) from my book. 

About a year ago, Patricia Poore at Old House Journal referred one of her readers to me for information about his kitchen cabinets. His house was built in the late 1930s and still had its original kitchen cabinets, made by the Hoosier Manufacturing Company. In the end, he decided to redo his kitchen. He contacted me yesterday to say that his cabinets are for sale.

I’m posting this information as someone who loves old cabinetry and kitchen history. The seller has authorized me to share his phone number; he is in Mount Vernon, Illinois. (I am not publishing his name, in an effort to minimize the kind of identifying information that could encourage spam, etc.) If you would like to contact him, please do so during regular business hours and mention that you read about his cabinets on Nancy Hiller’s blog so that he doesn’t think you’re “Cynthia from credit card services” or some scam artist offering a free mountaintop vacation in Holland. 618.315.7392.

Please do not contact me. I know nothing about the cabinets other than what you see here; I am not acting as a broker, just trying to be helpful because I would like to see these cabinets find another home.

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Please note: These are not metal! They’re wood painted to look like metal. (You can read about this trend in my book The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History; link in image at top of page.)

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Integral bread box

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Paired doors. The one on the right has the latch (the pointy thing). I have seen these in other kitchens. They’re swell.

Anne Ryan Miller, glass artist

The following is a profile of Anne Ryan Miller from my forthcoming book on English Arts and Crafts furniture, scheduled for publication in June 2018 by Popular Woodworking.

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An example of Anne’s metal overlay work from her website (http://www.anneryanmillerglassstudio.com/metal5.html)

Considering the depth and vitality of Anne Ryan Miller’s work, it comes as something of a shock to hear her say that in her younger days she “never really liked stained glass.”

“I grew up in the Detroit area. Stained glass was ‘old.’”

That view of stained glass as a relic of historic architecture changed in the early 1970s when she visited a friend during a trip to Bloomington, Indiana. Her friend, Mary Ott, had just learned to work in stained glass. Miller helped her with some projects, then did some experimenting on her own, with Mary’s encouragement. She fell in love with the material’s beauty.

Miller moved to Bloomington in 1976 and went to work with Ott. At first they ran their studio, Graphic Glass, from a garage. As the business grew, they moved to a storefront on the downtown square, where they worked for several years.

“Glass work became a way to communicate about nature,” says Miller, whose educational background is in environmental science; she has a bachelor’s degree from the School of Natural Resources and environmental education at the University of Michigan and a master’s in alternative education from Indiana University. “Artistically expressing our respect for nature has been a kind of calling for many of us.”

Miller developed a distinctive technique that has become her signature: She layers glass with metal. Using an X-acto knife, she cuts a design out of 1.5 mil copper foil which is applied to the glass in a process she compares to drawing. She typically begins with a sheet of opalescent glass. By applying metal to the front and back of the opalescent glass, she can create a sense of depth. Added dimension comes from one or more layers of clear glass with metal on top; the layers allow her to build near-, fore-, and background. She works other imagery into the space between the layers using copper foil, adding solder to the metal’s surface for texture and body. Looking at her scenes of lakes and mountains, you have to remind yourself that the far distant peaks and shores are a mere ½” or so away.

For more than 30 years Miller has lived and worked in the Brown County seat of Nashville, best known for its connection with a group of early-twentieth-century painters. One of those painters was Dale Bessire, who came to Nashville in 1914 and made it his home. Miller’s studio, next to the house she shares with her husband, architect Steve Miller, originally belonged to Bessire, her husband’s grandfather – this time, a happy coincidence of stained glass and old buildings.

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Anne checks the color and pattern of a piece of glass against a window in her studio that looks out to the forest.

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Completed panes for my reproduction Harris Lebus 1903 sideboard, one of three projects in the book

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The completed sideboard with Anne’s glass in the upper section appears on the cover of the November 2017 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

 

Arts and Crafts classics at The Wilson

Please note: The following images are snapshots I took during my visit to The Wilson. They are used here with explicit permission, which required a lot of work and a fee, as described in a previous post. I respectfully request that you avoid gaily copying and using them for your own purposes.

The research for my book on English Arts and Crafts furniture (scheduled for publication by Popular Woodworking in May 2018) entailed a visit to England last winter. Aside from immersing myself anew in the architecture and scenery of the beautiful land that produced the Arts and Crafts movement, I needed to take measurements from a chair designed by C.F.A. Voysey in 1898.

