Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Today in the Clear Spring wood shop I introduced the 5th and 6th grade students to David Pye's theory in explanation of the value of hand crafted work, "Certainty vs. Risk." I've explained this earlier in the blog and you can find out more by using the Google blog search function above left. Type in "David Pye" or "Certainty."

All that talk about "risk" made the students ask if they could carve writing pens as a break from cutting joints for boxes. So we got out the knives and passed out the walnut pen blanks. I am pleased to say that no band-aids were required. When I spoke at the CODA conference, someone from the audience asked, "Do the children ever injure themselves with those knives?" My answer that brought a round of laughter from the audience, "Not twice."

A great deal of useful perspective is offered in David Pye's philosophy of craftsmanship, Certainty vs. Risk. As Rob Knight and I were discussing before he left for home this morning, kids fall from trees and break arms, and yet climbing trees is an important part of childhood and a wise parent encourages both safety and challenge to safety, taking risks, developing both skill and courage. And the stupidity and failure of our age is to see the value of one and not the other. The photo above is 6th grade student Kurtis, carving a walnut pen.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Today at Clear Spring School Rob Knight from Community School in St. Louis visited, and like most woodworkers, found helping an irresistible impulse. We made finished the sloyd trivets started last week. Then with the first and second graders we took another hike as you can see from the photos above.

Monday, April 28, 2008

No doubt some of my younger readers will enjoy Make Magazine which gives inspiration and how-to for making all kinds of interesting things, from g-force meters to shoes that would make your feet feel (and look) like they just danced off the Starship Enterprise. I guess I am an old-fashioned maker myself. I like wood, and instead of starting with old discarded junk, I prefer going start to finish from raw wood. Put your time and attention into making something beautiful from wood and it can last centuries instead of just until the batteries wear out. If I can avoid nails or screws, and do at least some of it with hand tools, so much the better.

But we have come to a time in which if people are making anything at all, even weird, outlandish apparati, a miracle is at hand. You can also find out all kinds of interesting stuff, and maybe get inspired to create something wacky and fun at the Make Blog. If you learn something in the process you are hot! Or cool. depending on your generation.

Tomorrow I have a guest in the Clear Spring wood shop from Community School in St. Louis. Rob Knight teaches in a 60 year old woodworking program, so I am honored that we will get to spend time together talking about wood working with kids.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Joe Barry reported the following: "I just saw a report on CBS' Sunday Morning show about a hand model. You would appreciate the fact that a hand model doesn't use her hands!

She walks around with elbow length gloves and both hands held up like a surgeon who has just scrubbed. Her husband does all the cooking and housework and her kids buckle her shoes. I was reminded of patients I've had with RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy - now known as CRRPS: complex regional pain syndrome.) for whom any touch is painful and even a breeze across the skin can be excruciating.

What a tragedy. Someone who makes her living with her hands doesn't use her hands!"

You can read this weird tale on the CBS website Here! Or if you are interested in hands that actually do stuff, stay tuned to this blog, or better yet, put your own to work and watch the action first hand and close-up.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Freidrich Froebel said, "Let us live for our children." What he meant wasn't that we become slaves to their every whim, but that we structure our lives to assure their safety and eventual arrival at maturity and productive citizenship. In the meantime, a quick look around at modern culture would tell that we don't live for our children. We give them what's needed to keep them occupied and out of our hair so we can do our own things. And we often fail to give what is needed most...

The following is from the BIST website. "As educators, we know that children are becoming more and more challenging within the public school setting. Many of our youth are coming from situations where abuse, drug/alcohol usage, homelessness, and/or lack of supervision are common. Many of these children then come to our buildings and demonstrate behavioral problems. At one time, the old forms of discipline were effective tools in dealing with these children. However, these techniques are no longer successful. Consequently, schools need to create new intervention strategies when dealing with troubled youth."

This is from Charles Kinglsey: "Being forced to work, and forced to do your best, will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the idle will never know."

While I am visiting in Omaha, my sister Mary who teaches 7th and 8th grades has been telling me about "BIST", a system of putting control of classrooms back in the hands of teachers for the sake of the children they serve. Her whole school has adopted the BIST model to great effect on the learning environment. BIST stands for "Behavioral Intervention Support Team"

Friday, April 25, 2008

The following is by Clive Thompson in Wired. How DIYers Just Might Revive American Innovation

"What a mess. I'm sitting on the floor of my apartment, surrounded by electronic parts, a cigar box, a soldering gun, and stray bits of wire. I'm trying to build my own steampunk-style clock -- hacking a couple of volt meter dials to display hours and minutes. It'll look awesome when it's done.

If it ever gets done -- I keep botching the soldering. A well-soldered joint is supposed to look like a small, shiny volcano. My attempts look like mashed insects, and they crack when I try to assemble the device.

