Friday, May 24, 2019

community arts awards

I received two awards last night at a spaghetti dinner honoring the artists in our community. Hosted by the Basin Park Hotel and Main Street Eureka Springs, I was honored as "Best Arts Educator," and for "Best Fine Craft." The voting was online. of all the artists and art teachers in town, it was an honor to be singled out.

The Eureka Springs Pleine Air Festival is this week so there are painters set up with easels in lovely locations all over town. Years ago Arkansas poet John Gould Fletcher had written to Louis Freund, that "There's not much happening in Eureka Springs, but it sure is laid out pretty." That can be said today, so it's not surprising that painters would come from all over to paint this week.

My last classes of the school year for Kindergarten and for 5th and 6th grades are today, so I'm beginning to wrap up another year and I'll be turning my attention to a summer of adult classes.

The photo is from our boat outing on Wednesday.

Make, fix, and create. Provide opportunities for others to learn likewise.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

boat and picnic day

Our Bevins Skiffs that we built last year gave us an excuse for a day at Lake Leatherwood where our students played, picnicked and took turns rowing around the lake.

We had a boat day last year that was for the builders to have a turn at the oars. Yesterday our students grades 1 through 12 had an opportunity to go out in the boats. It was fun. All came back safe and dry. The boats were perfect.

I thank the staff at the Clear Spring School for planning the event, feeding the kids and helping in every way. The girl in the lead boat asked, "Will you take my picture, please? I want to see it on facebook." Here, you see it too. Thanks also to Juanita and Anna for serving as water safety observers on paddle board and kayak.

The Bevins Skiff is a boat specifically designed for teaching math.

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

this day...

Today we had a visit by staff members from Arkansas A+ Schools in preparation for further training in June which will allow us to become an official A+ School. A+ refers to the integration of the Arts. We do that quite well and hope that Clear Spring School can help as a role model for other schools.

Tomorrow is boat and cook out day. All of our students will go to Lake Leatherwood to play and to ride in the Bevins Skiffs we built last year.

I am working to solidify my program for the coming years. The wood shop will move this summer into the garage of our new hands-on learning center. The garage will require some expansion and so we will have a capital campaign to help it become a space for teaching teachers as well as kids. My old wood shop space will be surrendered and refurbished to provide classroom space for further growth of our school.

I've been training a possible replacement teacher, and at some point, I may step back into the sidelines. But not yet.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others have the opportunity to learn likewise.

Monday, May 20, 2019

back to the hands

Yesterday I spent most of the Books in Bloom Literary Festival hauling tents, putting up tents, parking cars, taking down tents and hauling tents back to the storage unit where they will wait for next year's event. (husbandly support)

I did attend one of the author presentations on a book about those of us who moved to the Ozark Mountains in the early to mid seventies. In it we were cleverly named "hipbillies" a term combining the terms hippies and hillbillies.

The book is largely about the "back to the land" movement that brought growth and new direction to the Ozark region. It mentions Ed Jeffords and the Ozark Institute for which I built library shelves in my small garage shop in the late 1970's. A number of my other friends are featured or mentioned in the book. Many other friends who had come and tried their best to scratch honest livings from thin and barren soils moved on to other things.

The "back to the land"movement would be better described as a "back to the hand"movement, as it was built not only of those who wanted to farm and own land  (also a return to the hand) but also those of us who had hoped for more meaningful lives as artists and craftspeople. The back to the landers would show up in Eureka Springs to "boogie." While the artists and craftspeople were here and in Mountain View or in surrounding hills, struggling to learn to make beautiful and useful things.

The book,"Hipbillies" was sold out yesterday at the event but I had the opportunity to review a copy prior to publication. It is an interesting read and a look into the history of this place that I and my friends were parts of. My own signed copy of the book will be sent by mail.

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, we'll be inching toward the conclusion of the school year.

Make, fix, and create. Assure a future in which all others learn likewise.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

books in bloom (what did you learn in wood shop?)

Today is our annual Books in Bloom literary festival at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs. It's an opportunity to meet a variety of nationally known and local writers. And buy their books. Organizing Books in Bloom is one of my wife's most significant projects, so I am called in as a volunteer and sponsor.

