Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Today with the Diablo Woodworkers, we cut more mortises in the front legs, arms and seat sides. Our discussion of furniture design was very animated in the morning, and it was exciting for me to see such enthusiasm. Tomorrow evening I'll meet with a group of woodworking teachers and educators to help stimulate some interest in working with the Diablo club to create an area high school woodworking competition. As you may know, I do love the opportunity to discuss the relationship between the hands and learning. Keep your fingers crossed please that the discussion helps to build confidence in the value of woodworking programs in schools. The photos above were taken in today's class

Monday, July 30, 2007

We had a busy day at the Diablo Adult Education center working on children's rockers. We started the morning with lecture and discussion of furniture design and had fun with the golden proportion detectors. At this point, the students are designing and carving the backs for their chairs. Most have the rockers shaped and we are beginning to cut the mortises in the back legs. In the photos shown below are students at work and a view of the fine woodworking facility.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I am in Walnut Creek California, preparing for my class with Diablo Woodworkers to start in the morning. One thing about our computer age... there are times when we love computers for what they do, and then there are other times when they remind us of our humanity, vulnerability and dependence on others. I had burned a CD with my PowerPoint presentation, labeled what I thought was the right disc, put it in my laptop case and flew to California with a blank CD and leaving the important one unlabeled on my desk. My wife, daughter, FedEx-Kinko and hosts Bob and Missy Barnett came through to save the day and saved me and my class from having to discuss design without necessary visual aids. At this point, I am feeling relieved, but know my psychic well-being is sustained by the love of family and friends. Whew. A relief. But it is always good to be reminded of such things.

Today, Bob, Missy and I took a drive to the top of Mount Diablo, the nearby mountain that gives the Diablo Woodworkers its name. It doesn't look like such a large mountain when you are below, but the journey up the winding road puts many things in perspective, and the view from the top is breath-taking.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I am leaving this afternoon for my week-long class with the Diablo Woodworkers. The Diablo Woodworkers set a great example for the role that local woodworkers can play in a renewal of hands-on learning in schools. In preparation for my box making class with Diablo Woodworkers last year, the club adopted a local high school wood shop and did a complete cleaning, and restoration of the facility involving over 1000 hours of volunteer time from club members. My class was the first to use the restored facility with freshly sanded benches, fresh paint, clean, well organized closets and cabinets and sharp tools. When school administrators and school boards see this kind of community support, they get the message!

I will try to post some photos of this year's class as it proceeds through the week. The photo below is from last year's Ygnacio Valley High School Woodshop renovation.

Friday, July 27, 2007

This week at ESSA, in addition to the flute making, we had classes in water color painting, found object sculpture and jewelry making. Photos are shown at left and below:

Thursday, July 26, 2007

On Saturday I leave for the San Francisco Bay area of California to teach a class with the Diablo Woodworkers. Since part of the class will be about furniture design, I'm offering you a bit of stay-at-home self study. The device shown gluing at left and completed below is to examine the world of manufactured or hand made things in search of the golden proportion. The golden proportion is commonly discussed as a means to design greater beauty (even perfection) in the making of objects. Hold the stick between the eye and the object being examined. By moving the stick until the edges of the window align with the edges of the object, you can see if the object was made consciously or unconsciously to the golden proportion. It has to be held and viewed dead-on to work. It should be a fun experiment. To make your own Golden Proportion Detector, cut spaces 1/2" x 1.618" in two pieces of equal length stock. Glue those together as shown in the photo above, then cut that into thin pieces as shown below. A single gluing will make enough Golden Proportion Detectors for you and 3 friends to join in the fun.
The students in Jim Pesek's flute class at Clear Spring School are working on their second flutes with the intention of having them finished for tomorrow's show. The photo at left is a finished flute with buffalo effigy tuner. Two grey foxes have been showing themselves to the students regularly in the woods behind the woodshop. A good omen for delight in working with the hands and heart. Is there spirit in the work of the hands? There are many who would deny such things. There are some who argue that we need formal prayer in our schools, and the hands stilled and held in supplication. To them I suggest that the spirit of discovery required in eduction is not a matter of preaching, control and mindless recitation, but of the direct use of the hands to engage the heart in learning.
The following is from Azby Brown, Director of the KIT Future Design Institute in Japan and is copied from the introduction of Volume 2 of the Future Design Journal. If you want to know more about Azby Brown, search for him as an author on Amazon.com

Our humanity is closely held in our hands. In their functional detail, the degree to which they are cognitively integrated with our brains, and the cultural significance which has accrued to them over millennia of evolution, our hands distinguish us from other animals. They allow us a peculiarly intense means of exploring our world and lend us identity. They are communicative and manipulative, demonstrative and inquisitive, and in addition to giving us knowledge about the external world, they enhance our knowledge of ourselves. Particularly, they are a means of action.