Why am I so inept? I used to do projects like this all the time when I was a kid. But in high school, I was carefully diverted from shop class when the administration decided I was college-bound. I stopped working with my hands and have barely touched a tool since.

As it turns out, this isn't a problem just for me -- it's a problem for America. We've lost our Everyman ability to build, maintain, and repair the devices we rely on every day. And that's making it harder to solve the country's nastiest problems, like oil dependence, climate change, and global competitiveness."

Clive speaks with absolute clarity and precision when he states: "When we stop working with our hands, we cease to understand how the world really works."

Clive Thompson's blog, "Collision Detection" can be found Here!
I am in Omaha, Nebraska visiting my mother. Her home is full of antiques passed along through generations of family. Each object tells a story, reminds of a person or place from the past, memories to be shared and treasured like the object itself.

We live in a time of disposable objects. I suspect that many homes of the elderly in America hold cultural riches incomprehensible to the GameBoy generation. Things wear out, break and become obsolete, then join other collections of materials in landfills, and are sealed in the earth by layers of fresh dirt. Perhaps in millions of years these layers of things will be compressed and reformed into never-before-seen metamorphic geologic layers with some new value to mankind. New forms of beauty might emerge. We can hope.

Is there a connection between the devaluation of objects and devaluation of the people who made them or used them and whose stories are told in spots of wear, where hands held them tight in use? We have become rude and angry in direct proportion to the rate at which we have filled our dumps with meaningless things.

Some day a child will walk in fields and discover things uncovered by the wind or by water rushing down a hillside. Interesting and incomprehensible artifacts of our short time on earth will be revealed.

Perhaps by that time, we will have evolved as a culture that lives for its children, that challenges them to live creative lives in the making of beautifully crafted cultural objects.

In the meantime, I keep working on rustic furniture. I brought work to do while I'm here in Nebraska. Photos to edit, chapters to write and edited material to review. Shown above is the process for taking apart a pallet, using a recipro-saw to cut the nails holding things together. I plan to use this wood to make a small cabinet. the photo below is of using a rotary chisel to texture the inside edges of a rustic maple table top.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Today I've been working on rustic book projects, two variations of a coffee table design made from consecutively sawn spalted maple slabs. One variation has a base made from tree limbs using the Lee Valley-Veritas tenoner as shown in the first photo. The tops for both versions are textured on the edges using a rotary chisel as shown in the photo below. The patented rotary chisel is a lot like a router bit, but is intended for use in an air powered die grinder. I use a roto-zip as the source of power so I don't have the compressor noise to suddenly distract me. You use it like a tack hammer. A light tapping motion against the wood creates a random carved texture. It helps to pay attention to the wood grain and direction of rotation to get the smoothest cut.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Here are just a few more photos from today's hike: A shamrock in bloom, elm leaves, dogwood leaves, dogwood blossoms and hickory leaves when they first emerge.

The photos show our first and second grade celebration of Earthday. My own celebration was to carry the camera along and take photos of emergent life. The top photo is of a small hickory tree with its first leaves of the year. Last year the leaves were all killed by late frost, so it is a pleasure to see a more normal spring. Below are our students gathered around the stone table made by our high school students last year. Outdoor education and time in the outdoors exploring and imagining are an important part of development that is being ignored in most schools.
Today is Earthday, April 22, 2008. The first Earthday took place when I was in college, and I was extremely hopeful at the time that it would represent an awakening to the beauty and wonder of our small planet and usher in a time of stewardship and protection. I had greater hopes for my own generation than we were able to deliver.

So here we are about 40 years later. We have celebrated the day, but done little to serve its mission.

And so we place hopes on the young, and we keep working toward our goals. Today the Clear Spring School 1st and 2nd grade students, their teacher and I will go on a hike in the woods.

One of the important things that has changed in the last 40 years is that we now have a clear idea what happens when we completely neglect the planet on which we live. The effects range from the monumental scale of global warming to more subtle consequences for the individual children of our planet. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder inspired the "No child Left Inside" movement to increase environmental awareness. According to Louv, the effects of time spent in the wild are also very personal. He says that enjoying nature reduces kids' loneliness, depression and attention problems. It works for me, too. I feel better when I am able to spend time outdoors and I am looking forward to a walk in the woods. Happy Earthday.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Here are two of the extremes in woodworking. The sawmill business involves a large investment in equipment for efficient processing of logs into lumber. Even a small mill can require hundreds of thousands of dollars. Shown above is my "small" order of basswood, approximately 600 feet which I purchased and had delivered this afternoon. It is "green" and will have to air dry for about a year before use, starting out stickered and undercover outdoors. After about 3 months, it will be moved to the barn for storage an additional 4-6 months, at which time it will be moved to the woodshop for final acclimation before use. This basswood is destined for making small boxes.