Yesterday I picked up Jeffrey Deaver from the airport and learned that in addition to having over 40 million books in print in multiple languages, he took shop class in 7th and 8th grades. "What happened to all that, " he wondered aloud. I assured him that shop classes were on a comeback tour, just as this is Jeffrey Deaver's second visit to Eureka Springs. Shop classes are becoming popular again, driven by a renewed understanding that we need skilled workers unless we've agreed to be a nation of idle consumers and fail as a nation.

Unfortunately, the recognition that all children are brought to greater understanding and fit into the fabric of humanity and human culture and natural life, has not sunk in yet.

Jeffrey Deaver, author of many, many books, can still remember what he learned in wood shop. Ask him about it.

Make, fix, read then create. Plan for others to learn likewise.

Friday, May 17, 2019

white st. art walk

Tonight is the 29th annual White St. Walk in which yards, porches and homes along White St. in Eureka Springs will host artists selling their work. It is a major event in the year, and as usual, I'll have some of my work set up for sale at Lux Weaving Studio. I hope that a few readers can attend.

The photo shows student engagement in the arrangement and play with the large Froebel blocks in the Clear Spring School sand box. The sand, originally put in place for volleyball, provides an ideal foundation for the blocks. Once arrangements of blocks are made, the children play.

In preparation for reaccreditation at the Clear Spring School, we are  reviewing our school curriculum and scope and sequence of learning between the various age groups. One thing became clear to me in recent reading. We are a school located in a special place that affords special opportunities for place based learning. We are located in a community filled with music and the arts, with a backdrop of historic architecture, and set in a unique and rich natural environment. Our students camp, travel and play in the woods. They engage in internships, and they collaborate between grade levels.

In explaining to ISACS, our accreditation organization, what we do and how our curriculum is designed, these are important points. While most school have become walled enclaves purposely isolated from the real world. we recognize that schooling to be at its best should be connected with reality in order for learning to go deep and connect deeply.

Make, fix, create, and adjust schooling so that others play and learn likewise.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

National Arbor Day.

Yesterday was National Arbor Day and we celebrated at the Clear Spring School by planting a sugar maple along the soon to be built Clear Spring Trail that will go from the school to Harmon Park and and provide an option to walking in the road. The trail is a collaboration between the school and the parks commission and will be networked to trails throughout our city. Our mayor read a proclamation noting the importance of the day.

Today I will be setting up my display for the White St. Art Walk, one of the premier events of the May Festival of the Arts in Eureka Springs. It is a large street party, now in its 29th year. If you are local to Eureka Springs, find a place to park and come to Lux Weaving Studio 18 White St. on Friday sometime from 5-10 PM and I'll show you some of my work. Other artists will have their work on display and for sale, up and down the street.

Most artists need to sell their work in order to make more and to survive. Folks who are independently wealthy only rarely feel the need to create, but they can be of assistance to those who do.

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

a highlight of the school year

One of our teachers yesterday told me that one of the highlights of the school year has been my introduction of the supersized Froebel blocks to the school playground. The kids have not tired of manipulating them into new configurations, and even with a small number of blocks the variations are endless. It helped that I introduced them only one at a time. 

The photo shows the first block, which created interest and invited manipulation. Each new element brings renewed interest.

My latest addition is a 4 x 8 plank 8 feet long with a carrying strap connected at each end. It is heavy enough that it takes more than one child to lift it into place. The straps allow it to be dragged from place to place and keep fingers from being pinched underneath.

The blocks are of a size that they require collaboration in moving and arranging, so they invite students to work together toward shared goals.

We are now in a time of year in which the students are restless and most of their assigned work has been done. On Friday I'll be selling my work in the Lux Weaving Studio during the White Street Art Walk.

Make, fix, create, and plan for others to learn likewise.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

sometimes I just don't know...

There are times when I just do not know what my students are making. For example, this work is one that defies my ability to understand. It's one that took several woodworking classes to complete. He alone knew when it was complete and ready to take home. His parents may or may not marvel at its construction. Is it fine craftsmanship? The maker was not concerned about that. Concern with such details is something that comes developmentally at a later age.