Take the simple act of peeling an apple as an example: our hands sense the weight of the apple, its temperature, wetness, smoothness. They sense the resistance of the apple to the blade, and must rotate the apple as it is cut, requiring fine coordination of the fingers of each hand, the wrists, and the forearm. Because the actual point of contact between the blade and the apple is likely concealed under the peel being removed, the most immediate information about the progress and accuracy of the cut are received through tactile sensations, as friction and the textured rhythm transmitted through the blade to the handle of the knife and thence to our fingertips and palm. We detect moisture, and we obtain a very clear sense of the complex curvature of even the obscured areas of the apple's surface. Our hands are perfectly designed to obtain a deluge of useful information from something like an apple, and to manipulate it skillfully; when performing this kind of action our hands speak to us very clearly and unambiguously.

Until the dawn of the industrial era, our hands were in constant contact with either natural objects with which the human hand had co-evolved and so were sensorially suited --plants, stones, other animals -- or items made from natural materials and which still possessed many natural characteristics.

People the world over know the significance of the hands in learning and the development of the world's culture. It is tribute to the stupidity of education that we seem to do nothing about it. In pure foolishness we continue to ignore our primary means of engaging the hearts of our children in learning.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jim Pesek's ESSA students have been busy this week in the Clear Spring School wood shop. Each has finished a first flute and has started another. Two are shown in the photos at left and below. If you have never learned anything like this, you have no idea of the pride students and teacher feel at this moment. If you have done something of this sort with your hands, you may feel inclined to get busy and maybe teach others. Sharing and putting to use what you have learned is consummation of learning. It is the line that separates those who are smart from those who who express wisdom.

Monday, July 23, 2007

I have a box article in the Sept. 07 issue of Woodcraft Magazine. The photo from the contents age is shown below. The boxes are made using a conventional bandsawn box technique, and using barrel type hinges installed using my "flipping story stick" technique which allows top and bottom holes to be perfectly aligned.

This week in the Clear Spring School woodshop, we have an ESSA class on making cedar native American flutes. Flute maker, Jim Pesek is leading his class in the making of two flutes which they hope to have finished by the end of the week. The photos at left and below show some rough blanks and examples that Jim brought for display to the class, and a student carving the effigy tuning piece.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Greg Mitchell sent me the photo below from his class on making rustic furniture with kids, a class from the Eureka Springs School of the Arts held in the Clear Spring School woodshop. Luke, a Clear Spring High School sophomore helped as Greg's assistant, and made furniture of his own in the afternoon class. The photo was taken by Peggy Kjelgaard, ESSA director.
I want to mention the value of living in a small, vibrant community. As a point of comparison, the publisher of Harry Potter books, Scholastic Press in New York City had a celebration of the release of the last book in the series. Their celebration offered little more than juggling and face painting in a city of millions.

Here in Eureka Springs, our small Carnegie Library was turned into Hogwarts using a staff of about 25 costumed volunteers. Over 300 citizens of all ages from many of the surrounding communities attended. I can't possibly tell all the many details, but believe me, there was much more than juggling and face painting. It's what happens when an active citizenry takes their love of libraries and love of reading seriously and adds the work of their hands to the feelings in their hearts.

Several of the activities were "hands-on" from making magic wands to magical creatures painted and converted from rocks.

I can try to describe the value of living in a small, hand-crafted community. I can allude to it. I can show you photos. I can even tell you how to build one yourself. Few have the patience for it. It helps to start when you are young. You may be lucky and get to live in one carefully constructed by others for generations. Unless you have lived in a place like Eureka Springs and made an investment of some part of your life in it, you will never fully understand.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I just got back last night from the Stowe family reunion in Idaho. We had a great time, but Jean, Lucy and I weren't able to stay the whole week. Tonight is the big Harry Potter Party at our local Carnegie Public Library. The 1910 limestone building, the adjoining community rooms, side alleys and adjacent park have been converted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and hundreds of children and adults will attend. My wife and her fellow librarians have been preparing for weeks and after arriving home very late last night, we were off to an early start this morning to finish the decorating and many last minute details.

The letter that follows is my response to an inmate from the Indiana Penitentiary, telling me his story and asking for guidance in becoming a box maker.

I am so grateful that early in my life, I received encouragement in working with my hands, and letters like the one I received remind me of my many blessings.
Dear Allen,

Thank you for your letter. I’m glad the box making has you thinking about your future, and I hope you find success. You are right that set-up and careful planning can help box making to be more efficient and possibly even profitable, provided you have established a market for your work. It seems that for most woodworkers, that is the hardest part, and if boxes were easier to sell at a good price, there would be a lot more competition (and there is plenty of competition as there is.)

It sounds as though you could use a basic introduction to general woodworking, like you would have found in the high school class that you dropped out of years ago. Unfortunately, our system of education doesn’t do very well at showing us the relevance of what we are being taught. Patience is one of the most important things we can learn, and sanding a block smooth by hand is a valuable thing, as it can help us to understand the qualities of the material. Anyone can stick a board into a planer and have it come out relatively smooth, or at least smoother than it went in. Understanding wood grain will guide the craftsman to better results regardless of the tool used, whether hand or power, and I wish at this point of your arising interest, that you had seen your way clear to understand the value of what was being offered.