The other photo shows a method for drying wood for rustic work, using a 100 W. bulb in a box to dry the ends of sticks before tenons are cut. The mortises cut in green wood will shrink, and tighten on the dry tenons, using an age old technique for working green wood in making chairs and benches that last. After sealing the box with tape, I cut a window in the top to allow me to observe the temperature and humidity inside the box. The light bulb is shielded from contact with combustible materials by a shroud of sheet metal.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

We all know that time is money and the object of life is to squeeze as much as you can from your limited time on earth. Right? We want the fastest chips, and the fastest highways, so there will be no impediment to the self-important objectives we hurl ourselves toward with head-first abandon.

As you can see in the photos, we have had some rain in Northwest Arkansas. Rain and more rain. And weather has a way of reminding us that not all will conform to our expectations.

A few years ago the Arkansas State Highway Department came up with a plan to abandon our much loved one lane suspension bridge at Beaver and replace it with one more modern, much faster and capable of carrying the weight of large trucks. The highway department wants to turn Highway 187 into a short-cut to carry transportation around the city of Eureka Springs at the height of our tourist season.

Ironically the residents of Beaver, for reasons inexplicable in the 21st Century, prefer their town to be a wonderful place to live, rather than a short-cut and by-pass for those who have little regard for anything remotely resembling 19th Century concepts of home and community. Most of us who live in this part of the county love the bridge and recognize it as being a tremendous asset to our tourist economy.

With the old bridge at Beaver, before it was covered by floodwaters, crossing was always a matter of courtesy and taking turns. There were times when the bridge would be out of commission for periods during the day when repairs were being made. There were months earlier in its life when it was out of commission as it was undergoing periodic restoration. But the inconvenience of those times was not a concern to residents of Beaver in comparison to the loss of those defining elements of community that would be at risk if the Beaver Bridge were no more.

No doubt, there are those at the Arkansas Highway Department that are basking now in the glory of their I-told-you-sos, who will try to use this flood as the excuse to abandon the bridge and proceed with their plans for replacement. My sincere hope is that they realize that what they are inclined to abandon must instead be restored and preserved.

I have the temerity to suggest that time is not money. It is best measured in other things, like attention, compassion, neighborly concern, the sensing of beauty, the discovery of truth and the exercise of craftsmanship. We choose either expedience or wisdom in framing our reality and the difference is measured in the quality of our lives.

In the photos you see the opening of the floodgates of Beaver dam to a record height, and the resulting inundation of the Beaver bridge. When the water level drops, highway engineers will assess its safety and make recommendations. Now, however is the time to lobby strongly in its behalf. More photos of the Beaver Bridge can be found here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I bought a tiny little hand made book yesterday at the Carnegie Library Book sale, and came home to do research on it's maker. Joan E. Popovich was born deaf and placed by her parents in a home for the retarded at the age of 3 1/2. Her mis-diagnosis was discovered when she was almost 9 as a result of caregivers noticing her artistic aptitude and she went on to earn a masters of fine arts degree and an international reputation as a printmaker. This small limited edition (20 copies) hand printed and bound of hand-made paper with original lithographs is an autobiographical work describing her escape from institution to artistic freedom. Her story can be found on-line Here. Would it surprise anyone to discover that her escape was through the creativity and wisdom of her hands? The lithograph shown in the photo above is entitled "Silence."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Those readers familiar with kindergarten inventor Friedrich Froebel might not be surprised by the new reincarnation of kindergarten as described in the Wall Street Journal. While most children in the US are suffering from "Nature deficit disorder", a complete disassociation from the natural world, parents and teachers in Germany and the Scandinavian countries are returning children to the forests... an upbringing, not unlike the early life of Freidrich Froebel in the Thuringian woods. At the CODA conference I chatted with one grandmother who had given her grandson real tools for Christmas. Unfortunately her daughter-in-law didn't go along. Use of the tools, she said, would get her son "dirty," and make a "mess."

German Tots Learn to Answer Call of Nature"

By MIKE ESTERL April 14, 2008;

IDSTEIN, Germany -- Each weekday, come rain or shine, a group of children, ages 3 to 6, walk into a forest outside Frankfurt to sing songs, build fires and roll in the mud. To relax, they kick back in a giant "sofa" made of tree stumps and twigs.

The birthplace of kindergarten is returning to its roots. While schools and parents elsewhere push young children to read, write and surf the Internet earlier in order to prepare for an increasingly cutthroat global economy, some little Germans are taking a less traveled path -- deep into the woods.

Germany has about 700 Waldkindergärten, or "forest kindergartens," in which children spend their days outdoors year-round. Blackboards surrender to the Black Forest. Erasers give way to pine cones. Hall passes aren't required, but bug repellent is a good idea.