One of my first grade boys made a wooden bench and had hand planed the top. He took it home. He was proud of it. How many children of his age had ever had the opportunity to make something so useful and interesting?  His dad decided that it had not been sanded sufficiently. He took it to the garage and worked on it for an hour, bringing it closer in alignment with his own standards. Had I known I would have counseled to leave it alone.  Had he witnessed how hard his son had worked on it, he might have had a deeper appreciation for it just as it was. The student's work is their own. And we need not be overly concerned with their craftsmanship and should instead trust them with knowing when it's complete. There are stages in artistic development, in what children see and understand, and to apply adult standards to their work is to miss the point, and to miss the value of what they have accomplished.

The following post offers my own discussion of Victor Lowenfeld's writing on the stages of artistic development. It is particularly interesting, in that as children near adolescence, they divide roughly along two paths of development. One, Lowenfeld identified as visual, being concerned with representations of verisimilitude and the other haptic, being concerned with how things feel. I've witnessed it as children grow through their years in wood shop. There are some who are concerned only with the appearance of things and only understand the need for sanding when they see how a surface can be made to shine. Then there are those who are obsessed with how smooth they can make a surface feel to the touch.

As parents, would we expect a child to automatically develop it all at once? Or can we simply watch their growth and celebrate the signs of it?

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

Monday, May 13, 2019

human culture

At what point do we cease to claim that we are part of human culture? And how do we restore the humanity to our daily lives? Are we now living in a machine culture? One in which our mechanics have eclipsed our humanity? Consider the following:
"We live in a machine culture; in our daily lives, we are more and more surrounded by and interfaced with machines.  We are no longer, like our ancestors, simply supplied by machines; we live in and through them. From our workplaces to our errands about town to our leisure time at home, human experience is to an unprecedented extent the experience of being interfaced with the machine, of imbibing its logic, of being surrounded by it and seeking it out..." – Phoebe Sengers.
The bigger and more powerful the machine, the less it lies within our control, and as the machine slides from our control (we are losing our grip), the less human and humane the outcome.

When education is no longer hands-on, and thus no longer relevant to students' live, students have little to grasp. When the hands-on exploration of materials through crafts, and further extensions of hands-on learning through scientific experimentation are removed from schooling, we construct a disconnect between the layman and the scientist, allowing political forces to manipulate public opinion to conform to evil machinations. We've become wired for direct manipulation.

What we see in the political community these days is the result of an educational intent expressed in the design of our institutions: Use schooling to shape students to become blind consumers who can be manipulated to do as told by a ruling class that cares little or nothing for the planet nor for the health of its creatures.

And so the question lingers, "How do we restore human culture?" I think there's a simple path forward. Make a direct study of the past and of simpler times. Then:

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

Sunday, May 12, 2019


This simple joint, called a "birdsmouth" can be useful in building hollow forms. This month's Wooden Boat Magazine shows it being used to make hollow masts and spars for wooden sailboats. In that case the birdsmouth would be formed using a table saw. There are also router bits for cutting the same joint.

I am using this technique to help a student build a music stand. The hollow will house a six sided shaft that will slide within it, making it adjustable in height. The birdsmouth joint offers additional gluing surface over a coopered joint, thus giving it greater strength.

The photo suggests where it got its name. My thanks to Larry Copas for peaking my interest in the technique and my student for offering an opportunity to try it out.

Happy Mothers day to those who are mothers and to those who have mothers. I can remember my mother as being somewhat different from many. When I would go to friends houses as a very young child, we would be left alone to play with toys. When children would come to my house to play, my mother had all kinds of interesting things for us to do that came from her training as a Kindergarten teacher.

Friedrich Froebel had noted the special quality of mothers, recognizing in them the ideal teacher. The same was noted by Pestalozzi in his book, "How Gertrude Teaches Her Children."

Make, fix, create, and plan for others to learn likewise.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Yesterday one of my newer students broke down in tears, and I thought at first he had hit himself in the thumb with a hammer. It was not that. He told me that he kept making mistakes.

I asked one of my students who's been in the shop for years to tell how many mistakes he's made. He showed the kind of loving compassion than one can learn in the practice of craft. I witnessed an unfolding of human empathy, pure and simple that almost brought tears to my own eyes. Each student reassured the humanity of the other.

We are human beings We make mistakes. Mistakes and the making of them are part of who we are. We are not machines, and had best not have unreasonable expectations of our selves. This does not mean that the practice of craft will not lead us toward perfection. But perhaps it's a perfection of a different kind in which we care for each other.

