Monday, August 31, 2009

72632 narrative on narrative part 4

This is continued from yesterday's post.

Holding their holy book in one hand as evidence of moral superiority and the power of the bloody sword in the other, the Conquistadors took Peru, melted down the fine crafted gold objects for shipment to Spain and destroyed as much native culture as possible. You would have to be a craftsman of some sort to understand the full implications of this. While I work in wood rather than in precious metals, it is always my hope that the care my work receives over time in some way matches my investment of time, attention and care in it's making. To see work melted down to it's raw material as though the man or woman who made it is of no value is a tremendous insult.

One of the remarkable attainments of the Incan culture that the Spanish suppressed and that archeologists are still trying to unravel were called quipus. The Incans recorded and shared information in the form of knotted threads, and students from royalty studied years to be able to read and understand. The Spaniards suppressed the quipus, destroyed many, and archeologists are still trying to understand the range of information they contained. Some say that they were only for recording numerical information and others believe that they contain historical data that we have not yet been able to interpret. I have not found any information as yet on how they were read, but because there was some color coding used on some strings, it is obvious that the hands (with individual strands "read" as they were pulled between finger tips) and the eyes were both involved in being able to read.

Interestingly, the Chinese also used a system of knotted string for record keeping before the introduction of their written language. While the conquistadors did not see equivalence between quipus and their own written text, quipus themselves present an interesting and meaningful irony. The words, "text, texture and textile" have a common Latin root textus, past participle of "texere" to weave, suggesting that even in our western culture, there is more to read than what we find in books or on computer screens. Being literate and having numeric capabilities involves much more than what we can record with pen and paper. In fact the whole of human history is much better described through what we make than through what we have written. Our own history here in Eureka is recorded in hand laid stone wall, winding street and hand shaped Victorian bric-a-brac more clearly, honestly and compellingly than in what has been written in text about our city. But of course there is a problem. You have to be interested and literate in more that just numbers and text to begin to read from the pages of real life.

As a craftsman, I have exhibited my work in many craft shows, and you can tell when a woodworker enters my booth. The normal person will be content looking at and examining outward effects. He or she may examine the work with both hand and eye but not be sensitive to the full story each piece may tell. But the woodworker having greater textural literacy looks underneath tables and benches, at the back of cabinets. He or she opens drawers and if possible pulls them out all the way to examine the more subtle details. Having practical experience, the woodworker, whether amateur or pro is looking for the full story, evidence of how it was made, what tools were used, and the level of attention and integrity the craftsman offered in its creation. Very sadly, the conquistadors were looking for gold and squandered the opportunity to receive greater treasure.

There is an interesting parallel between the conquistadors of Peru and our modern educational system in which reading and textual literacy are so highly regarded that all other forms of textural cultural expression are comparatively marginalized despite their value in the creation of meaningful culture. Are we willingly doing to ourselves what the conquistadors did to the Incas? If so, how do we turn the tide, creating culture in which the full range of human creativity is respected and admired?

Put kids to work in schools, making useful and beautiful things in addition to merely learning to read, write and pass multiple choice tests.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

72632 part 3 beginning a narrative on narrative (draft)

In 1970, Eureka Springs was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Historic District Commission was established to preserve it in 1976. The movement for Eureka Springs to receive this status and to set up the governing body to preserve it was led by Eureka Springs artist, Louis Freund. Louis and his wife Elsie had traveled widely, had observed the loss taking place in most communities of their unique architectural significance and interest, had recognized the unique beauty of Eureka Springs and had become advocates of historic preservation. When they had first moved to Eureka Springs, homes could be bought cheap and many had been torn down for the value of the lumber and cut stone. They had purchased Carrie Nation’s home, Hatchet Hall for $200.00.

Having a historic district is kind of a pain in the ass. If you want to repaint your house, you have to give assurances it will be the same color. If you want to change colors, you have to get approval from the Historic District Commission. And as projects become more complicated dealing with the HDC can get worse. If you are new to town, jumping through hoops and facing the well-meaning but sometimes petty tyrants of the HDC would make you wonder why you decided to move here in the first place. But I’m not complaining. Eureka Springs is the well preserved tourist and arts destination that it is due to the tireless efforts of what some call the “pretty police.”

This may seem like a very odd leap in my own narrative, but when Francisco Pizarro led his band of conquistadors into central Peru in 1532, his small armed band of 160 horsemen and foot soldiers slaughtered thousands of Incan warriors whom they regarded as barbaric, and appropriate for domination in their quest for gold. The Spaniards considered themselves morally superior due to their belief in Christianity, and their horses, their armament and methods of warfare well tuned from their battles to expel the Moors gave them a distinct advantage. In their first battle the Spaniards consisting of 106 infantry, and 62 cavalry, armed with 4 cannons and 12 harquebus killed 6-7,000 Incan warriors without the loss of a single conquistador. Prior to the battle, Incan emperor Atahualpa asked to see a Bible when Friar Valverde said it "spoke to him". Unfamiliar with how to open a book, the emperor became enraged when the friar tried to help him, and struck his arm. Then he opened it, but was unimpressed with the pages and words and threw the book to the ground. Outraged at desecration of their holy book, the conquistadors launched into one of the bloodiest one-sided battles in world history, as the mounted soldiers with swords and supported by cannon and harquebus mowed down Incan warriors like blades of grass. Short–term peace was achieved after Atahualpa’s surrender when he promised to deliver a room full (3074) cubic feet of pure gold, and 2 equal sized rooms of silver. Atahualpa’s hopes were that when the Spaniards had been satiated with gold, they would go away. Little did he know what was coming for his people. Even after watching them in battle, he knew little of their moral depravity.

The hippie/artist/craftsman takeover of Eureka Springs was far less bloody than the conquest of Peru. Even though some locals, like Atahualpa thought that the hippies were just here for the short term, passing through. There were some fundamental differences between the conquistadors of the two distinct eras. In Peru, the Conquistadors saw value in two things, Gold and the Bible. They would walk past massive stonewalls while completely out of touch with the advanced sensitivity of hand and intelligence that created them.

In Eureka Springs the arriving hippies were looking for something beyond gold and in stark contrast to the Spanish conquistadors we fell in love with the stone walls, winding streets, and the hand crafted ornamentation on the Victorian cottages. The hippies arriving with money bought houses on the cheap and hired both locals and other hippies to restore them and bring them back to Victorian colors. Others settled in to rental property and took to the streets. Some started businesses in the downtown. And some began careers as writers, craftsmen, artists, and restauranteurs.