I assume that you don’t have any opportunities in the Indiana penitentiary to learn woodworking skills. The jointer and planer serve similar but different functions. The jointer is used to flatten and straighten a side or edge of lumber. The planer is used to provide uniform thickness and smoothness to stock. It won’t flatten or straighten stock, so you can think of the jointer and planer as a one-two punch.

There are many good woodworking books that will provide a more basic foundation for your work than my books on box making. A small box can be as complicated and as difficult to make as a large piece of furniture. My best advice is to start simple. There are hundreds of small products you can make. Use your interest in woodworking to express love and sincerity for your work, and you may find others willing to buy what you make and enable your growth.

I have to warn you that self-employment isn’t easy. It requires you to wear lots of hats, and some may not be the best fit. You might look for employment in a cabinet shop upon your release. You may not make the highest wages, but you will have put yourself in a position to learn. Give it your best. Remember that patience is a skill that has to be learned and practiced over and over. People often use “lack of patience,” as an excuse, but when you really care about the outcome of things, you will find patience for what you do. And we either live shallow in the broad surface of life, or we dive deep. Diving deep requires patience, repetition, a bit of bravery, and deep caring about results.

Very best wishes,


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yesterday, we went on the traditional Stowe family hike. My cousin Russell usually does research and plans a manageable destination. Today’s hike was supposed to be moderate difficulty, and as a cousin Michael said, yes, the trail was moderate in the same way George W. Bush is a “moderate” Republican.

Most of us found it challenging to the knees and thighs, as it was all uphill in one direction, much of the time steep, and then back over the same path. This has nothing to do with furniture design or the wisdom of the hands, right? If you have been reading the blog for some period of time, you will know it really does.

The photo above is of a waterfall found on the journey up. The lake below was our beautiful destination. The hike is always a time to discuss our lives and the world and culture we live in… the connections we feel despite living in different parts of the US and despite coming from different generations. Furniture design and the wisdom of the hands are not unrelated to the broad expressions of human culture and to the time in which we live.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Today I took an excursion boat with my family from our place on Lake Coeur D’Alene to the City of Coeur D’Alene, and spent a couple hours walking between galleries in my exploration of selling prices of boxes. I found nothing comparable to examine. It’s not that my boxes are incomparable, but that the shopping was limited. The galleries were promoting “fine art,” which usually means work with little utilitarian value. In fact, the less utilitarian value an object may have, the greater the likelihood that it will become labeled “art.”

I did find one shop of particular interest, an antique store specializing in western antiques, including items from the American Indians and the western cowboy culture. There was nothing in the shop that wasn’t hand-made, and from a time in which things were made with a greater level of human attention… kind of like box making when it is done at its best. Best about my visit to this shop was that a fellow woodworker, Bill Foster, was manning the shop and attending to customers. Woodworkers, perhaps more than most other people in our current society know the significance of working with their hands.

We live in an age in which most people come to an understanding of the value of objects through comparative shopping. Woodworkers and other makers of beautiful things tend to look through a different set of eyes and experience. We often marvel at how things are made, we look at things with a greater curiosity, and because we often see the challenges involved, we may understand and appreciate work completely beyond economic variables.

I mentioned the importance of family in the encouragement of a craftsman’s work. Above and below are a couple photos of work done for my family. The walnut table above was made early in my career for my Aunt Wuzzie. The cherry table, chairs and sideboard below were made for my cousin Mary Lou and her husband Michael. This set was featured in articles in Woodworker’s Journal in 1995.
I am in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho this week for a family reunion. This place is beautiful, and as I write this, I’m sitting in a balcony overlooking the lake as shown in the photos at left and below. Our Stowe family reunions were started by my grandfather in the late 1940’s and have happened every other year since then. Now instead of meeting in Ft. Dodge, Iowa, my father’s family home, we meet in beautiful resort areas for a week to enjoy each other’s company and see a bit of the beauty of various parts of the US.

It is wonderful meeting with family every two years and feeling the impact and support that they offer. While this may seem unrelated to the subject of furniture design, please believe me when I say it is not. I grew up in a house full of antiques that came from the Stowe family. The homes of my aunts and uncles were full of family heirlooms collected and distributed by my Aunt Allene.

Everything that we are has the opportunity to become expressed through our work with wood, and my own career as a craftsman and furniture maker has received the support and encouragement of my family.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The photo at left shows the rocking chair design we will be making with the Diablo Woodworkers. I made the first of these for a Leather shop in Eureka Springs during the mid 1980's. They were used in a reading area designed to keep the children occupied as their parents shopped. I wrote an article about making this chair which was published in Woodwork Magazine, April 2002.
I will be teaching a class with the Diablo Wood Workers in California in two weeks on Furniture design and the making of a child's rocking chair and will be using the blog to prepare. Design has always interested me, particularly as it relates to personal creativity. The drawing at left, and the essay below are from my first book Creating Beautiful Boxes With Inlay Techniques and are my attempt to explain the sources of personal inspiration. In essence, inspiration is the first step in the process of design and I hope that this essay helps in the beginnings of our exploration.