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Be still, my heart.  An original two heart chair, as the form is known, designed by Voysey, though this example flagrantly flouts its designer’s prohibition against finishing with stain or polish.

While waiting for my appointment with the chair, I took myself on a tour of the museum’s other furniture offerings, which are many and awe-inspiring. I was especially interested in seeing details of how these classic pieces were made. Here are a few I documented.

1. A cupboard, as it’s called, designed by Ernest Barnsley and made at the Pinbury workshop shared with his brother Sidney and their friend Ernest Gimson, around 1899

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What happened here? Was the joint too tight? Did someone drop the cabinet?  Look at that charming gougework on the chamfers. I love the minor variations in the pattern.

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I was fascinated to see the knotty piece used for the cupboard’s plinth. Gorgeous figure, but how many of us would have gone ahead and used this piece of oak — at least before the current slab-driven embrace of knots, splits, and such?

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Dovetail details in the top

2. A hayrake table designed by Ernest Barnsley and believed to have been built in the workshops at Rodmarton Estate in the 1920s

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I was intrigued to see how the table top had lifted from its frame, despite being anchored by buttons. As you’ll see farther down the post, this table is made with hayrake stretchers top and bottom and has no apron — an amazing piece of construction.

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Shrinkage happens. On the other hand, ooohhh! that shallow-relief carving! Love it.

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The table’s underside. Be still, my heart, again. Hayrake construction at the top, as well as at the base. Note that the craftsman/men who made this piece did not feel obligated (or, as I imagine they, being English, would have put it, “obliged”) to finish the unseen parts of the underside as assiduously as those that would be seen. You can get as religious on this point as you like, but this treatment is consistent with my training and early indoctrination (not too strong a word), which took into account the constraints imposed by the cabinetmaker’s livelihood being 100% dependent on getting the work done and paid for.

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The hayrake base: intriguing joinery detail and chamfering

3. Swan chair designed by C.F.A. Voysey for Haydee Ward-Higgs

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Are you as amazed as I am to see that these short-grain swans’ heads have survived for a century?

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Seat joinery detail: ditto re. the short grain here.

4. Hayrake table in ebony and walnut designed by Ernest Gimson for Allen Tangye

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Joinery and chamfering detail: This sings.

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Stretcher joinery detail; see close-up below

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That top! I was particularly interested in the joinery of the edging, which appears to be designed with expansion and contraction of the main top in mind. Also note the century-old detail of butterfly keys and the presence of  knots. Not visible here is a large area of lively figure formed where a limb grew out of the tree’s trunk; it’s so lively (yes, I am using that as a euphemism) that many contemporary woodworkers might well have rejected it for use in a table top, especially one as formal as this.

5. Table designed by Ernest Barnsley for Rodmarton Manor between 1920 and 1925

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Love the rhythm of that chamfered stretcher. Interesting method of top attachment, though. The table has the lovely matte finish that Gimson and the Barnsleys preferred.

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Base detail

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Joinery detail

6. Voysey two heart chair

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Seat/front leg detail

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Striking silhouette

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Trick of the eye: Seen from behind, the cutout shape of the top back rail suggests a curve but in fact is straight.

The Wilson makes available rich resources at its website, which includes a searchable directory of many holdings. I’m grateful to the staff, especially Benedict Sayers, who arranged for me to measure this Voysey chair.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

All hail the book

or…Join me for a love fest

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Roman Workbenches: tiny but mighty. Despite their lack of aprons and stretchers, those Roman Workbenches can lift some weight.

The publishing company Lost Art Press first came to my attention thanks to Jim Ferrell, a genial woodworker and tool geek who took a class I taught at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking a decade ago. After several years of prodding by Jim I subscribed to the Lost Art Press blog and gave it the occasional read. I was taken with the variety of content; I enjoy just about anything written by the whip-smart, sassy Megan Fitzpatrick, whose work used to appear at Lost Art Press more often than it has of late (give her a break; she’s restoring yet another old house while living in it), and I was intrigued that a woodworking blog published such esoterica as Suzanne Ellison’s research on peasant art in Lapland, not to mention the occasional kick-ass nugget of feminist woodworking history.