It may seem very goofy to my readers to bring the Incan empire up in my discussion of the role of my fair city in the development of the arts. While the founders of the Great Passion Play came carrying the same book that inspired the conquerors of Peru, and while they built their own city on the hill, East Mountain, complete with a “New Jerusalem” and a huge concrete statue of Christ, they had arrived at the edge of a city already established as a destination for the arts. My purpose in bringing the Incan empire into this brief discussion is related to a concept that some artists and craftsmen call “narrative.” Essentially, everything tells its own story to those who have the literacy and understanding to read it. Just as Atahualpa threw down the Bible, opening it and finding that it did not “speak.” Blinded by gold, and ambition and holding the Bible as rationale, Pizarro’s conquistadors walked or rode though thousands of miles of Incan culture and chose not to read its meaning or acknowledge its value. And while the Passion Play founders came bearing the book, the creation of their new Jerusalem came through the hands of local craftsmen.

And of course, the most important thing was that unlike Spanish conquistadors, the newly arriving hippies were attuned to (and developing a literacy in) the narrative told by winding streets, carefully laid stone, and Victorian bric-a-brac.

More to come….

Saturday, August 29, 2009

incremental growth

As I explain to my students, learning a craft involves very small increments. It is not like school where they try to instill large concepts without the underlying foundation of experience. Even subtleties of hand position and grip are important. The photo above will better illustrate yesterday's incremental, a no big deal discovery... that I can make inlay with two different colored bandings in a single operation. It won't change the world, but in my own life, it simplifies by a small step. To the left is walnut and to the right linden. The ink pen line at the center is used to mark the pattern as it is formed and then used to guide realignment of the pattern as it is glued and clamped.

In terms of large concepts to be taught in schools, this is really no big deal. But the ability to actually accomplish something, is dependent of having an internal catalog of available techniques, none of which by itself is a big deal. But those techniques, cumulative through experience, are the foundation of creativity.

72632 Part 2 It takes a village first draft

Being “laid our pretty” and being a place where “not much is happening” have distinct advantages to some. When artists were looking for a place to feel inspired, and when hippies were looking for interesting, cheap and beautiful places to build meaningful lives, Eureka Springs filled the bill. For some it was just a layover on the way to other things. As noted by long time banker John Cross in response to the rather large influx of hippies, “They come and they go.” But some of us stuck. One of the Eureka Pottery Coop members was leaving when I arrived, and I was able to take over his $40.00 a month basement apartment nearby. It was no luxury suite, consisting of one room and rather primitive bath, but with a kitchen consisting of sink, hot plate and crockpot, it was not only cheap, it was efficient. I could nearly shit, shower, shave and stir the beans all at the same time, leaving plenty of time for work, conversation, exploration and creativity. Throughout Eureka Springs, newly arrived hippies were living in similar arrangements as they got their feet on the ground or as they searched for cheap land to buy and make homesteads.

But we weren’t the first to arrive. The influx of character and culture had started much earlier. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Eureka was on the Chautauqua circuit. In 1929, our City Auditorium was dedicated with a performance by John Phillip Sousa. Carrie Nation, well known prohibitionist retired to “Hatchet Hall” named for the small hand axe that she had used as a symbol in her battles with demon rum. Painters, dancers, and writers. found quiet retirement in Eureka. Artists Louis and Elsie Freund adopted Eureka Springs as a summer home, purchased Hatchet Hall, it having become derelict in the years after Carrie Nation’s death and used it as headquarters for their Art School of the Ozarks in the late 1940’s.

While Eureka Springs was not on the easy path to or from very many places, (the narrow steep and winding roads from every direction made sure of that) the rise of auto tourism in the 1950’s and the need for surprising destinations became the foundation for a tourist economy. In the 1950’s the Army Corp of Engineers built lakes to the west and east, providing recreational opportunities for tourists and residents alike. The Great Passion Play brought tourists by the busloads from all over the region, and provided the opportunity for locals to make extra bucks acting in the nightly performances. Even kids and unskilled actors could take their places in crowd scenes. The rising tourist economy, brought motels, gift shops, the opportunity to sell local arts and crafts, small restaurants like Mama Slick’s to gather and tell stories, network for the growing or sale of drugs (marijuana preferred).

Some of us arrived with ideas that greater things could come for individuals through organization, and before I arrived in Eureka, the short-lived Brotherhood Coop was formed in an old warehouse downtown. It provided shared studio space for experimentation in the arts, but also served as a clearing house for day labor, hippies being hired to construct or destruct, do gardening and make a few bucks. Next came the Cultural Affairs Committee that held art shows and attempted to bring a greater focus on the arts. After I had been in town for a time, others had noted the lack of an art guild, so I called a meeting, paid personal visits to a few artists scattered around town and asked them to spread the word that we would meet that afternoon at Lake Leatherwood, outside Eureka. About 30 artists and craftsmen showed up, and I was elected the first president due to my being the only one who came with a pencil and paper to pass around and take names and phone numbers. The short-lived Cultural Affairs Committee and the much longer lasting Eureka Springs Guild of Artists and Craftspeople each established connections between artists, young and old, creating a network of encouragement and mutual support. It seemed the older generation of artists had been waiting for the opportunity to pass on what they had learned.

I promised to make a long story short. The whole story is far more interesting than I can tell, deserving to be told in many voices, as it involves the contributions of many in creating what has become a national arts destination, ranked as one of the premier arts communities in America.

My own story, however has to do with a things I have learned from being here in this place. No craftsman is an island unto himself. It takes a village to raise one. If we are able at some point in our lives to create something of meaning and value, it is because we have been lifted to the task through the encouragement, participation and example of others, and for me, personally, I have learned the value of being in a place with others who share a sense of the value of hands-on creativity. There is no culture equivalent to that we create and experience through the constructive engagement of our own hands.

Friday, August 28, 2009

the idea of self-identifying tools.

Mark Mazzo's blog, The Craftsman's Path picked up a concept of mine here earlier to begin a discussion on tools that Self-identify." I should probably take a moment to clarify what I mean by “self-identify.” And should state that there are times when in woodworking the markings of tools add interest. For instance, I like looking over a hand planed surface and finding the “ligature” markings of the hand plane at work. I will look at a surface of a piece of wood that self-identifies as having passed through a planer (you know those little marks that you try to sand or scrape away?), and find that far less desirable, regarding it as unfinished. In making a piece of rustic furniture, I will find the markings of a large circular saw on rough lumber to have formed a desirable texture. But in observing an “antiqued” surface in which I can clearly recognize the particular screws, nails and implements of distressing used, I would find it less interesting than a texture that has earned its own abuse.

I guess some of it boils down to the question, “who’s in charge here.” I would rather see the surface textures (if they aren’t intended to be near perfect) controlled by some form of random act rather than overt deliberation.

I find it dishonest when someone routs dovetails and then uses a marking gauge to mark them, implying that they were hand cut. I have no problem with the use of a router to cut dovetails, but I would desire that the craftsman at least be honest about it.

The main point is that simple is best. Every tools leaves its mark, and simple tools leave the most interesting marks. As a box maker, I get asked a lot about the “lock miter bit”. And it is one of those tools that states, “production and expedience”. Someone not knowing how it works might feel intrigued until they realized that it was a technique intended to be fast and easy. Do I want my work to say “fast and easy” or are there more interesting stories to tell?

Anyway, the lock miter bit, regardless of how you feel about it, for me is an example of what I mean by “self-identifies”. And I need to be clear that self-identifying is not always a bad thing… The question then, is the tool used telling the viewer the right thing about the maker, his or her intentions, and work?


If you were here years ago and stopped by Berryville on your way to Eureka Springs, hoping to find directions to the wagon trail, they'd have said while pointing "Yonder's Uricka." Same thing if you were coming up from Huntsville. These days we generally call our home town Eureka, which is Greek for "I have found it" and is the proper exclamation for the place, regardless of your choice of pronunciation.

Today as I was making inlay and wishing I had glued up just a few more starting blocks to give me a full range of my normal patterns, I made a very simple discovery... that I can rip stock for reassembly, then use two different colors of edge banding with a break between the colors at the center of the stock, thereby allowing me to create inlay to use in two different colors of wood in a single gluing operation. Now, you may ask, "How can a man make similar inlay over the course of 30 years and still have something new to discover about it?" It is like turning a corner in Eureka Springs and noticing something for the first time. The photo below shows today's Eureka moment, how to glue up inlay strips, with two different color bandings. Walnut and linden.

72632 part one, a quick draft

Making a very long story short. During the 1930's, 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s Eureka Springs was a quiet town in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains. It was founded in 1879 based on the discovery of healing springs that were presumed to offer cures to a number of specific diseases. It grew rapidly to a population of 10,000 as boarding houses, camps and encampments, small homes and Victorian cottages were built on the narrow, winding streets carved from the steep terrain. Tunnels and bridges were built, and tracks laid connecting the city by train with diverse origins, and people came from all over the central US to be healed. By 1881, it was the 4th largest city in Arkansas. The rapid influx of people with poor treatment of wastes made the spring water unfit for consumption and anyway, over time, people throughout the US lost faith in the power of mineral water to heal. So it is an interesting story. A legacy of arts and culture arose within it. The railroad brought visiting celebrities on the Chautauqua circuit. In Chautauqua, people of arts and letters would present lectures to audiences on cultural subjects. In 1910, the Eureka Springs Carnegie Library was built, its location chiseled from limestone bluffs. But through a variety of commercial setbacks, fires and the Great Depression, Eureka Springs became a sleepy backwater town, left with a legacy of the arts and culture, laid out in winding streets, reinforced by miles of stone walls, homes with Victorian ornamentation, and enough twists and turns to keep visitors enchanted and even long term residents on the constant edge of discovery. "I've never noticed that before!" As described by Arkansas author, John Gould Fletcher in the 1940’s in a letter to Eureka Springs artists Louis and Elsie Freund, “not much happening in Eureka Springs, but it sure is laid out pretty.” And that “pretty” laid the foundation for much more to come.

By the time I arrived in the fall of 1975, Eureka Springs had been re-energized by the building of the Great Passion Play, by Gerald L.K. Smith, former head of the American Nazi Party and publisher of The Cross and the Flag, an anti-Semitic publication. It continues to be an outdoor pageant based on the life and crucifixion of Christ and may have been initially inspired in part by Smith’s vilification of Jews. Downtown Eureka Springs had all the normal things one would find in any small town, a grocery store, the post office, a place to pay your gas, water and electric bills, small taverns (the Hi Hat being my favorite) and a small hardware and auto parts store. A few t-shirt and souvenir stores were open and some small storefronts were occupied by local artists. In Mama Slick’s Coffee Store you could find hippies by the score, refuges from urban, academic and corporate landscapes, each reciting very personal stories in the great Chautauqua tradition, describing their lives and diverse origins and personal histories and great ambitions, as each was a budding farmer, writer, artist or musician. Just prior to my own discovery of the place, Eureka Springs had been discovered by hundreds of others from my Woodstock generation. Hippies brought tie-die colors to a town of white painted Victorian homes and cottages.

I had first heard of Eureka Springs when a potter from the city stopped by the pottery studio at Memphis State University where I was taking undergraduate level classes in pottery and serving as an unofficial studio assistant. Assured that there were job opportunities for professional potters in Eureka Springs, I visited and then moved here in September of 1975, joining the Eureka Pottery Coop. Like many of the hippies at Mama Slick’s my personal quest was not so much that of being a craftsman (or writer, or artist or musician) but of discovering or making a more meaningful life, and the life of a craftsman, dependent on the creative use of my own hands and ingenuity were the means through which that might be accomplished.

More to come later.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

history of rogues

"If you examine into the history of rogues, you will find that they are as truly manufactured articles as anything else, and it is just because our present system of political economy gives so large a stimulus to that manufacture that you may know it to be a false one. We had better seek for a system which will develop honest men than for one which will deal cunningly with vagabonds. Let us reform our schools, and we shall find little reform needed in our prisons."
Unto This Last, John Ruskin 1883

Charles H. Ham, Mind and Hand, 1886:
"There is a system of training which produces a much higher average of culture than that of the public schools and universities. we allude to the training received by the students of special mechanical and technical institutions, and by the apprentices in trade-shops. The proof of this is found in the worlds' railways, ships, harbors, docks canals, bridges, telegraph and telephone lines, and in a thousand and one other manifestations of skill in art."
"The difference in effects upon the mental and moral nature, between purely mental training and mental and manual training combined, is susceptible of logical explanation. It is only in things that the truth stands clearly revealed, and only in things that the false is sure of exposure. Hence exclusively mental training stops far short of the objective point of true education. For if it be true that the last analysis of education is art, progress can find expression only in things--in the work of men's hands. And it is true; for ideas are mere vain speculations until they are embodied in things.... They may be expressed feebly, through the voice, in words; more durably, and therefore more forcibly, with the pen, on paper; more forcibly still in drawing--pictures of things; and with the superlative degree of force, in real things."

the hand that acts honestly

From Charles H. Ham, Mind and Hand, 1886:
There is no place in which to seek evidence as to how mind would act upon the mind if treated honestly, as matter is treated by the hand. But if the quality of selfishness is eliminated, there will be no difficulty in bringing all minds to an agreement, as the parts of a watch are brought into harmonious and useful action. And it is through the hand that this beneficent union is destined to be effected; for the hand is the source of wisdom, which is simply the power of discriminating between the true and the false.
Today the real planning for the coming year's classes began in earnest. 1st 2nd and third grades will begin making "road signs" to control traffic control on campus. Fourth, 5th and 6th begin study of rocks and minerals with the making of collector trays. Seventh, 8th and 9th will begin working on campus improvement projects and the high school students will begin a very serious introduction to the tools available in wood shop. After a nice summer break, things are getting revved up for a new year.

lighting fires

There is an interview with Rafe Esquith, author of Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire in Teacher Magazine. From the intereview:
I think the absolute key is that learning, the education of a child, is a long process, and we are now in the middle of a fast food society. We want instant everything. We even have books now like Algebra Made Easy and Shakespeare Made Easy. But I want teachers and parents to remember that it’s not easy! To be good at anything—anything!—takes thousands and thousands of hours of patient study, and I want people to know that when kids make mistakes or have setbacks, we don’t need to jump all over them for every little thing.
It is a wonderful interview with a great teacher.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

purely platonic

From Plato's Divine Dialogs:
" ...that the simplest and purest way of examining things, is to pursue every particular by thought alone, without offering to support our meditation by seeing or backing our reasonings by any other corporal sense."
And the opposite view, from T. H. Huxley, Physiography 1878:
" ...the attempt to convey scientific conceptions without the appeal to observation, which can alone give such conceptions firmness and reality, appears to me to be in direct antagonism to the fundamental principles of scientific education."

testing new tools... where do we go from here?

Just before I left for New Orleans, I got a package from FedEx full of a new line of new joinery devices, so today, for me, it's back to work in the shop, and I've been testing and scratching my head. Yes the things work. Yes, they are ingenious. Yes, they are well made. But in recommending something to readers, I have to ask, would I spend my own money on it? Does it do something better that can scarcely be done without it?

And sometimes the answer is no. You can beg me to tell what it is, and I'll not tell. But I will give some rough guidelines, rules of thumb that I follow in the acquisition of tools. Is it something I would use a lot? Is it something that improves the quality as well as the efficiency of my work? Does it self-identify to the viewer?... That is, will another woodworker look at what I've done and say, "He did that with a so and so?" Guess what? If the answer to the first 2 questions is yes and the answer to the last one, no, then I might buy the thing.

So what is the problem with tools that "self-identify?" When woodworkers all over the US are shopping for tools from the same catalogs, and reading the same magazines, and not looking beyond those as their primary sources of inspiration, their work will look alike. If a tool self-identifies, and you inspire towards expression of creativity instead of boredom, look for another way, one that challenges your inventiveness or skill. Besides, I don't really like the idea that some people have that quality work is something you buy for yourself. Got money, do good work? I prefer the notion that quality come from within... Good work is a discipline that requires attention to detail and honesty of intent manifest through acquired skill.

When in doubt, don't be afraid to put the new-fangled tools aside... go back to basics, refine your skills. You earn new skills by spending time in the woodshop, and each moment is an expression of craftsmanship. Best of all, in the long run, new skills are better than new tools, hands down.

Monday, August 24, 2009

make it right

Some people have money. Some people have values. Some have an understanding that what you are really worth has to do with what you can do for others. Today we drove by the Make it Right project in the 9th ward of New Orleans and I took the photos below that show progress. Thousands of homes in the lower 9th are gone. But Make it Right is trying to make it right by building new energy efficient homes where they are needed most. The project is sponsored and inspired by Brad Pitt who seems to have both money and values. I could say a lot about the failure of the Bush administration that almost seems unnecessary. Why go to an effort to state the obvious. I am hoping we learned a lot as a nation in the last 8 years. As we approach the 4th anniversary of the devastation from Katrina, there is still a lot of work to be done. I should point out that New Orleans is a unique American city and a precious cultural resource. You can go to New Orleans and have a great time and if you hang out in the right places, never really know what happened 4 years ago. has some interesting statistics from the 3rd anniversary, and things have not changed enough in the last year.
When you see a brick laid in mortar, or a piece of fretsawn ornamentation, or see a turned spindle on a Victorian era home, you are witness to the skill of the human hand. Some of what has been lost in New Orleans would have resembled what you see in the photo at left.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

today in NOLA

As I mentioned, my wife and daughter and I are on our first trip to New Orleans since Katrina. In fact, the 4th anniversary of the devastation is this coming week. We took a brief tour today of the 9th ward where many lives were lost. Markings are still on many buildings telling that they were checked and whether or not bodies were found inside. And many homes and business buildings will never come back. New Orleans is currently one of the fastest growing areas in the US as residents continue to return to the city they love. But it isn't easy for many of those returning. A common sight in the 9th ward and other areas is the trailer in the drive where the residents live while restoring the interior of their homes, investing real sweat equity in the restoration of their lives. A summer in New Orleans will teach you things about sweat that you many have never known, and we have been lucky to have cooler weather than normal for our visit.

The main tourist areas were largely untouched by Katrina and I visited the gallery that used to sell my work (Idea Factory)and I found that they are ready after all this time to place another order. In past visits to New Orleans, we have spent most of our time in the French Quarter, but this time have begun to know the city more as a whole, spending time in the Garden district and eating in restaurants on Magazine St. We've also fallen in love with some of the old neighborhoods of small but beautifully crafted homes, as shown in the photo below.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

small planes for making planes

Richard Bazeley sent a photo of small planes he is making for his class to make balsa wood planes. These are based on a single edge razor blade, and I am looking forward to making a few myself. Richard sent a link for instructions.

I am in New Orleans this weekend, my first visit to this beautiful city since Katrina, so we are looking forward to doing some tourist things, visiting with relatives in the city and I will also visit the gallery that used to sell my work prior to the devastation.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Schools drop laptops

It seems that many others are noticing the ineffectiveness of computerized devices in education and this is from the New York Times, Seeing No Progress, Schools Drop Laptops. And this, Educating for Life, is the blog where I found the link. Thanks Lena.

a question on toys

A parent asked the following question:
I've been exploring the value of building/play in education (we homeschool, so I have a lot of latitude here!). I was wondering what your thoughts were on time spent with toys such as lego or architecture blocks or puppets -- is it as valuable time spent on a "craft" such as crochet or sketching or traditional woodworking? Is it completely different?
Legos fit together in very certain and prescribed ways. So you can do lots of creative things with them and they are fun... but they don't offer the ultimate in creativity.

The following example might illustrate my point. A young man was nearly blind and working with Froebel's sticks and peas, his 19th "gift" for teaching kindergarten. These are like tinker toys but you make your own from peas and toothpicks. All the other children in the room were building rectilinear projects, like what they could see. The nearly blind child, Buckminster Fuller, built forms using triangular arrangements of sticks and peas and rather than working from what he saw, he worked on the basis of the strength of what he could feel. You may know who Buckminster Fuller became in later life, and of his contributions to architecture.

So the answer is that if you want your children to do what everyone else has done, by all means give them the same tools and toys to work with. Or you and they can get more creative.

hands on generation

A reader made the following observation:
I'll give you credit for an original theory, but with the hand held devices the latest Western generations have had, these are the most hands stimulated kids in history. You think woodworking class a few times a week can compete with texting, playing PSP, typing 100 words a minute, and playing with various other gadgets I can't even imagine? Hand eye coordination is the best it has ever been thanks to first person shoot em ups, those kids are now being recruited by the military to fly armed drone aircraft.
There is a difference between the gaming and manipulation of hand held devices and the manipulation of real material with real tools, and the level of satisfaction that a child receives from real accomplishments can be an order of magnitude higher than that derived in twitter. Unfortunately, this can't be merely explained to be understood.

Yes, the proliferation of hand held devices does tell us that this generation just like so many before it is compelled to engage the world primarily through its hands. But look at the posture of a kid texting with thumbs, verses the posture of a child actually creating something. We are being narrowed in our range, not only of action but of perception as well.

Maslow said that if the only tool you have is a hammer, all the world's problems look like nails. If we want our children to be problem solvers, we need to give them a range of tools. Not just powerful computers, but the fine instruments, large and small that provide the cultural foundation of our humanity.

I can hardly expect many to understand this. We are no longer a culture of makers. We're consumers of mass quantities instead.

Sure, it is glamorous to sit in a room in Phoenix and blast terrorists through the sites of a drone in Iraq, using the raw power invested in your quick quivering thumbs. But try making something that is real. It is far more interesting and can last for generations. And sadly, if we don't teach our children to be makers, guess what they will become instead?

The following is from Charles H. Ham, 1886:
It is the most astounding fact of history that education has been confined to abstractions. The schools have taught history, mathematics, language and literature, and the sciences, to the utter exclusion of the arts, notwithstanding the obvious fact that it is through the arts alone that the other branches of learning touch human life.
I will remind my readers that the creative use of the hands is also the means to raise interest in learning. You can see from the way children relate to hands-on electronic devices, the power of the hands to engage their interest and attention. But don't they deserve something better to do with their hands than tweet?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dr. Belfield, Chicago Manual Training School, 1884

From Dr. Henry H. Belfield's 1884 address to the Chicago Manual Training School Association:
The fact should never be lost sight of for an instant that the product of the school should be, not the polished article of furniture, not the perfect piece of machinery, but the polished, perfect boy. The acquisition of industrial skill should be the means of promoting the general education of the pupil; the education of the hand should be the means of more completely and more efficaciously educating the brain.
This following resolution was passed at the National Education Association (NEA) meeting at Saratoga Springs, NY, 1885... "
Resolved, that we trust the time is near at hand when the true principles of the kindergarten will guide all elementary training, and when public sentiment and legislative enactment will incorporate the kindergarten into our public-school system."
Unfortunately they tabled the following at the same meeting in their failure to grasp the linkage between kindergarten and manual training:
"Resolved, That we recognize the education value of training the hand to skill in the use of tools, and recommend that provision be made, as far as practicable, for such training in public schools."

Susan E. Blow mother of Kindergarten

Susan E. Blow was the founder of the first successful public school Kindergarten in St. Louis, Missouri and founded a training school for other teachers in 1874. She ended here career at Columbia Teachers College, NYC.

As stated by Miss Blow,
"Only what he himself has perceived of the visible and tangible properties of things can serve as the basis of thought, and upon the vividness and completeness of the impressions made upon him by external objects will depend the clearness of his inferences and the correctness of his judgments."
In other words, children should be learning from real experiences. Putting wood shops in schools, real objects, real tools is one easy way to bring real experience to students completely lost in abstraction.

But now, with computers, we can throw 3 hundred years of pedagogy, based on close scientific observation of children safely aside, right?

These days, schools are attempting to make greater use of high speed internet, faster computers, and virtual reality games to create a sense of involvement. That should allow for tremendous cost savings as teaching is outsourced to developing nations. Won't that be fun? Imagine turning your little darling over to tech support.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

from Mind and Hand 1886

Charles H. Ham, Mind and Hand, Harper and Bros. 1886:
Poverty is the chief scourge of society; and it is a familiar economic fact that where the useful arts are most flourishing poverty is least pressing, so that to abolish poverty it would seem to be only necessary to multiply and extend the arts. And if poverty is to be abolished; if there is ever to be an ideal civilization, the controlling motive of humanity must be changed from selfishness to altruism; and this change can come only through love of work. So long as work shall be regarded as a "curse" the paramount purpose of the individual will be to avoid it, and to compel others to submit to it. Hence the antagonisms that arise at every point of human contact. The sum of these antagonisms is what we call the struggle of life, which is merely the struggle of each to survive at the expense of his fellows, and is therefore barbaric.
When a man or woman is involved in a creative project, the intercourse of hand, eye and mind can become so powerfully engaging that she or he steps from the shadow of economic concerns into the light of pure creative power. Charles Ham described a course for the creation of a vastly improved human culture. Imagine what New York City would be like if it were full of craftsmen. Those of us who are craftsmen have the responsibility to explain a few things to those who are hopelessly out of touch. If you like what you read here, don't be afraid to share it with others, or put what you find here to work in your own life and what you share with others will be from the foundation of your own experience.

Fine Woodworking gallery

You can find my Torii tables online at Fine Woodworking or find my FWW Profile and links to some other work here. Currently, I have two profiles on the site, a problem that will be fixed later. The other profile has additional work, and links to my books and articles in Fine Woodworking.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

tables nearly complete

Today I had CPR training in the morning and staff meeting in the afternoon, but did manage to get more Danish oil on the tables I'm making. One more coat to go. As you can see, I've made the tables in two kinds of wood, walnut and cherry, and in two versions, end tables and hall tables. All are made with exposed mortise and tenon joints wedged with contrasting woods.