The drawing above shows a complex set of relationships, within which each of us as a woodworker is unique. We approach our work from a particular focus or set of values. While one of us may be very focused on his tools and the enjoyment he derives from having and using them, another woodworker may be more interested in the materials he uses; still another may be thinking of a small business to supplement his income, or of finding a way of having nice things in the home without having to pay so much for them, and the pride of accomplishment. I am not implying that any particular focus is correct. I believe that we can become better woodworkers by becoming better acquainted with ourselves as woodworkers, knowing our own values enough to establish a more confident direction in our work, and to thereby express more of our own natures in the work we do with wood. We also differ in levels of motivation, self-confidence and experience. Opportunity (in the drawing) is my way of describing the encouragement we receive from our environment to do our work. For an amateur, this encouragement may be a spouse or grandchildren with a long list of desires, encouraging our time in the shop and allowing our purchase of the tools and materials necessary for our work. It might take the form of being given the opportunity to work with a particularly rare and beautiful piece of wood, or of finding and falling in love with an ancient band saw, or being given an old plane. For the professional, opportunity could take the form of a market for one's work, providing enough economic return and encouragement to continue. Each woodworker also finds himself or herself in a relationship between tradition and innovation. Tradition is the relationship with other woodworkers, past or present, the way things are done or were done. Innovation is the relationship with the unknown and vast uncharted world of possibilities. It is ironic that today, with the widespread use of the router to do every conceivable woodworking operation, it has become innovative to learn what was traditional in woodworking, the use of hand planes and other non-electrical woodworking tools, It is in the balance between tradition and innovation that real creativity takes place. True creativity is not the result of trying to be different, but of allowing one's own unique values within the complex matrix of relationships to be expressed in one's work. It might come from a woodworker's special relationship with a species of wood, or a particular method of work or with a favorite tool. It can center around one's special loving relationship for a wife or girlfriend, or around a personal interest outside the shop-like hunting or fly-fishing. These connections empower our work and give it greater meaning. Woodworking is not something that takes place only in the isolation of our garages and
Work shops. It is an expression of the complex relationships with the worlds of nature, technology, fellow woodworkers, our friends and family, and even with the growth and discovery of ourselves.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

We are going to a family reunion in Idaho this next week and one of my tasks during the week I am away will be to visit a few galleries to look at the work of other box makers. Marketing is one of the hardest parts of self-employment, and I need a great deal of information to participate successfully in business.

What is the value of the craftsman's work? It is often a factor of the buyer's understanding. When you buy something that is purely utilitarian (sad this is true), you will look at usefulness, longevity and price, and often price is the primary consideration (even though there may be hidden costs that you will never know.)

So we could go shopping at the big box store for little boxes, and we would find inexpensive well made useful and possibly beautiful things made in China or another emerging nation.

Or we could go shopping and buy a Doug Stowe original, made from native hardwoods, actually made by a real person(me), and the price might be many times the cost of the Chinese box, and looking at the finish, and the quality of work (being limited production and real materials) questionable... there are flaws in it!

Well, John Henry I'm not. I can't compete with the mechanized and mindless production of emerging nations. So here is something for comparison. Say you are making pancakes this morning and you need to flip them over. You could make a quick run to the big box store and buy one of plastic whose ingredients and their origins are unknown, quite possibly toxic and may not kill you this morning. Or you could have someone in your town make you one similar to the Smörspade shown in the July 10 posting of student made models from 1902. You might pay more for the wooden one. It might last for over a hundred years as this one has. It is guaranteed not to have any toxic ingredients, and it was made by someone you know, respect, and possibly love. When you use it it reminds you of your relationship and what you feel. And you can feel in it's smoothness and carefully crafted line, the attention and care invested in it. Over time, you may sense in it the energies of others who used it before you, or it may become an unconscious extension of your own being. It may not make the pancakes taste better, but it will enrich the experience of making them and express your connection with a deeper, more meaningful world.

So, you can see the challenge of marketing. It is not a simple matter of dollars but of sense.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I went to the ESSA show and reception this afternoon to see the works from the children's classes. The school was buzzing with the excitement: children with their finished work and parents in a swoon. We had nine classes including two making furniture with Greg Mitchell and with photos at left. The photo at the bottom is of Mary Tait's sewing class. It was a great week.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The photos at left and below are of new box designs I've been working on this week. In designing work, there are a variety of concerns. The first is does it fit the artist's personal mission? Since a large part of my mission has been to awaken the public to the diversity and beauty of our Arkansas hardwoods, through caring craftsmanship, I hope you see where these boxes fit. Of course, the second and third concerns are much harder to test and require time away from the woodshop: is there a demand for the object? Can it be produced and sold at a reasonable profit for the maker? Let me know what you think.

The boxes at left feature my first use of spring loaded slot hinges. While I've used slot hinges for many years on some of my small boxes, the small springs make the hinges feel more secure on larger lids... a benefit that I had not anticipated. If you click on a photo, it will enlarge for a better view.
The photos at left are from Greg Mitchell's ESSA classes this week at the Clear Spring School woodshop. Students and teacher are learning and having fun. Tomorrow is the last day of class and there will be a display and reception tomorrow afternoon giving the students the opportunity to show their work to the community.
Charles A. Bennett's Histories of Manual and Industrial Education, volumes I and II are an amazing accomplishment outlining the divergent theories of education, but also placing them against the background of the political and social forces at work to shape American society. At some point, I hope to have more time to share some of Mr. Bennett's vast contribution to the manual training movement and his role as a progressive educator.