We engage in the material world to learn from it and to learn about ourselves. Part of what we learn is that skills require practice.  The greater the skill, the more of it. And qualities of character are forged in the quest to attain skill.

Many students these days have been taught to live in horror of making mistakes. That is a terrible thing.

We are about to watch the prices of plastic stuff skyrocket due to tariff's placed on Chinese goods. The tariff will be 25%. And so a piece of plastic stuff that would sell for 10 bucks will be 12.50. This tariff is likely to hit hard at the toy isle. Would we not be better off if children and parents were to make their own toys?

Sunday is Mother's day, so Yesterday in wood shop my Kindergarten students made napkin holders, as you can see in the photo.

Make, fix, create, and provide the opportunity for others to learn likewise.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Oregon teachers walk out...

Oregon teachers went on strike for the very right reasons. They want smaller, more manageable classes. They want more librarians, more mental health professionals.

Teachers do not become teachers, (obviously) for the money, but because they want to make a difference in people's lives. Why do politicians not give them greater support? It may be that they think public schools are for other people's kids, not their own.
What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.— John Dewey, School and Society

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 09, 2019

shaping wood

I am using an angle grinder to shape the inside curvature of the coopered leg sections for the maple natural edged table. This turns out to be an easier job than I expected.

I test the curved surface as I go, using my hands to judge whether the surface is "fair" just as the builder of a small boat might use his hands to "see" what the hands cannot. Where the hands feel a slight rise, I sand again, using the curved edge of the sanding disk to engage the surface rather than the flat face.

It needs not be perfect but to the touch. After texturing any discrepancy will be difficult to see. But caring craftsmanship has its own requirements. In the making of useful beauty, all surfaces require care.

This is a dusty job, requiring a mask. I tested the concept indoors in my already dusty shop, but will take the operation outdoors when the weather improves.

Make, fix, create. Use your imagination and character to grow likewise.


I found this simple definition:
"Craftsmanship is what skilled artists and builders demonstrate when they create something."
Does the term imply gender? Years ago when we founded the Eureka Springs Guild of Artists and Craftspeople (the organization that preceded the Eureka Springs School of the Arts) we were careful in naming the organization to use the term "craftspeople," as a way to avoid using the sexist term "craftsmen."

Is it equally mistaken to use the term "craftsmanship?" Does it also imply the exclusion of women in the appication of caring and skill? Some may go one way and some the other.

Today I will begin texturing the coopered leg sections for the table. The photo shows a student's creation. He tells me it's not done yet and is to be saved to work on next week.

Make, fix and create. Encourage the exercise of care and skill in the making of beautiful useful things.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

on writing and on art.

My mother had once suggested, "Write about what you know, and if you don't know it, don't write about it." This may not apply directly to fiction or to poetry, but both of those have greater, more profound effect when drawn from real life.  Even science fiction and fantasy are brought to greater life when they draw upon emotions that are known and real to the reader or are made real by the use of literary devices that make the scene and characters seem more real. So the writer gains a particular advantage by being involved in real life and doing real things. Even woodworking may be useful as a source of metaphor, and provide an interpretive framework for clarifying and understanding life.

When I write instructions on how to make things, I first must prove that my instructions actually work and are thus true. Poets and other writers are not necessarily under the same constraints. When I write it's to empower others to do what I do. Other writers may not be under the same constraints.

Yesterday I was interviewed on camera by our high school students who are creating an online artist registry for our town. I carefully explained that I'm more a craftsman than an artist, in that I want my work to be useful as well as beautiful and to be an "artist' or whether or not something is "art," is something for others to decide. This is particularly true of useful objects. A painting is always called art but the same is not always said of a teacup or box.

One man a few years back had told me that if you can sell it it's art. His art's not my art.

The photo is of assembled sections of table base. These will be fitted to a central beam, textured and ebonized, but at the moment they resemble objects Froebel might have designed for children to play with and learn from.

Make, fix and create. Prepare for others to learn likewise.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Forrest Gander

A friend of mine, Forrest Gander, recently received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Forrest was the husband of C.D.Wright, award winning poet who had commissioned the first piece of furniture that I'd made that was to be accepted in the pages of Fine Woodworking Magazine. Forrest and C.D. had lived in a small house on Owen St. here in Eureka Springs before poetry led them on to bigger things.