Please follow this link to the Wall Street Journal for the rest of the story.

At Clear Spring School, we have acres of woodlands that have engaged our children in imaginative play for years. When my daughter Lucy, now a freshman at Columbia University was in 3rd and 4th grades, she and her friends built a fort in the woods they called "double tree," with no reference or similarity to the Hilton Hotels of the same name. In the meantime, children throughout the world are taught in artificial places without reference to the real world. Can it be any surprise that we fail to engage them in real learning?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dana Jones in her comment on the last post quoted the following by Peter Dormer from the American Craft Council website:

"The separation of craft from art and design is one of the phenomena of late-twentieth-century Western culture. The consequences of this split have been quite startling. It has led to the separation of 'having ideas' from 'making objects.' It has also led to the idea that there exists some sort of mental attribute known as 'creativity' that precedes or can be divorced from a knowledge of how to make things. This has led to art without craft."

The denigration of the hand leading to the separation of craft from art and design actually started long before and is not just a late 20th century phenomena. In the days of ancient Greece, and as prescribed by Socrates, citizens and their wives were to take no part in hand-crafts or craftsmanship as these were to be done by slaves and were considered demeaning and morally degrading to the upper class.

Early educators like Commenius, and Pestalozzi began to notice the integral relationship between the hands and intellectual development, thereby creating modern pedagogy. Froebel, Cygnaeus, and Salomon, then Dewey and Howard Gardner sustained this conviction against rampant forces of blind intellectual elitism.

But the hands are essentially irrepressible. Like living in the shadow of the mountain that makes its own weather, we live unconscious of their profound effect. We may live in pretense of intellectual superiority. Or we can stop pretending. You can hang a diploma on the wall and look at it each day. I don't intend to make light of the sacrifices made to attain such recognition. But, when the toilet stops up, when your car won't start, when you want to make something beautiful for your home or when you want to drink deeply and fully at the fountain of human culture, sorry, but the diploma is not quite enough.

I was at the Albany, NY airport at 9 AM for my flight home from Woodworker's Showcase and saw a string of carts loaded over the top with bags of trash, each pushed by a worker dwarfed by the contents. "How can there be so much trash so early in the morning?" I asked. "We do this about every two hours," one replied. I told her I was grateful she was there and how beautiful the airport was because of her work. "No one ever tells us that," she said.

Otto Salomon described one of the purposes of educational sloyd as being to instill a deep respect for the dignity of labor in all students regardless of social class. The work of the hands is about caring, the application of attention toward making the world a better place. It is about time we noticed and acknowledged all those who do so. We maintain a course of cultural and intellectual stupidity so long as we neglect the education of our hands.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

From the American Craft Council website: A nice reminder of what this is all about. After two weeks of intense promotion of the hands in learning, I get back to making and writing tomorrow. I have an order to fill for Appalachian Spring Galleries and will start a new chapter in the rustic furniture book. I'll have photos to show as work progresses.
Here are a couple photos from last weekend's CODA conference. We were invited to a reception at the home of John and Robyn Horn and a small gathering is shown in front of the entertainment center I built for them in about 1997. The second photo shows a small gathering of some of the important persons of American crafts. From left to right, Jean McLaughlin, director of Penland, Andrew Glascow, director of the American Crafts Council, Dian Magie, director of the Center for Craft Creativity and Design, and David Willard, director of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.
Here are a couple photos from today in the Clear Spring Wood shop. Exchange student Peggie is holding the mobile made by the 11th and 12th grade students in their study of comparative religions. Below, are 5th and 6th grade students, teacher and Faith Clover cutting practice joints following my demonstration of hand cut dovetails.
I often look at the question, "where do we go from here?" As a craftsman I am inclined to lay out step-by-step... a sequence of operations that will lead us to the desired result. If the objective is a restoration of the hands in education, how do we get there? I call it the "affirmative action" for the hands. We are each damaged by the denigration of the hands. Without regard for race, sex, ethnicity and social or economic class, the stilling of hands in American classrooms, imposes a profound toll on each individual, his or her wisdom, intelligence and joy of life.

If you are reading this you probably know what I mean, and rather than have me go through all that again, I suggest your read deeply in the blog's other posts and begin examination of your own hands. As an example, I stepped up to the counter at the hardware store yesterday, and when the clerk asked me how many boards I needed, I looked down at my fingers and noted that my left hand was counting 3 forming slightly ahead of my speech, the expressions of my intellect. When you begin to notice your hands you begin to realize their profound participation in the management of thought.

As a craftsman, before I begin mapping the step-by-step in the making of a much desired object, I assess the materials available. They have a huge impact on the success of the work and its finished design. If I have the needed stuff, I get cutting. If not, I begin my search.