He chose to finish his histories at the year 1917 with the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act, even though the publication date of the concluding volume of his books was not until 1937.

While the Smith-Hughes act, brought federal money into vocational education and was regarded as a huge triumph by some, it also spelled the end for those idealistic and progressive American educators whose understanding of the connection between the hand and brain had drawn them to conclude that manual training was necessary for all. In essence, the Smith-Hughes Act solidified in law the class structure that plagues us to this day. I think you will find in the sad resignation of Bennett's closing remarks, the disappointment he felt. For Bennett, the most interesting part of the history of Manual and Industrial Education ended with the eclipse of Educational Sloyd:

The signing of the Smith-Hughes act, thereby creating a federal directing and reimbursing law with reference to certain types of vocational education, was the beginning of a new era in manual and industrial education in the United States and therefore the end of the era concerning which this book was written. Throughout the years of effort to obtain the law, there were three constantly recurring and conflicting interests that had to be harmonized or at least propitiated. One was between the manufacturer and the labor union - each wished to regulate vocational training in order to control the labor market. Then there was the conflict of ideals between those who sought more practical education in the public schools and those who feared that vocational training would lower the standard of cultural education. And finally, when the need for vocational training was admitted, some believed that it could be effective only when separated from the public-school work of general education; while others insisted on the unity of control in public education and saw no good reason for a dual system. The law passed was probably the best compromise that could have been obtained at that time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Richard Bazeley sent me a paper called
Teaching making:
A brief history of secondary school craft education textbooks

by Ian Holdsworth, and which includes the following quote:

Most children love to make things and should be
encouraged to do so for many reasons. Craft lessons are
of the greatest educational value, because they stimulate
mental and motor activity simultaneously. It is
generally admitted that when hand and brain are both
employed much more is grasped and retained than
when the brain alone is called upon to function.
Furthermore, habits of industry are formed which are
bound to be beneficial in the future. Children so
trained are more likely to become useful and contented
members of society in after-life than are those brought
up with no craft instruction whatsoever.

F.W. Glass, Metal Craft (University of London Press, London,
1928), p.5.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I got a gift in the mail today from Hans Thorbjörnson in Sweden. It is a CD of images from the 1902 Model Series at Nääs utförd av barn (made by children). Hans promises me that he will translate some of the introductory text. I am near helpless in Svensk. The images at left and below are from the CD.
I went by the Clear Spring School Workshop this morning and found that the students were very enthusiastic about their accomplishments. The photos at left show tenoning legs with a brace and Veritas tenoner, and then drilling the seat using a Forstner bit in the drill press.
The hands as a metaphor for control:

When things get out of control, we say they are out of hand. When we want to take control, we try to get a grip, or get a handle on things. When we are missing a view of fundamental reality, we say we are out of touch with it. When we are likely to say something, truthful, but possibly embarrassing, our mothers tell us to sit on our hands. This last one describes the interesting relationship between the hands and speech. Stifle the hands and the mouth is mute, but the body, its weight squirming on restrained hands, hints of things ready to pop from the mouths of babes. So which came first? The intelligent use of the hands? I would say so, hands down. If the hands have the power to restrain speech, we know where they fit the hierarchy in relation to the brain.

If you want to control someone, and make them mute, take control of their use of their hands... If I thought world leaders were smart enough to understand this, I would be a conspiracy theorist and be looking at the removal of the hands from modern education as the means of our deliberate enslavement.

Educators like Froebel, Otto Salomon, and Felix Adler made it quite clear that the education of the hands was a direct means of social liberation, not just for the lower classes, but for all. It wasn't a conspiracy. They were very clear about their objectives. Froebel's kindergartens were shut down for a time by the Kaiser. Could it be that the Kaiser and rulers of other nations had not yet figured out how to disguise their intentions?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Greg Mitchell, rustic furniture maker from Fayetteville is teaching a children's class for ESSA in the Clear Springs School Woodshop this week. As the week progresses, I'll have more to show. Some of the students will have finished work tomorrow morning. Come back then and you will see some their work.
I've saved the best for last...

Also from Dr. Felix Adler 1880:


And so there can be nothing more salutary, nothing more wholesome, nothing more efficient for good, than a system of work education, which shall relieve industry of its deadness and its dullness, and give to the laborers the reasons why of those occupations with which they are daily concerned.

We lend, moreover, an entirely new import to the method of industrial education in the school. We are seeking to apply the principle which ought to be at the foundation of every modern scheme of education: namely, that, as experiment conjoined with observation is necessary to the discovery of truth, so object-creating must supplement object-teaching in that rediscovery of truths which it is the purpose of all education to facilitate. Therefore, work instruction is not a something outside the regular instruction; it is an organic part of the regular instruction. It becomes a means of teaching mathematics, for instance, more thoroughly, causing the pupils to work out mathematical truths with their very hands; it becomes the means of teaching natural history more effectively; it is worked into inseparable connection with the entire scheme of the scholar's mental and moral development. It becomes the means of making the hand a wise and cunning hand, by putting more brain into it. But, on the other hand, it also makes the brain a clear and vigorous and enlightened brain, by giving it the salutary corrective of the demonstrations of the hand. And so the system of work education, considered as an advance in education, generally has a value of its own. . .
A bit more from Dr. Adler 1880:

It is ...the object of our common schools to give the poorest and least-favored children the same preliminary education that we should wish for all our own sons and daughters. What should that education include? It would include, if we are wise, not only what is taught in our public schools, but something more. That something more is something which many wise parents.. Are now forced to supply out of private means for their children--the rudimentary training of hand as well as eye. To learn to drive a nail straight, how to inset a screw neatly, how to fit the edges of a plank together, how to make a square box (my specialty), is to obtain an elementary education almost as essential as to know that two and two make four. It is really the principle of two and two, worked out with the hand as well as the brain; it is to abstract knowledge what geometry is to algebra.
It is not necessary to carry it very far, or to apply it to a variety of forms. A little of it goes a great way; but that little is so important that early education is very defective without it. It is not enough to "pick it up." A boy of natural mechanical aptitude will pick it up in his father's workshop or in a boat-builder's shop. But most boys have no access to such place; and if they had; there is no one to teach them to do it carefully; and, moreover, the boys who have least mechanical aptitude are those who most need such training. Any man who can remember the delight with which he first learned to do neatly and accurately any simple thing with his hands-- learned from a sailor to tie a knot, or from a farmer to turn a furrow-- ought to recognize the value of making it a part of every child's training; not to do those particular things, but to use his ten fingers carefully and methodically, in the simplest, cheapest, and most convenient way.
Dr. Felix Adler (1851-1933) was a graduate of Columbia University and the founder of the Workingman's School at the corner of 45th and Broadway. The Workingman's School was one of the first in the U.S. to use manual training as an important part of elementary education. It was established in association with one of the nations first kindergartens.

The Workingman's School was established to serve as "a model of instruction which can and should be given to the children of the people--to enable them, when grown up to be men and women, to help themselves, and at the same time to give the dignity of intellectuality to labor and to workingmen as a class."

Dr. Adler stated in 1880:

I believe that work education can be given to the youngest children, in the lowest classes of the school. and here is perhaps the main point, in which the importance of what we consider to be our new departure in education becomes apparent. For industrial education has long been given in many countries of the world to older children--boys of fifteen or sixteen years of age; but industrial education has never, to our knowledge, been introduced in the lower classes of schools; has never been combined organically with the whole scheme of education, and been made to support and coalesce with all the other studies of the child. And there are other ways, assuredly, which must occur to everybody, in which industrial education will tend to elevated the workman. It will develop his aesthetic sense, giving him something of the artist's pleasure in his work, giving him also greater skill, and thus enabling him to command higher wages and more of the comforts of life. But it is with industrial education as a means of fostering the dignity and independence of the workman that we are mainly concerned. For, upon the possession of these qualities, it will depend whether the social inequalities that exist between the working people and other classes of society will be gradually ameliorated, or so long as they must exist, will be endured in the right spirit.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The following is Frank Lloyd Wright's account of the effects of his attending a Froebel Kindergarten.

The Strips of colored paper, glazed and matte, (had) remarkable soft brilliant colors. Now came the geometric byplay of these charming colored combinations! The structural figures to be made with peas and small straight sticks; slender constructions, the joinings accented by the little green pea-globes. The smooth shapely maple blocks with which to build, the sense of which never afterwards leaves the fingers: form become feeling.

And the exciting cardboard shapes with pure scarlet face--such scarlet! Smooth triangular shapes, white-black and the edges cut into rhomboids with which to make designs on the flat table top. What shapes they naturally made if only you would let them!

Adding thickness, getting sculpture thereby, the square became the cube, the triangle the tetrahedron, the circle the sphere. These primary forms and figures were the secret of all effects... which were ever got into the architecture of the world.

This tells just a bit of the kinds of experience and pleasure that our children find in the Clear Spring School Woodshop. But, best yet, it is told from the perspective of a man who used what he had learned to have profound impact on modern culture and human civilization. At one point, Froebel had planned to become an architect, but the play with his simple gifts, built the foundation for much more.

We have become a nation whose schools in the words of Emerson, are "at war with common sense." We have a choice, but nothing will happen if we sit, as we were trained to sit, idly by.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A few words from the early days (1885)

Dr. Felix Adler on manual training:
Leave the direct material applications entirely out of account; suppose there were no factories in the world; suppose that all the millions of children educated in our public schools were to be ladies and gentlemen of leisure: I should plead for it then as now, simply because of its broadening, humanizing effect; because it quickens into activity certain faculties of human nature which too commonly lie dormant; because, instead of the present one-sided development, it is a step further in the direction of that all-sided development which is the ideal in education.

James MacAlister, superintendent of public schools in Philadelphia:
...manual training as I understand it, aims at general results. Its purpose is to develop human beings on the executive side of their nature as well as on the receptive. Its aim is to equip a boy so that, when he gets in the world, he will be able to do as well as to think.

John W. Dickinson, secretary of the Board of Education in Massachusetts:
Our public schools do not propose to train their members directly for the practice of any trade or any profession. They propose to do much more than that, to give the children the opportunity of obtaining that knowledge and that cultivation of mental power which will in due time, bring them to the various occupations of life, ready to pursue them in the most intelligent and most productive manner.

Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of the New York College for the Training of Teachers:
Manual training as I use the term is mental training. It is mental training by means of manual training. It is included in the psychologically determined course of study because it reaches important mental faculties which no other studies reach. It is also a most valuable and important stimulus to the receptive faculty of observation. The child can neither draw accurately nor construct correctly unless he observes acutely.

From a few years earlier, A Lecture Read before the Society in Amory Hall on Sunday, March 3, 1844. Ralph Waldo Emerson:
We are students of words; we are shut up in schools and colleges and recitation rooms from ten to fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing. We cannot use our hands, or our legs, or our eyes, or our arms... In a hundred high schools and colleges, this warfare against common sense still goes on.
Usually if someone tells you that something will cure cancer and the common cold, restore hair growth and do the dishes, you know you are talking to a snake-oil charlatan.

But when we talk about the hands... That they can restore interest in education, alleviate depression and anxiety, help in the restoration of the planet, and do the dishes, it is all true.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Richard Bazeley is a woodworking teacher in St. Arnaud in Central Victoria, Australia. He teaches boys and girls grades 7-12. There are a lot of similarities in school conditions between the United States and Australia. He wrote the following to share in the blog, and I hope others will share as well.

As an introductory lesson to new 12-13 yr old students in the woodwork class I ask the students to trace their hand with a pencil on a blank sheet of A4 paper. They must also print their name and the date. This is an important record of the occasion and allows me to learn their names. It also gives me a starting point for the first lesson. I ask them to count the number of fingers. This gives me a lead in to talk about safety. I then show them my tracing and ask them to compare the size of their hand to that of an adult. This leads in to an examination of the tools we use and some basic ergonomics. Holding a saw, a square, even the way they hold a pencil all relate to their hands. When they receive their first piece of wood they are asked to use their other senses to examine and write about the grain, colour, texture, smell, sound and sometimes taste of the wood which is usually a piece of pine. We move on to measuring and writing down the dimensions of the wood before setting out some sizes and cutting pieces to length. The students end up with a handful of small cubes to make into dice. It is amazing what you can do with the minimum amount of materials. By the end of this lesson the students have had an introduction to the subject, safety, ergonomics as well as literacy and numeracy.

The above lesson does vary from the traditional approach in that it does not involve the preparation of the timber which is done by machine so that all students have the same size stock to begin with. It may sound to some like a very conservative approach but I am trying to lay some foundations here and put in place some basic skill and thinking that I think the students will benefit from.

One indication of the success of this lesson is that they are back waiting eagerly at the door the following week.

Richard Bazeley 2007-07-06

We find that kids are the same the world over. Nothing does so well at engaging their creative imaginations as working with wood. The photo below is of Richard with one of his students. Thanks Richard for sharing a great lesson.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A couple years ago I received a desperate email from a man who had bought one of my books about boxes. He had gone through the book, making a list of the various tools used and had gone shopping. His new father-in-law was coming to the United States from Japan, and he wanted to make one of the more advanced boxes from the book as a gift. He said that all his friends at work made fun of his new obsession as he acquired tool after tool.

His email to me was, "Now that I have all the tools, where do I start?" I had to ask him to start at the beginning of the book, with the simple projects and work his way up to the complex skills required in the most advanced projects. Having the tools was no substitute for having skills and experience.

There is a widespread belief in our modern American culture that getting what we want has to do with shopping for it. You gather information and then spend your money. Mission accomplished.

George W. Bush suggested that the best way to combat the terror of 9-11, 2001 was to go shopping as a show of support for the American economy.

Now, in the environmental movement there seems to be a growing belief that shopping for new technologies will provide a solution to global warming... whether it is shopping for a new refrigerator, or for carbon credits to offset travel. While I don't want to diminish the importance of those things. I can assure you that shopping will not be enough.

The man who thought owning the right stuff for his workshop might offset the need for experience and skill, was disappointed at my response. But there is no substitute for the direct investment of oneself, heart, soul and hands in making change and the necessary change will be greater than we can yet imagine. In the book on boxes, you can start at the beginning. The book on how we address climate change and protecting the Earth's resources is on its first tentative chapter, still in outline form.

There was an interesting scene at the final moments of the movie, Apollo 13. The character played by Tom Hanks, facing certain death looked at his hands and fell into a state of wonder at their power. From this state of reverence his mind opened to the solution of the mission's problems.

