We love the spoken and written word, and yet the objects crafted by the human hand tell stories too, often with even greater sincerity and meaning. One does need to understand the language, and that requires some attention.I am reminded of an old Freudian child psychiatrist I worked with many years ago. He had his child clients do what he called the "house, tree and person test" which involved three drawings since children were rarely able to verbalize their relationships, particularly for an old Jewish man with a German accent. The house told about their personal state. A disproportionately large attic space described an over-sized imagination and the size of windows and doors revealed their relative openness or guardedness toward the outside. The tree described their growth and history. I particularly recall him pointing out knot holes drawn in trees. The knot hole symbolized trauma in childhood, even as the loss of a major limb was a trauma in the life of the tree. Certainly, as a woodworker, I am not in the business of story telling on my own. It is a collaboration in which I find a great deal of pleasure. Today, I was passing my hands along the well sanded walnut bench and feeling pleasure in its touch. I do not believe there will be many people who when confronted by the finished bench will not feel the same.
Each piece of wood tells the story of the tree from which it came. Where there’s a knot, there had been a branch. Where the grain is wide and straight, the tree had grown quickly, straight and tall. Where the grain is crooked or dense, the tree had grown in defiance of harsh circumstances.
I have come to view my own work as framing and illuminating the story told by wood. A craftsman might choose to wrestle it to submission, making it do things to satisfy his or her sense of mastery and accomplishment. I am curious about more gentle relationships, in which the full range of textures, colors and narrative qualities of the woods might emerge and find greater voice.
Much of what I do is inspired by my concerns for the environment and I adhere to these thoughts:
Woodworkers have a unique opportunity to reveal the beauty and value of our native woods in a way that encourages understanding and preservation of our trees and forests,
and when an object is carefully and lovingly crafted, it is empowered to express the concerns and character of its maker in a voice that can resonate for generations.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
house, tree and person drawings.
I have been thinking about the narrative quality inherent in wood as I work on my artist statement for an exhibit: