On last Friday evening at the annual Center for Furniture Craftsmanship open house, I visited with a couple about the integration of the arts and play seamlessly into the work of our lives. They mentioned a playfulness in my box designs. The gentleman pulled a clipping from the New York Times from his wallet that he had kept since 1999 about a small building built on a small vacant lot in Manhattan.
"There is something inherently quiet about the place and the men who designed it. In explaining their philosophy about living and working in one place, Mr. Smith paraphrased a Zen Buddhist saying he once heard in Japan: "The real master in the art of living makes little distinction between his art and his leisure," he said. "He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both."I asked the gentleman how he had integrated play into his own life. Smiling, he informed me that he had directed theater performances at Bowdoin College for many years. And in that I am reminded that theater plays its part in the Wisdom of the Hands. In fact, it's been proven that when learning lines for a performance, actors memorize their lines more effectively if they use gesture while doing so.
The story of the small building in Manhattan reminded of my visit to Bill Coperthwite's archetypal three story yurt. His ground floor is the working floor, just as work forms the foundation of onne's life. It is filled with materials, benches, tools and various works in progress. The second story is his living level, still replete with tools but also with books and places to write and to prepare meals. The top level is Bill's place to sleep and to dream, and in that sense, the building itself is an integration of self.
I was also reminded of Bill Coperthwaite by an email from a man in Canada planning to start a woodworking program for children k-7 in an indigenous community. He asked about what tools I would recommend to get his program started. Bill had travelled all over the north, Canada, Europe and Alaska, studying the use of the crooked knife. While his PhD from Harvard is in education, it might as well have been in Anthrpology. But then education would be best based on the understanding of real people, how they live, think, learn and develop culture. In educational Sloyd, Otto Saloman began children's lessons with the knife because every Swedish schoolboy, even before school began knew how to safely use the knife, and a central premise of Sloyd was to move gradually from the known to the unknown. I suggested Gustaf Larsson's book Elementary Sloyd and Whittling which can be found free on-line. It offers project ideas, but I suggests that any teacher starting a new program try to keep his children in mind.
Making beautiful and useful objects as a core component in education requires that project plans need to be flexible to meet the interests of the child and engage the support of family and community. Using tools that connect with the culture of a community can be the best place to start but one needs to offer parents and fellow teachers and administrators a clear understanding of the values of such work. In the early days some parents believed that offering hand-skills to children was a way of depriving them of academic advancement.
Bill would agree that spoon making is a thing that can be done with just a straight knife and crooked knife, and as I've said before one cannot successfully whittle a stick without learning the powers of observation that are essential to success in everything else. One can't successfully whittle a stick without forming elementary hypotheses about the nature of material reality and in that way crafts form the foundation of scientific inquiry. I ask on behalf of Bill, "Have you ever used a draw knife and shaving horse?"
Bill had been asked many times how he could move into a community without knowing the language. He would proceed with a crooked knife in one hand a stick with the other. Folks from all cultures would be drawn close by curiosity as was I when I first met Bill. To use a knife to make things that are beautiful and useful breaks all social barriers. And the language spoken by creative hands is universal in its understanding.
My hosts here in Falmouth are old friends, and very effective at integrating art and play into the hard work of their lives. I plan to spend just a bit of time as tourist while I gather my wits.
I had a short meeting this afternoon with the director of NBSS to discuss their hopes of bringing woodworking education back to the children of Boston Public Schools. I Wanted to get a better sens of where their program sits at the moment and to try to learn how I can help.
Make, fix, and create...