Thursday, December 03, 2020

On Narrative

This is a repost from a few years back. 

The first characteristic of narrative is what Jerome Bruner describes as its "inherent sequentiality: a narrative is composed of a unique sequence of events, mental states, happenings involving human beings as characters or actors." Bruner's second feature of narrative is that it can be "real" or "imaginary" without loss of its power as a story. Hence the power of well crafted fiction. Bruner's third crucial feature is that "it specializes in forging links between the exceptional and the ordinary." That which is canonical or normal and by the rules, or noncanonical, breaking or transgressing the expected norms.

My point, in case you didn't already guess, is that narrative may be as strongly present in hand crafted work as in speech and written discourse, and in some cases can be more powerful. We place far greater value as a culture on written or spoken narrative and place far greater emphasis in education on discursive narrative than on that which is expressed by hand. And so part of coming to better terms with the value of crafted work lies in understanding its narrative role in human culture. Our objects describe who we are, where we are going, and the means through which we will arrive at our greatest potential.

I offer these photos above and below of a piece of furniture showing narrative qualities in conformity with what Bruner outlines above. Dr. Bruner and I discussed whether craft work was narrative or not, with him taking one angle and me the other.

You will note that this table connects normal and unusual or exceptional elements in the same work. The contrast between the natural edged top board and the more conventional mortised and tenoned base is an example. While some viewers familiar with the process of crafting such work would know the sequence of operations the work records and describes, a casual viewer is drawn to skim or read it sequentially, just as one might skim or read a published text. Each and every piece of hand-crafted work is autobiographical in that it records and describes the maker's character as well as his motions in making the piece. The meander cut through the center of the board is used symbolically in a fictional representation of a river or stream, while also allowing use of a traditional technique--the sliding dovetail joint. And so, I hope my regular readers will understand that story telling, the foundation of human culture, is not just something that happens through words alone, but can take place whenever the human hand goes to work on wood.
Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

An announcement

Following a press release at 10 AM this morning, I'm allowed to mention that our Eureka Springs School of the Arts is being provided a 10 million dollar endowment through the Arkansas Community Foundation that will assure its success and service for generations to come. Some of my readers will know that I was one of three co-founders of the school, so I share this joy with co-founders Mary Springer and Eleanor Lux and all those who've served the growth of the school over the past 22 years. The relationship between ESSA and the Windgate Foundation that's responsible for this large gift grew from my friendship with John and Robyn Horn, artists in Little Rock. 

As a friend of Robyn and a board member at ESSA, I've been involved in all the Windgate Foundation gifts to the school, and have had a hand in many of the developments on campus, including the acquisition of our school's 50 plus acre campus, and the initial designs for our school wood shop and our recently added onsite instructor housing.

The gift, providing long term operations funding, will allow us to focus our fund raising attention on additional campus improvements, innovative programming and scholarship support.

Artists wonder how their work will be regarded in years to come. Will it be kept or discarded? Being involved helping other artists evolve in their work and now seeing that this part of what I've helped build will go on for generations makes this a very  meaningful moment in my life.

Years ago, Tom Begnal, an editor from Fine Woodworking,  asked me why I didn't start my own woodworking school like so many other authors were doing. It is so much better to have built something with friends. Having my own school would have been such a lonely thing in comparison to what we've done.

There are still openings in my lecture class tomorrow afternoon presented through zoom. You can sign up here:

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning lifewise.


Monday, November 30, 2020

This week...

Today my 5th and 6th grade students began sanding some of their travel sized chess pieces. On Wednesday I have a one hour ESSA lecture scheduled. The link here will carry you to details.

I've been at work on a second draft of my book, Wisdom of our hands which offers advice to woodworkers, but also lays a reasonable course for civilization. In the course of digging through the blog which has been my way of keeping notes on the subject, I ran across this unpublished poem from Jerome Bruner that he sent me in 2011.

Let us honor if we must
The right hand's well constructed thrust,
Though note ye well, lest you be cleft,
By surprises kindled from the left.