So what are materials of upcoming revolution in American education? I spent the last two weeks in their company. The weekend before last I was with the Northeast Woodworker's Association at Woodworkers Showcase. It is obvious that the woodworking clubs of America have both potential and interest. Last weekend, I was with CODA and the directors of craft associations from all over the US and Canada. And this week, Faith Clover, art educator from the University of Minnesota is sharing time in the wood shop. The most wonderful and expressive work often comes from challenging materials, and it is a challenge to consider how to assemble and align these elements into something of beauty, utility and joy.

That's when a woodworker gets into joinery. Today I am going to demonstrate cutting dovetails for the 5th and 6th grade students. When they go to Old Washington next week, I want them to notice things, and dovetails are one of the things that will tell them that someone who cared about quality and lasting value was there before, investing himself or herself through applied skill and loving attention in making the world a more meaningful place. If we want our children to become such children and then such adults, they must be able to imagine themselves as such. Woodshop and engagement in crafts is essential.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Today, Faith Clover, Ph.D. University of Minnesota, joined us in the Clear Spring woodshop. With very little prior experience, she made a sloyd trivet and model sailboat. Faith's responsibility at the University is with student teacher placement and curriculum development for their masters in arts education degree.

The 1st and 2nd grade students made projects of their own design. Shown below are Ozric with his truck, Julian with his dragon and Jenny with her bird feeder.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lynette Jennings, in her presentation at CODA suggested that art has drifted out to left field where it is incomprehensible and irrelevant to the vast majority of folks. If I am to accept what she says as true, and perhaps it is, how can art be brought back and made both relevant and comprehensible? I suggest that it may require a restoration of craftsmanship as integral to the creation of work. When craftsmanship is present, you become witness to the truth of the artist's concern and dedication to the subject. Where craftsmanship is absent, when work is executed without care or concern, how can an artist expect viewers other than those privy to the inside joke to regard it as worthy of his or her attention?

The other part is this: most Americans no longer know enough about art or craftsmanship from experiential education to relate to it regardless of its relevance or quality. If we are to be a nation of arts, we must also be a nation of skilled artisans. And that is why the hands must be returned to creative engagement in American classrooms.

Al Mayberry sent photos of his kids at work in his Marin Primary and Middle School classroom, Larkspur, CA as shown above. Al's students make a variety of projects from Dulcimers to RC cars and machines. And you can see they have fun, too.
I am glad to be home in Eureka Springs after a weekend of talking hands with craft school, craft center, and museum directors. Today I introduce Faith Clover, Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota to Clear Spring School and the Wisdom of the Hands. She will be visiting until Wednesday afternoon.

There is a great deal to learn from David Pye, craft philosopher. He talked about workmanship of risk vs. workmanship of certainty. The idea is that machines and specialized jigs can create certainty in the making of objects and displace the need for skill and constant attention. In workmanship of risk, a minor lapse of attention can be conveyed to the object being made, damaging it, making it less fit for use and even lead to its destruction. Most craftsmen know this well, but find pleasure and self-actualization in the attention required to create beautiful and lasting work. The satisfaction of success is made deep by the investment of attention and care.

The same David Pye philosophy can be applied to other things. The avoidance of risk is why we buy insurance, or why we might buy a new car and trade in our old jalopies. It can explain why some might ride a surfboard or others a bus or cab.

I want to introduce you to the concept of "teaching of risk." When we empower teachers to take chances, experiment and grow, stepping into new territories, taking personal risks in the classroom, what are the results?

When we try to take control of classrooms, eliminating risk through the superimposition of externally derived curriculum, we make the effort to standardize the information delivered and the means of delivery. We see school board, administrators and politicians engaged in constant struggle to distance control classroom behavior to the point that teachers are emasculated, marginalized and stripped of their opportunities for the expressions of creativity and care. In the politically driven effort to standardize and eliminate risk is the greatest risk of all. We can see it in the horrific statistics of American education. In urban Minneapolis, for example, the dropout rate is 50%.

Faith Clover told me last night that most art teachers at the masters degree level are driven from teaching within the first three years. This is what happens when the micromanagement of government in its effort to control and eliminate risk, removes the teacher's opportunity for risk and creativity.

I look forward to my 3 days with Faith, sharing my library of Sloyd books, sharing with her the glories of Clear Spring School and showing first hand the wonders of children working with wood.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The CODA (Craft Organization Development Association) conference is over and all the guests are returning to their home communities tomorrow. I am pleased with the feedback from those who attended my presentation, who got the message, and said such kind things about my delivery. A friend had said, "Doug, you are preaching to the choir." But of course we know it is choir practice. It is a challenge to present information in language and form that can be readily absorbed and understood and the opportunity to share information with the choir and to practice its delivery in the company of sincere friends is a treasure.

It is hard to part from this wonderful group. We are now what Frank Wilson calls the "hand tribe." We are bonded at the wrist, fingers interlaced in shared effort at renewal. It will be interesting to see what comes of all this. In the meantime, I want to thank all those who took time to listen and to share, and I welcome continued dialog, or multi-log about reintegrating the hands to their rightful place in American education.

Some in attendance asked if I would provide the text of the hands in education resolution that I had mentioned. Please substitute your own organization name in place of the NAHWW and make whatever changes are required to make it consistent with your own organization's underlying purpose. Then please notify me of its use. It goes as follows:
We, members of the National Association of Home Workshop Writers (NAHWW), adopt hands-on education in our nation's homes and schools as our organization's public service mission and imperative. We regard the use of the hands in education as being an essential requirement for engaging the passions of our children and youth. We acknowledge the importance of learning through use of the hands for bringing forth the inherent wisdom of each individual. We challenge our nation's schools and communities to create and sustain programs of manual training and the arts for children of all ages.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I am here at Little Rock with directors of crafts schools and various crafts related organizations, and these are my folks... People who know the value of the hands in learning... People who are deeply engaged in the empowerment of others to reshape their lives as creators. When an object is lovingly crafted, much more is changed than the transformation of raw material into useful form. The maker is changed, too. He or she reflects higher values, greater aspirations, and increased competence.

I have this challenging conversation going on with the Provost of Columbia University. He was kind at first and then has chosen to ignore my gentle entreaties to regard the hands. But as a maker, I have learned persistence. Above is a photo of St. John the Divine, or as some in New York call it, "St. John the Unfinished". It is on Amsterdam, one block southeast of Columbia and serves as an apt symbol of humanity when the hands are forgotten or ignored. One tower is missing and the other just a stub. Worked stopped decades ago. Who in these days understands the value of craftsmanship and what it means to develop skill? In the meantime, if those engaged in politics and academia were to understand the way crafting shapes the lives of makers in finer form and in reflection of higher purpose and truth, they might glimpse their own potential to transform our society to be just, humane and enlightened.

Perhaps here at CODA we will form a hand tribe and with the strength of shared vision, make a start on change.
The rains in Arkansas this spring have been relentless. We had more rain last night and this morning, so the creeks, rivers and reservoirs are full to the brim and each drop that falls is headed downstream. Bill Sherret, whose steam engines I showed last week is a reporter for the national weather service, and like a few life-long learners among us has a weather station in his back yard that allows him to accurately record rainfall amounts and other interesting weather conditions.

We once were a nation of observers with each taking account of conditions and planning their lives in accord with nature's circumstances. Now as human activities have brought us to such extremes of weather conditions, we may once again be required to find value in our own personal observations and actions.

I have been enjoying the polls and your responses at right. The great thing about these small polls is that they encourage us to reflect, and consider our own expertise. I particularly like the poll at right on sawdust therapy. This is an area that we find strong agreement and yet, the value of the arts in achieving emotional and mental health has never been studied or measured for effectiveness. We spend billions on drugs to alter consciousness, control depression, with countless harmful side effects, but there is not enough money to be made from involvement in creative arts for profit driven research to take an interest in it. The other interesting thing is that the creative arts tend to empower participants, training us in acute observation, and building confidence. That can be a dangerous thing. What if we became creative, well informed activists instead of complaisant consumers?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tomorrow morning I leave for the CODA (Craft Organization Development Association) meeting in Little Rock where I'll be a co-moderator in a peer session on Friday and make an hour long presentation on the Wisdom of the Hands on Saturday. I am always nervous when I have to present in a large group, and like most craftsmen, I feel far more comfortable making things with the wood and tools in my shop than I do in public. But I also know from my own craftsmanship, that you do get better with experience and fine tuning the message is essential. It is just like sanding.

The CODA conference will have representatives from a large number of craft schools and organizations, and my hope is that by sharing an understanding of the essential role of the hands in shaping intelligence, I can help others to reach a common vision through which the role of the hands can be restored to American education. Like woodworkers, those deeply involved in crafts education are the prime market for understanding the hands, and as from a pebble dropped in a pool a ripple spreads.

I will try to post from the hotel in Little Rock and keep my faithful readers informed.
This morning in the Clear Spring School wood shop we started practicing hand cut joints for making boxes. The 5th and 6th grade students are going on their annual trip around the state of Arkansas and one of their stops will be "Old Washington" which was the Civil War capital of Arkansas after Federal troops had taken control of the Arkansas River and Little Rock. The students will be exposed to furniture and log cabins made using dovetail joints, so next week I'll demonstrate how to cut them.

We have achieved a successful working model of integrating the hands and woodshop in general education largely due to the enthusiasm of our teaching staff. I am often amazed at how enthusiastically our students embrace difficult work, and know that our teachers deserve great credit for sustaining a learning atmosphere in which students can take risks and accept failure and leap beyond it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Today in the woodshop, the 1st through 4th grade students made paper pinwheels following the directions given in Ednah Anne Rich's book, Paper Sloyd. We had questions come up in both classes about students paying attention and listening when new things are introduced.

When I was in Saratoga Springs for Showcase and made my presentation on the Wisdom of the Hands program, one of the members of the audience asked if I have statistical evidence of the effectiveness of my program. I don't. The ironic thing and deeply disturbing thing, is that we have a mountain of evidence that what our society is doing with our children is completely wrong, completely contrary to the best practices suggested by scientific study. Screen time on TV or computer, has a significant damaging effect on a child's ability to pay attention, to listen and follow directions. A report on yesterday's news offered evidence that teenagers who had televisions in their rooms had lower grades, were less social, and were less physically fit. So we have a mountain of significant evidence that we choose to ignore and then fail to act on the obvious and pressing need to provide creative opportunities for our children.

Much or our current stupidity arose when schools were designed to follow the model of modern manufacturing. Isolate upper class students so their hands are stilled and their learning is unrelated to physical reality. Put the rest in mind-numbing activities guaranteed to diminish interest, confidence and experience in intellectual pursuits. The formula is ideal for creating a society of complaisant consumption and mindless destruction of resources.
I am not sure how this works for the rest of you. I find air travel to be fascinating. You take people, their seats chosen or assigned without knowledge of the person who will be traveling in the next seat, and yet, it seems that often, if parties are willing to open up, they find areas of particular uncommon interest.

John, my first traveling companion yesterday, was on his way to Tokyo, as a software engineer in senior management, but his dream was to have a wood shop and make things that gave the satisfaction of being real and the product of his own hands.

My second companion Lynn, who sat next to me on my flight from O'Hare to Arkansas is a trainer for Kenneth Blanchard Companies. Lynn was on her way to continue training senior staff at a very large banking system. Ken Blanchard is famous for his business book "One Minute Manager." One of the things we discussed was the role of the hands in learning. Lynn told me how when she conducts her sessions she always has plenty of hand engaging materials on the table to keep people's attentions centered on the learning process. This strategy comes from study of the brain, and is used to establish comfort in the acquisition of new ideas, and offer ease of engagement in the learning atmosphere. So, if corporations in America can get it, why can't schools come to a better understanding of the role of our hands in learning?

We talked about that, too. But things do change. Leadership is required. Step out and lead the pack. Grab a tool that provides leverage. We are all in this together.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The hands are like a mountain that makes its own weather. We live unconsciously in the shadow of their profound effect.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

I am finished with the Woodworkers Showcase and on my way home. I had a great time and want to thank those who made my part in the weekend possible, those who bought my books and DVD and those who listened so attentively and appreciatively to my presentations.
This next week will be a busy one. April 10-13, I am to be a presenter at the CODA (Craft Organization Development Association) meeting in Little Rock. Most of the major craft organizations and craft schools are members of CODA, and I will have an opportunity to present the Wisdom of the Hands program and make a strong pitch for a united effort to engage artists and craftspeople in general education. It will take a national movement to set the ball rolling.

Reuben Rajala wrote to suggest a new book reviewed in the New York Times which he said would be right up my alley. THE CRAFTSMAN by Richard Sennett. Yale University Press. $27.50

"The hand is the window on to the mind," Immanuel Kant wrote, and Sennett asks that we not pass through that window until we have adequately studied the hand."

"The material world speaks back to us constantly, by its resistance, by its ambiguity, by the way it changes as circumstances change, and the enlightened are those able to enter into this dialogue and, by so doing, come to develop an "intelligent hand."

In the photo above, taken at Woodworkers Showcase, you see Joshua Grossbohlin helping younger (and older) children in their first experience with hammer and nails. I really enjoyed getting to know Jesse, Joshua and their dad, John.
The Woodworkers Showcase is truly a phenomenon. There were large crowds gathered for it and at times during the day all areas were packed. I stopped by the Fine Woodworking booth and Anatole Burkin, Editor was passing out free tote bags as fast as he could open boxes. There were shoppers buying new tools from Lee Valley, and Thomas Lie-Nielsen and dozens of other suppliers. Outside the hall, a Wood-Mizer saw mill was in constant motion, cutting walnut and cherry logs. The exhibit area was also full, with the works of craftsmen closely examined and admired by the crowds. I was told I had in excess of 50 attendees in each of my first two lectures and about a dozen in the third, so it is obvious that how to make boxes or furniture is more interesting to most than teaching our children. Perhaps one day things will change.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

I made 3 presentations today at Woodworkers Showcase, one on box making, one on furniture design and one on woodworking with kids. The photos at left are of my fellow jurors this morning, and the woodworking with kids section where they were making tool totes, sometimes with a parent's guiding hand to help with the hammer. There was a huge crowd on the main floor looking for great deals from tool and material suppliers. I sold a few books and visited with a few fans. It is an amazing thing to hear from woodworkers that my books and articles have added meaning to their work and lives.