These tables are based on a design I made in around 1980-1984 and wanted to revisit. At the time, I was experimenting with mortise and tenon joints and had a particular interest in expanding my design foundation beyond American and European furniture, so Japanese architecture and my interest in all things foreign were brought into the design matrix.

At the time, I was concerned that so much of the potential for technical comprehension of the objects in our lives is hidden from view and that it is nice to see how things fit, how things work, how things go together, and those things can be elements in our observation of beauty. Now, manufacturers have gotten even worse. They hide the motors in cars so you can't see them, even when you open the hood. Mercedes is now making cars with no dipsticks so you can feel completely detached from physical, bodily responsibility.

But, I think having a body is a cool thing. Caring for things and having the capacity to fix things, starts with having an understanding of how things work. So revisiting this design is intended to make a statement of sorts. It is great to see how things work, as the physical structure of an object can express both beauty and integrity. And much of the world is headed in the opposite direction.

this month's wooden boat...

In this month's Wooden Boat, editor, Matt Murphy describes watching a crew of Norwegians assembling a kit oat while singing (in English) a song to the tune of "She'll be Comin' 'Round the Mountain." The chorus was this:
I will hammer I will drill and I will shape.
I am building me a boat I make no haste.
Yes, I'll rivet all the seams
Of the boat that's in my dreams.
I will hammer I will drill and I will shape.
Matt's editorial is about the value of kit boats for getting new boat lovers involved in what can be a head scratching ordeal that would very likely discourage and intimidate most beginners. Who knows where it might lead for some.

When I was a young man, I worked a time for the Corp of Engineers on the Mississippi River, 10 days on and 2 days off. That meant it was unreasonable for me to keep my apartment, and I would stay at my sister's house in Memphis on those days I was off the river. I arrived at her home one afternoon to find a whole stack of large flat boxes in her dining room, and read the labels, "Cabinets... assemble yourself with these simple tools." I thought I was helping when I opened a box and started to work. Within a couple hours, I had hammered and nailed and screwed them all into neat submission and the stack of flat boxes had become a ready to install set of uppers and lowers.

So my sister arrived home, and I found myself in big trouble. She wanted to do them herself. After my profuse apologies, I did carry away the sense of accomplishment I had garnered through the assembly process, and you can see in my life work where that led.

There are two particular areas of American life that really grasp the hands, woodworking and boat building. So beyond the fact that boats are made from wood, (and I love wood) I also love Wooden Boat Magazine for the encouragement it provides for working with one's hands and preserving that skill for future generations. You may never build a boat, and may never think it within your capabilities, but the magazine will inspire nonetheless, and as this edition of Wooden Boat points out, making a kit boat may help you to exceed your wildest expectations. After all, if you want to get started in personal transformation, you will have to take a first step.

Monday, August 17, 2009

today in the wood shop

Today in the wood shop I finished sanding tenons and began applying the Danish oil finish. I also had my first teacher meeting this morning to plan for this year's classes at Clear Spring School.

A friend was visiting for an hour or so last week who grew up in Waldorf Schools and currently teaches a form of Waldorf movement and dance called Eurythmy developed by Rudolf Steiner and Marie von Sivers in the early 20th century.

My friend attended Waldorf Schools and teaches at a number of Waldorf schools throughout the US. She noted that many are no longer attempting to meet Steiner's objective that school consist of nearly 80 percent craft work. Waldorf schools like others are succumbing to the pressures to make schools more competitive and overly academic. People, particularly the parents those schools are hoping to please, just don't get the hands. Working with the hands is something most parents hope to steer their children from, not towards. You can hear the modern Waldorf parent's prayer, "Lord please don't let my son grow up to be a carpenter."

We face similar problems at Clear Spring. Prospective parents have been known to ask, "What are your children's test scores?" It is extremely difficult to explain to some that test scores are a completely irrational means of assessment... that we are far more interested in our children being great citizens, creative problem solvers and successful lifelong learners. This time of year, one of our measures of success is in the form of returning students who have informed their parents they can hardly wait to get back to school.

In the meantime, Comenius and other early educators had envisioned schools as the "workshops of humanity."

When I was at Marc Adams School, one of my students alerted me to a product information sheet he had gotten with the purchase of Deft Danish Oil, alerting him to possibly hazardous ingredients. Of particular concerns were Benzene and cobalt drying agents. It is extremely important to minimize risks by using oil finishes (or any finishes) with more than adequate ventilation. So a brief shower ended my outdoor oiling for the day. But you can see the beginnings of my efforts in the photo above. In the photo below, you can see that the weather improved long enough for me to continue oiling.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

why jp ain't smart

If there is wisdom in the hands, and the use of the hands builds intellect, why isn't Joe the Plumber smart? That is a question that could be nagging my regular readers. Of course Joe the plumber might be very smart about plumbing, how to fit pipes together, and unstop a toilet or sink... tasks that many more educated people would never even want to get good at. And yet, while being smart in one area, to make the assumption that intelligence can be broadly applied doesn't necessarily pan out in real life. In many areas of normal expertise, Joe the Plumber could be dumb as a post.

There are lots of reasons for academic success, or the lack of it, and not all have very much to do with the capabilities of the child.

For instance, while schools are busy pushing reading in kindergarten, it has been proven that most boys and many girls are not ready to learn reading until they are seven. In stark contrast, in Finland, the country that leads the whole world in 8th grade reading and math, schools don't begin to teach reading until age 8. And by some miracle (not really) kids rapidly catch up because they are reading ready. But here, where we think we are better at everything, we put the kid in school, push him or her to learn things for which he or she is not ready, and the parent and kid are both notified with teacher concerns for his or her stupidity. Teachers in small classes might give Joe some extra help, and possibly notice some things about Joe that would counter the suspicion of his lack of intelligence and reinforce Joe's sense of confidence, but sadly, small classes like those are rare in public education. Even with the most dedicated teachers, some Joes fall through cracks. So, Joe's noticed something that will stick with him his whole life. School is stupid. Even at a tender age, he can see plenty of evidence of dumb-ass things. And by extension, all things academic are stupid as well. In later life Joe sees ample evidence... he is called to work by people who put stupid things in their sinks and toilets, having little sense of the workings of fundamental down-the-drain reality.