I asked Dr. Bruner if his poem was about boxing, but it was actually inspired by a poem about death by W. H. Auden which if you think about it is exactly backwards from what happens in the ring.

Let us honor if we can
The vertical man,
Though we honor none
But the horizontal one

Dr. Bruner passed away in 2016 at the age of 101. It makes me realize how lucky I was to have communicated with such an illustrious figure in Psychology and to have been the first to publish (online) his poem. His poem will be included in the new book.

Make, fix and create.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

what we see, what we say...

I got an inquiry this morning about an operation in one of my books in which the reader asked for clarification in making a particular box. What you see in a photo doesn't necessarily convey all that you are required to know. In this case, reading would have helped. We may all be guilty of this. We see a photo and the mind fills in the blanks, in the assumption things are so simple we fully understand, when in fact we may not.

I encounter this all the time teaching. My students see something that looks easy, when in actual fact, there are things about the operation they may not understand without having first made their own mistakes.

For example, in making a Soma Cube Puzzle, one of my students had a puzzle piece break off, but it was because he had glued end grain to side grain, a thing I had explained in the video. When you orient the grain in two pieces side to side moving in the same direction, the glue joint is as strong as the wood itself. That's far from true if you glue pieces cross grained.

We were showing my 4th and 5th grade students the video of how to assemble their chessboard veneer patterns for the third time, and I had clearly stated that it would work out best if they paid attention to grain orientation, making the grain in the various pieces to align in the same direction. The reason I had suggested that was because if I had any errors in cutting pieces to length, those errors would not compound as the various pieces were put into place. Some got that message. Most did not.

We're becoming a see-it, do it world where complexities are not observed, nor are they fully understood.

There was a reason that Diesterweg, Froebel, Cygnaeus, and Salomon planned that learning progress from the concrete to the abstract and from the simple to the complex, and that was to build up within the student a knowledge base that would form a foundation for all other learning. Without that experiential base upon which to build our understanding, there's no common sense, whether we're talking about the political realm or how to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

So here we are. Scott Atlas said that seniors should not be prevented from celebrating "their last thanksgiving" with loved ones. Loved ones rush home, not dreaming that at their last stop for gas they picked up the virus that will kill Granny. 

In the meantime, our own lovely county is a hot spot, and I'm hoping all will exercise extreme caution. In Fayetteville, not more than 50 miles from here they've set up refrigerator trucks to handle the overflow of bodies. I hoped it would never come to this, but with the lack of caution, we have only our own communities to blame. The vaccine is on the horizon, developed by dedicated scientists. We will prevail over the disease, only if we've kept each other safe. 

How much more thankful we will be next year when, with those we love still with us, we celebrate Thanksgiving 2021 together.

Be safe. Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

new series, art lectures

ESSA has announced a new series of online art lectures. I'll be the first in the series on Dec. 2 and you can register here: 

Participation will be online, via Zoom but enrollment is limited. Sign up soon.

I want to thank those who responded to my post inviting you to subscribe to my youtube channel. The number of subscribers went from 990 to 1038, pushing beyond the 1000 required for direct streaming.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Wall Art...

I want to thank my friend Bob Rokeby for honoring my work as "wall art." It reminds me that I need to make more of these wooden ties. Several of my friends have them. Seeing the one hung as art reminds me of a friend who passed away a few years back. 

Members of the arts community in Eureka Springs will remember Zolli Page. she had made a point of showing me that her husband's tie, purchased in a charity auction, had a special place on her wall, surrounded by art.

Make, fix, and create. The world becomes a better place.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

live streaming?

I've learned that I can live stream from my youtube channel, but in order to be allowed to do it I have to have 1,000 subscribers. I have 990, so just 10 more. Becoming a subscriber would give you the opportunity to be notified when I have new videos to present or live demonstrations to be performed.  To subscribe, please go to

The advantage for me is that it would allow me to livestream demonstrations to my students at the Clear Spring School directly to students at home or through the classroom TV. Just 10 more and we're there.

The subscribers on my youtube channel have been growing steadily, so no need to subscribe unless you are interested in the content.

Make, fix and create.... assist others in learning lifewise.