Then I read some advance publicity for L’Art du Menuisier. An oversized clothbound book of old-fashioned library quality, printed and produced entirely in the United States? With titles in French and drawings from more than two centuries ago? I had never spent $120 on a book. I especially had no business spending that much on a book of plans for such eccentricities as chaises d’aisances and voitures anciennes. But I was going to buy it, because any business that produced a woodworking-related book of such excellent form and content at this contemporary moment of e-publishing and knockdown-/wiki-up-everything was going to have my support, at least insofar as I could give it.

The Book of Plates, as the volume is also known, resonated with me because as someone who has made her living primarily from making things, I’ve been traumatized (that’s not hyperbole) by the casual way so many people complain about how much well-made things cost, only to drift into the now-well-worn lament about jobs going overseas. By the time 18th-century woodworking master A.J. Roubo entered my consciousness I’d spent a couple of decades silently talking back to those people (while sanding, cutting tenons, and routing seemingly endless dovetails for kitchen drawers) about what goes into making things of quality. The Book of Plates felt like a concrete expression of hope.

It’s not just a question of how many dollars’ worth of labor and materials go into making an object, or objects, plural; it’s a matter of basic respect. The way we think about things and their value says a lot about how we think about other people and their value, because it’s people who make things. Needless to say, this is a vast subject that could turn a comments section into a frontline battlefield, so forgive me for moving on instead of elaborating here. Even without elaboration, the point stands (if only at the level of a bumper sticker slogan).

A book is not just a means to information, but a made object in its own right. Hardly news, but worth restating. Just because we’ve been trained by our constant-consumption-dependent culture to think of books, along with most everything else, in instrumental terms, as mere vehicles for content (with the emphasis on content as the valuable component — the part that should supposedly be worth the most to us, the consumers), does not mean that’s all they are – or can or should be. You can find “information” on just about any subject at no charge on the web.

Which brings me to Chris Schwarz’s Roman Workbenches, or at least the first edition thereof. A slim, understated, letterpress-printed volume, it’s an exploration of the earliest workbenches we know of, to quote the description on its Lost Art Press page. I didn’t buy my copy; it was a gift, one I was thrilled to receive because I’d been intrigued by the quaintly formal frontispiece in advance promotions.

 

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Frontispiece with suitable Friday evening libation, a Martinez

My first reading left me with a vague sense that the book was about much more than its title might suggest. It was clearly not just about how Roman workbenches function, or how to build them, but about discovering the Roman workbench as a form of utility furniture. Schwarz is a journalist by training, so his dogged investigative compulsion and his refusal to take accepted truths without question should come as no surprise. His often-humorous account of the winding road his research took him on offers guidance to those inclined to research other disused furniture forms.

 

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I take great pleasure in discovering words such as oecus in contemporary woodworking literature. The word comes from the Greek oikos, which, millennia before it signified a brand of yogurt, was the word for house or home, and so, figuratively, a room. From it we derive English words such as economy and ecology. (Think about the implications, which are profound.)

But Schwarz’s research goes beyond the realm of words to practice. The sections on how he allowed the benches he built to teach him new ways of using his body to perform common operations more effectively are delightfully provocative (and no, these are not the reasons for the book’s PG-13 warning; I mean intellectually provocative).

 

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Another delightful word: erotes. Sounds bizarre until you learn it’s simply a transliteration from the Greek plural of the word eros, i.e., desire. This word was commonly used to connote the god of love, a.k.a. Cupid (the corresponding Latin word for desire, as in our word cupidity).

How often do we see ourselves as students of our furniture? How often do we permit a “thing” to instruct us in its optimal use, instead of just dismissing something we find inconvenient as poorly designed? Schwarz sets an example of the open-minded detective ready to consider what unfamiliar tables, chairs, or cabinets can teach us about how those who made and used them worked. Such informed curiosity is a stark contrast to the usual mode of regarding things simply in terms of their usefulness to us. This is an attitude of rare humility and respect in the context of how we think about “stuff.”

If you let Schwarz’s discoveries percolate a while, you may find, as I did, that Roman Workbenches doesn’t just relate to Roman workbenches, but suggests – at least, by implication – that all the things with which we’re surrounded (our workbenches, spoons, hot water bottles, chaises d’aisances, wrenches, mopeds, and most definitely our books, whether budget paperbacks or deluxe editions, jewels of the bookmaker’s art) are quietly shaping us while we think we’re using them. Which raises another question: What kinds of things are we allowing ourselves to be shaped by, and what kinds of people are they turning us into?–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

Bonus recipe: Thanks to my friend Mary Beth for introducing me to the Martinez

Let’s get medieval

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Workshop of the Master of James IV of Scotland (Flemish, before 1465 – about 1541).           Wikimedia Commons

Research for English Arts and Crafts Furniture: Projects and Techniques for the Modern Maker* has entailed some spirited conversations with scholars of medieval literature and art. My readings on medieval European life without the benefit of Ruskin’s rose-tinted specs have touched on such seemingly unrelated subjects as church-based charity and prostitution in Paris.