And of course Joe is not really stupid. He has merely closed himself off from his innate limitless human curiosity and abandoned the means through which he could become better educated and informed. And of course stupidity is a two way street. I recently visited with a retired philosophy professor from Virginia. He told me of the clueless, out of touch, and essentially irrational professors in his former department (not naming names)... and that he felt his summer employment in agriculture and construction provided a foundation for his philosophical explorations, seemingly unavailable to his peers.

Of course, all this is related to the observations of early educators, particularly followers of Pestalozzi who had noted that education should move from the concrete to the abstract and from the known to the unknown. You can have lots of concrete knowledge about pipes and dripping faucets, but at some point, entry to the abstract realm through which we share knowledge with others is required for real wisdom to grow. Equally damaging is when children are pushed into abstraction before being firmly engaged in concrete reality. They may have a false sense of knowing nearly everything that will go unchallenged, as in the days leading up to near complete financial collapse.

Our entire culture, society and economy suffer when children's hands are left disengaged in their educations. So, let's get a grip. First thing is to get hold of the notion that our hands do shape intelligence as well as human culture, and acknowledge that to leave any child's hands untrained in skill and sensitivity is to do damage to all.

As always, I invite my reader's comments and discussion.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

the thirteenth rule, sadly neglected

John Medina's 12 Brain Rules are as follows:
Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.
Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.
Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
Rule #4: We don't pay attention to boring things.
Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
Rule #8: Stressed brains don't learn the same way.
Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.
Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

I would add a thirteenth rule, and make it the starting rule.
Get a Grip: Being directly, physically hands-on involved in learning gives the brain its structure and power.

from Endangered Minds by Jane M. Healy, PH.D.

From Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don't Think
We care deeply about the "smartness" of our children, but our culture lacks patience with the slow, time-consuming handwork by which intellects are woven.* The quiet spaces of childhood have been disrupted by media assault and instant sensory gratification. Children have been yoked to hectic adult schedules and assailed by societal anxieties. Many have been deprived of time to play and the opportunity to pursue mental challenges that, though deemed trivial by distracted adults, are the real building blocks of intellect. Thus schools must lead the way, acknowledging children's developmental needs as they guide them firmly into personal involvement with the important skills and ideas that will empower them for the future.
*emphasis mine

Also from Endangered Minds, this quote from Priscilla Vail:
By engaging students only in a quest for the correct answer rather than for the interesting question, we condemn them to live inside other men's discoveries.

Friday, August 14, 2009

sanding mask

This simple device, a "sanding mask," is to allow sanding to be done with a sanding stick and avoid marking the surrounding wood. It is my simple invention of the day, made using the hollow chisel mortiser and a piece of scrap Formica. The hole had to be cut slightly longer than the original mortises to allow for the wedges used to expand the tenons and lock them in place. You can see the use of the mask and sanding stick in the photo below. I am using the sanding stick to slightly chamfer each edge.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

down to the hard part

Or perhaps tedious would be more accurate. The wedges in each tenon need to be sanded flush. I first cut the wedges close to the tenon ends using a Japanese dozuki saw with very fine teeth. Then, with coarse sandpaper glued to a thin strip of wood, I sand the ends and shape them slightly and then switch to a finer grit. You will see the results in the finished tables. To make something of beauty and meaning is to act in the preservation of human culture.

two sides neither wins

When the hands are removed from the education of our children, we all lose. When those who are identified as "college material" are isolated from those not destined for college education, our best and brightest (as measured by the often faulty mechanisms of the educational system) are diminished in character, wisdom and intelligence that having their hands engaged would have brought them, our society and our economy.

When students are identified as being of lesser intelligence and are put in stifling, boring learning environments, they learn to self-identify as lacking in ability and interest in the understanding of complex issues. In self-defense, they adopt an anti-academic bias that inhibits future confidence and engagement in learning. Lacking in basic intellectual curiosity, they become vulnerable to outlandish beliefs promoted by those whose often malicious interests lie in the manipulation of others. When students lose their innate curiosity about the world, that tragedy affects us all, from one end of the culture and economy to the other.

As you can see from the photo, I am installing the last wedges in the torii tables. After some additional sanding, they will be ready for finishing. So why would someone make something that could last a hundred years? When you see the interconnectedness of all things you see that whatever we do has the potential for lasting that long. When we set something in motion through anger, it may ripple throughout human culture having immense and tragic effect. A craftsman applies his or her energy to creating things that have the potential of serving, of causing intellectual reflection, and giving pause. We have the potential to redirect through the creation of beauty and the expression of greater purpose. What we create has effect both within our own lives and in the culture at large, and what we make has those powers even when we ourselves are no longer in physical form.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

assembled... now you can see

Now with some time spent in assembly, you can see what I've been working on. Tomorrow I will do the assembly of the remaining tables do final sanding and begin applying a Danish oil finish.

Richard Bazeley, shop teacher from down under sent a link to an article about text addicted kids making more mistakes. They have faster, more impulsive response time, but suffer in the area of accuracy. The article, Text-addict kids 'make more mistakes' is from The Age published in Australia.

One of the things I've noticed is that many kids no longer want instruction. They just try stuff until something works... That can be OK if there are no real consequences to their behavior...

wedged tenons

Today I have been assembling the table tops, and soon will have completed tables. This is not a technique for rapid production, but a technique that will provide centuries of service. So why would someone make something that will last longer than he or she will? Can it be that a craftsman might want to leave something of meaning that expresses skill, caring, and reverence for wood?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Adding wedges

Today I have begun assembling my "torii" tables. I spread glue on the tenons, carefully avoiding the areas that will protrude on the outside. Then I dip a wedge in glue so when it is driven in place with a small hammer, the glue will spread and affix the wedge in place and spread the tenon so it is slightly wider than the mortise. It is a technique as old as woodworking itself, and if you go to some of the world's greatest museums you will find works hundreds of years old using similar joints.

brain rules

Brain Rules Watch the video! And order from Amazon. We have designed our educational system and working environments to be all wrong, setting our children up for disengagement and failure... unless that disengagement and failure was the intention in the first place. If so, they are a great success!

endangered minds

I am reading Jane Healey, PH.D's book Endangered Minds and reflecting on how the hands shape the workings of the mind. Healey's book looks at how the environment and culture determine factors within the brain. Modern research has shown that the brain is very flexible and adaptive. Educators and researchers have noted that our current culture and educational methods have left children lacking in curiosity and often incapable of paying attention.