Now, as we on our small planet hurtle through space on an even more vital and desperate mission, I can assure you that through the contemplation of our own hands, we will arrive at a clear understanding of our role as stewards of the earth and be rewarded by discovery of the essential qualities of our own natures. I can also assure you that as we continue to ignore the meaningful engagement of our hands, our mental health and the fate of the planet are each placed at certain risk.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

My wife Jean and my daughter Lucy and I went on the Kings River this morning as a 4th of July Getaway. It beats fireworks. These days we pass over water high up on bridges designed so we are no longer conscious of what lies beneath. But there is a remarkable real world that starts at the water's edge. For those who live their lives so busily in cities as to miss the natural world completely, I have some sadness and express my regret. It may take some effort to step beyond the routine, out of your comfort zone of home, office and car. I suspect you might find it rewarding.

Among the birds I saw were kingfishers, and a green heron that kept slightly ahead of us on our trip downriver. In the bright sunlight, the green heron often looks coal black. It is one of the world's tool using birds. It will drop bait in the water and then eat whatever small fish are attracted to it. The photo below is of my daughter Lucy in a kayak.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A few days ago I mentioned a concept, "globally informed localism". It is a concept distinctly different from "globalism" which seeks to expand trade of goods and materials to benefit various national economies. It is also different from "localism or provincialism" in that it seeks to understand the global ramifications of local activities and allows those activities to be directed toward resolving overall planetary concerns... Like stopping global warming, equitable resolution of long-standing conflicts, and the widespread growth of human dignity and social justice.

There is some talk about a "post-industrial society," but there is no way we can become "post-industrial" until the lessons of industrialization have become widely understood.

I've discussed Sweden and Sloyd before in the blog, and since repetition has the value of practice in refining and clarifying the message, here I go again... In the early to mid 1800's in Sweden, manufactured goods were widely introduced. The quality and price of those goods led to a drastic decline in "hemsloyd," or traditional Swedish household crafts. The loss of those activities in the typical Swedish home led to a dramatic increase in alcoholism, a rise in depression, and the onset of serious social problems.

The introduction of Educational Sloyd in the schools, even though developed and promoted by Otto Salomon, a Swedish Jew, was widely supported by the Lutheran Church where they had witnessed the consequences of industrialization. Throughout the world, one of the primary effects of industrialization has been the loss of traditional sources of self-esteem in the populace... That being the making of objects of usefulness and beauty. You can see this in the history of the American Indian, and you can see it in Africa today.

As an artist I've learned to look at both the positive space and the negative space surrounding it. In the last post I mentioned T-shirts. You may notice that the greatest tragedy is the loss throughout "the third-world" of the traditional craft that clothed their populace for hundreds of generations and provided clear opportunities for development and expression of self-esteem.

We will not become post-industrial until we come to a full understanding of the significance of working with our hands, and once again take up our traditional roles as makers of the objects that provide meaning in our lives. This is true in the third world, and it is equally true for those of us privileged to live anxiously and depressed in our false heaven of relentless, insatiable consumption of the earth's resources.
Do you ever wonder how the pages of National Geographic get littered with photos of children wearing Calvin Klein and Nike T-shirts? Have you ever wondered what happens to all the old T-shirts hauled away to the Salvation Army and other thrift stores? One question answers the other.

They get compressed in bails and sent to the third world where they are sold to clothe the world's poor and put an end to the making and wearing of indigenous clothing. A documentary film, T-Shirt Travels explains it. It is one of the sad things about globalism. It destroys what is unique and interesting in the world's cultures.

You may have read about the struggle for Indian independence from England. Ghandi saw the forces of British colonialism played out through the import of manufactured western goods, and in resistance, he encouraged his followers in the making and wearing of homespun cloth using portable spinning machines called "charkas". The word charka is related to the word "chakra," which describes the spinning energy centers of the human form. A photo of a charka is shown below.

Monday, July 02, 2007

We live in an interesting time. If you watch public television or subscribe to National Geographic, you may end up knowing more about the world's tropical rain forests than you know about the things growing in your own back yard. There are easy ways to remedy this situation. One is to spend time on your hands and knees getting to know the plants... Spade the soil; plant something and watch it grow. If you want to make something from wood, use the woods in your own community. If you don't have time for such things, invest in the lives of your neighbors. Turn off the TV and go to your local bar for a night of local music. It may be better than your iPod, or at least more interesting and real. Go to your local farmers market to shop. The produce may not be as beautifully displayed as at your Walmart Supercenter, but it will be more lovingly grown, and the investment you make in your local farmers will return many fold. Any opportunity you take to invest in the lives of your neighbors is better than investing in iron gates and guards to keep them out and a great deal more rewarding.

So, think globally. The needs of the planet at this point are for us to become grounded in community, less dependent on transportation and imported oil, more fully invested in the growth of skills, and the unlimited possibilities of growth in each other.

And it all starts with the hands... how much more local can you get?

The photo above is the stone wall outside my office window. One of the best ways to build skill (and quality of life) in your own community is to put craftsmen to work. Ron and Stacy, two of our local craftsmen are excellent stone masons in a town noted for the beauty of our stone walls and masonry. The stone is local Arkansas sandstone.