Friday, April 04, 2008

I am at the Woodworkers Showcase and am over half way through jurying the show. I am grateful to have very competent co-jurors. Peter Korn is director of The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine, Chris Schwarz is an editor for Popular Woodworking, and Wayne Barton is the king of woodcarving. The exhibit of work is amazing, not just for the quality of it, but for the volume of investment in learning. I have also been meeting the organizers of the show and learning about its history. I'll have more to post tomorrow.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Today the 7th an 8th grade students started nickel collection boxes to hold a complete set of Jefferson nickels.(160) The 9th and 10th grade students helped with a project getting all the students and teachers in the Clear Spring elementary, middle school and high school to leave their hand prints in milk paint on a bench we restored and painted last week. I am preparing for early morning travel, but may be able to post to the blog from my room at Woodworkers Showcase.
Our last poll, concerning the element of craftsmanship in our assessment of artistic merit was an interesting one. Over 90% considered craftsmanship to be relevant to artistic merit. Seventy eight percent considered quality craftsmanship to be "essential".

But there is an interesting divide in America. The poll was a biased thing. My respondents are all people interested in the hands, and there is a difference. Joe Barry informed me that he abandoned his membership in the American Craft Council because they failed to recognize the value of traditionally crafted furniture, and embraced designs largely abandoning traditional values. So we have the traditional venues for expression of craftsmanship abandoned and then filled by works attempting to meet the assessment criteria derived in the academic instruction of graphic arts. These are the "principles and elements of design." Color becomes as important as ease of use, and the shape becomes as important as the integrity of craftsmanship.

In the meantime, there are some that do know a bit more. World famous art critic Robert Hughes proclaimed Providence furniture maker John Townsend as the foremost American artist of all time. We seem to be a long way from seeing the American Crafts Council finding arms long enough to embrace the craftsmen and women who make things from the John Townsend branch of the family. Truly fine craftsmanship is incomprehensible to some.

It is an interesting thing that won't be resolved in this blog.

The hands, when we begin our process of exploration and creation through them directly, unclouded by academic distortion, provide a different view... Things are made by hand and tested in reality, and the earth shifts. Embark on the path of craftsmanship and the world will never be the same again.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I am busy with school and getting ready to go to New York on Friday for Woodworkers Showcase. I managed to amend my application for the Fulbright this morning, but know that academic bias is strong. At some point hands-on common sense will prevail, but maybe not yet. The image above was sent by reader, Joe Barry in response to my mention yesterday about children no longer being able to tie shoes. Joe says of the "turquoise turtle knot": This is a knot I often teach my patients. It's from Brion Toss's The Rigging Handbook."

I will look for that book. Have you noticed that when a book conveys particularly useful information and expertise, it is called a "handbook?" I like that!

Today, the 5th and 6th grade students worked on Sloyd letter openers and the 11th and 12 grade students made religious symbols from wood for their class in comparative religions. It wood club this afternoon, I had three boys turning tops, a girl carving a spoon and another boy finishing a cane he started last year. It is great to see kids just doing it because it is fun. No credit, no grade, just fun. Some of my readers may know the feeling quite well.

The photo below is of one of Luke's tops.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Today at Clear Spring I had 1st through 4th grade students doing paper sloyd projects. The 1st and 2nd grade students decided to use the envelopes they were making to write letters. In the process of making one of the projects that involved tying with string, I discovered that some of our students don't know how to tie their shoes. These days you can get around shoe tying by wearing slip-ons or velcro, but I suspect there are some important developmental things that happen in the process of tying string. One student had to take me aside to tell me, so that he wouldn't feel embarrassed. So there is one more thing that we need to practice. One more basic skill that is being ignored as we launch ourselves head-long into the virtual plane.

This afternoon, I got a disappointing email. I had applied for a Fulbright Senior Specialist Grant to help me go to Finland in the fall. The email informed me that my application wouldn't be forwarded for consideration because I lack a Ph.D. degree. I had suspected that my application would meet academic bias at some point, but to be thrown out so early was a shock to me. I quote a part of the email: "Professionals and artists outside academe require recognized professional standing and substantial professional accomplishments in the selected discipline and specialization."

I don't intend to just roll over dead. The hands don't teach complaisance. It is always refreshing to get stirred up by exhibitions of academic idiocy.