So here I am going out on a limb, largely unsupported by scientific data, but I am willing to speculate on what scientists will at some point know with certainty and in support of all those early educators who had noticed and reinforced the close connection between hand and brain. The movements of the hands shape the cognitive structures within the brain and its capacity for learning.

Healey quotes Dr. Phyllis Weikart, author of Round the Circle: Key Experiences in Movement
All this conversation is going on about cognitive development, but we've forgotten the child's body... The amount of physical activity since the turn of the century has declined seventy-five percent; children are not playing, and through play a great deal of active learning takes place. Children used to play in natural ways, with kids of different ages, outside, basically unsupervised by adults. Visual and auditory attention, bodily coordination--all were gained through that kind of play. This physical learning must take place before children start dealing with abstractions; it doesn't happen if children don't have those experiences.
Healy notes: "Dr. Weikart has recently become fascinated by the question of how physical movement helps children develop an internal sense of "beat" that seems to correlate with reading and math abilities." But that beat only works if it's origins and making are in the child's own body. The dominance of externally imposed beat just doesn't do it. According to Dr. Weikart, "That constant verbal, visual bombardment, all it's doing is tuning children out. If we want to improve their attention, we've got to get them up, get them physically involved, turn them back in."

I suggest the rthyhm of saws and hammers for a start.

Monday, August 10, 2009

hands worth $1200 per day...

I suspected this article would be about plumbers. It is not.

Home again, back at work

I had a long drive home yesterday from Marc Adams School of Woodworking to Eureka Springs and though tired, I am putting things away and getting back to work in my own wood shop. Things are just as I left them one week ago, each small piece of wood knows what it to be done next.

Teaching is one of those great ways to learn, and I have learned a great deal during the last week. I had the opportunity to watch my students solve problems, and in describing what I do to others, I have some moments of particular clarity myself... I will add these to my collection of techniques that will likely come in handy in solving typical wood shop problems and lead to even greater creativity.

One great experiment at the school involved using stops and story stick on the router table to install complicated quadrant hinges. That may lead to another article for a woodworking magazine.

As you can see in the photo above, I am cutting the tenons of my yet to be assembled "torii" tables so that wedges can be installed to lock the mortise and tenon joints in place.Below you can see the wedges being cut on the table saw and how they will expand the tenons, locking them in place.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Interior Architecture for boxes

Today I demonstrated linings, dividers and the making of drawers along with general discussion of materials, techniques and designs. I had demonstrated making regular dividers in the class last week, so these were cut at an interesting angle, forming diamond shaped compartments.

In a nearby room, Alan Lacer was teaching a parent/child woodworking class. Many of the kids and parents had never been at a lathe before. It was a good introduction to creativity in wood. Let's hope some of it sticks.

Friday, August 07, 2009

day 5 at Marc Adams

Today we finished my box making class at Marc Adams and tomorrow I have 19 students for my class on interior architecture. It is called "thinking inside the box." Or is it? Maybe we will have outside the box thinking and design for inside the box. In the photos below, my students will recognize some of their wonderful boxes.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Day four at Marc Adams School

Day four of box making at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, students have been using the Gifkins jig to make dovetailed boxes and many other boxes are nearing completion. You can see just a tiny glimpse of their efforts in the photos above.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Day three at Marc Adams

Today at Marc Adams School in my box making class, we began installing hinges, making inlay and I demonstrated the Gifkins jig. All the students are making interesting boxes and some are also making jigs from scrap plywood so they can continue using some of the same techniques when they get home.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Day two are Marc Adams

Today, students were continuing to make boxes. Some were box joints made using the box joint sled we made yesterday. Some boxes were mitered and students used my hidden spline jig to cut hidden spline slots. Other boxes will be made with keyed miter joints. One student asked whether we would all be making exactly the same kind of box, but in my classes, students make and learn what they want. We have a wonderful staff at Marc Adams School, staff with whom I have worked for several years past. So together we make a very fine learning team and it doesn't seem that any students are left without assistance when needed. I think one improvement over years past is that I introduced two joinery techniques at the beginning so we managed to avoid very much waiting in line for the first boxes to be made.

Tomorrow we will learn how to install hinges, how to make inlay, and add one more simple joinery technique. Later in the week you will see finished boxes.

Monday, August 03, 2009

First day of box making

Today in my box making class at Marc Adams we had a very long but interesting discussion on design, then began making sleds, and cutting miters and box joints. What a great start for a 5 day class.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

ready for day one

I am settled in at Jamison Inn in Indiana and ready for my first day of class at Marc Adams School. Check in over the next few days to meet my students and see our progress.

How to lick a slug

This is a good article in the New York Times on the subject of Nature deficit disorder and what we are doing to our kids and ourselves. How to Lick a Slug By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF Published: August 1, 2009

Children for 1,000 generations grew up exploring fields, itching with poison oak and discovering the hard way what a wasp nest looks like. That’s no longer true.
My wife and I had the incredible privilege of raising our daughter Lucy on 11 acres of Arkansas forest. She learned to recognize poison ivy and to stay out of tall weeds and grass in the worst of tick and chigger season. We also took regular walks to the top of the mountain outside our front door to a special place we called "where the deer sleep at night." There we could find the circular nests where the deer lay on warm nights feeling the cooling breeze. Lucy would curl up in those spots, feeling kinship with the wild. From that point, you could see the trails radiating through the woods. The regular passage of deer hooves has a way of aligning pine needles making the trails appear luminous in the evening light. I feel deeply troubled for those young Americans who live the whole of their lives indoors and the dangerous lack of sensitivity that their ignorance will present to the future of our planet.

Television and computers are supposed to have an incredible educational potential. But if that education comes through abandonment of our traditional roles as backyard scientists engaged in direct observation of nature we have lost much more than we have gained.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

interior architecture

Boxmaking is such a wonderful way to learn woodworking. I leave for Marc Adams School of Woodworking in an hour or so, and am packing up boxes to use in illustrating box design. I've found that providing concrete examples also gives starting point for discussion. My box making class will be very much like the others I've offered at Marc Adams, in that each class is actually unique... shaped nearly as much by my students as by me. From moment one, there are relationships to form, discussions to take place, and my students offer a great deal of encouragement to each other. It is a week I look forward to.

Then on Saturday, I teach a new class on interior architecture, about what happens on the insides of boxes. I am taking along a variety of examples to illustrate possible starting points for exploration. One is my "reliquary of wood" shown in the photo above. It was the grand prize winner, "Best of Show" at the Springfield Art Museum's 4 state regional exhibit, MOAK a number of years ago, and was also featured in my second book, Simply Beautiful Boxes.