So when I saw that St.John Starkie had posted a video on The Quiet Workshop about building a medieval pole lathe, I was intrigued. At a whopping 22 minutes and 41 seconds, it’s longer than your typical video in this day of Instagram hyperlapse, and (please don’t tell me you expected “but”) well worth watching. I found it visually mesmerizing as well as informative.

Minor mea culpa: However instructive the video component may be, my special guilty pleasure is the audio, which I find downright intoxicating. There’s something about the sounds of hand-tool woodworking when recorded through a mic that transports me into an alternate realm. It’s akin to lying in bed during a storm in someone else’s house: You can pull the covers up around you and sleep even more soundly than usual, comforted by your warm, safe situation. I’ve always found the equivalent storm experience far from soothing in my own house, where I worry that the roof might leak or be damaged by the wind. No wonder people who’ve never picked up a tool themselves wax romantic on the subject of making furniture for a living.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

*working title; the book is scheduled for publication by Popular Woodworking in May 2018

E-prophylaxis

Nancy riding baled wire March 2 2016 by Bradley Cox

You’re as likely to get joy from emails like these as you are to get from Indiana to New York on a bale of old fence wire. Photo by Bradley Cox, Giant Eye Photography.

Subject line: Undangan penawaran pelatihan

Message contains attachment.

Seriously?

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Dear Talented,

I am Talent Scout For BLUE SKY FILM STUDIO, Present Blue sky Studio a Film Corporation Located in the United State, is Soliciting for the Right to use Your Photo/Face and Personality as One of the Semi -Major Role/ Character in our Upcoming ANIMATED Stereoscope 3D Movie-The Story of Anubis (Anubis 2018) The Movie is Currently Filming (In Production) Please Note That There Will Be No Auditions, Traveling or Any Special / Professional Acting Skills, Since the Production of This Movie Will Be Done with our State of Art Computer -Generating Imagery Equipment. We Are Prepared to Pay the Total Sum of $620,000.00 USD. For More Information/Understanding, Please Write us on the E-Mail Below.
CONTAT EMAIL: bluesskistud@163.com
All Reply to: bluesskistud@163.com
Note: Only the Response send to this mail will be Given a Prior Consideration.

Talent Scout
Kim Sharma

$620,000!

***

Hi,

I hope you’re having a nice day.

We are interested in sending over a quality and relevant article to your site nrhillerdesign.com as a contribution. We have a team of writers ready to prepare a post that adds value to your site and its readers.

Is this something you might consider? If yes, I can email over the article asap. Rest assured that it will be subject to your review. Please note that we’ll also add references to our client.

Aside from the article, we will also pay an administrative fee worth $100 through PayPal.

Please email me back if this is something that might interest you.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Julia xxxxxx
Outreach Executive

Translation: We will pay you to publicize our service/product using your good name. We know better than to state this outright, which would be a violation of journalistic ethics; hence our reference to an “administration fee.” Nor do we actually want to advertise, because that would be too obvious (and probably ineffective).

If your credibility is only worth the $200 to $300 you’re likely to receive before subscribers stop following you because they realize you’ve sold out, go for it.–Nancy Hiller, Author of Making Things Work

Don’t be a Fallacy

Lost Art Press

IMG_1930[1]Editor’s note: We still have a few spots open for an evening with Nancy Hiller at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 in our Covington, Ky., storefront. Nancy will read from her book, there will be beverages for everyone and then we’ll play some games. Read more here. Or skip that and get your tickets here.

Twenty years ago, I had to replace my refrigerator. Being a person who breaks into a cold sweat at the thought of facing the wires, tubes and electrical panels that make up the contemporary fridge, I bought a new one, the lowest-end, no-frills model from Sears, which came with a warranty, instead of gambling on a used appliance. Delivery added so little to the price that I signed up for it.

Two young men arrived with the refrigerator, which they carried up the steps to the side door just off the kitchen. I know a fridge can be a…

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