Some write on paper, some write with wood, but collaboration makes us strong. A few years back when I was attending a conference in Rhode Island, I was grateful to sit with C.D. for tea at the table I had made.

Back in the fall of 1969, I was particularly distressed in my study at Hastings College, and decided to make an immediate adjustment to my graduation strategy. I took an independent study class in creative writing, and enrolled in a pottery class. The pottery class had the greater effect. The independent study was easy. I would show up once a week with something I'd written and that ended up with my publication of a series of poems  in the annual school literary publication with little meaning or effect, and a recommendation from my professor that I continue study toward an MFA in creative writing at the University of Arkansas. He offered to write letters of recommendation, but I was more deeply concerned with figuring what I was going to do to keep from being drafted for Viet Nam. I ended up in Arkansas anyway, but not at the U of A.

Later, while performing alternative service for the draft in Memphis, Tennessee, I attended a poetry reading event, and listened while young poets poured their hearts out. Poetry makes greater sense to me when there's an underlying experience upon which to build the narrative. But that's me, I guess. 

Still, there is a link between crafting with words and crafting with wood. A well crafted table for instance, may look as though it slid easily from a forest of trees, just as a well crafted poem might feel to slide easily from the tongue. And I've wondered about my friend Forrest, whether his name has made him feel more deeply connected to wood. I offer my sincere congratulations to Forrest Gander.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in building lives, likewise.

Monday, May 06, 2019

moving beyond arrogance and greed...

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop students will be learning some of the lessons to be learned from the practice of craftsmanship. Jean Jacques Rousseau had said, put a young man in a wood shop, his hands will benefit his brain and he'll become a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman.

Rousseau implied that there is stature and standing in the practice of philosophy. It was his calling. He also implied a sense of humility in the young man in that he thinks himself "only a craftsman."

Humility is one of the important traits of character seriously lacking in the current state of affairs.

Self promotion seems to be the name of the game in politics and in business affairs, while throughout the country in our small towns and villages, folks do simple humble things in service to each other.

Will there be a time when we are wise enough to choose our leaders from among those who've chosen a more humble path? There are certain warning signs that could protect us in the future from the leaders we have now. Ardent self-promotion tells us that certain folks are not worthy of our respect. Great wealth is never a sign that a man is worthy of our trust.

Watch for those who give freely of themselves in service to others and give them the responsibility and power to be of greater service. You can learn qualities of heart and humility by making useful beauty in service to family and community. It's why kids belong in wood shops.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning and growing likewise.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

building components

The photo shows two components of a curved table base. The wood is ash, and the parts are coopered to form the inside and outside curve. Four of these units will be textured, fitted and assembled to form the base of the large and heavy natural edged table.

I chose ash as the material for the base because it is abundant in the market now as foresters race to remove trees killed by the emerald ash borer, an invasive parasite that puts all our nation's ash trees at risk. It's nice to buy beautiful wood at a good price, but the reason for the low price is horrifying. Modern life involves the awkward and painful reconciliation of disparate things.

This month's National Geographic Magazine features two interesting articles back to back. One is about the horrific effect of plastics on our oceans and sea life. The other is about the incredible genius of Leonardo Da Vinci.

The juxtaposition is illuminating. DaVinci lived in a world of wonder and in which science and the arts were the same thing. Many of his most interesting creations were made of wood. The article about plastics in the ocean is truly disturbing. It should cause each of us to reassess the plastics that have become so invasive of our own lives. No one can deny the convenience of cheap plastic. But surely, given the facts as presented in National Geographic, we should learn to recoil from their use. Some identify single use plastics as the big problem. But given the fact that our big box stores are so full of plastics that have limited use in our lives and present long term disposal problems, we should be thinking of wood.

Beautifully crafted objects made of real wood can last centuries. When the usefulness and beauty of crafted wooden objects have been used up, the material returns to the soil and continues the process for new beauty to be created. The same cannot be said for plastic, much of which cannot be recycled.

Make, fix and create. Give others a chance to live, learn and grow likewise.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

cello plays–children play

A few years back I heard an interview with cellist Yo-yo Ma. He described a tour in China in which he visited homes of peasant folk. He said that when he would begin playing, the children would get down on the floor and wrestle with each other. When he would stop playing they would stop and stare, wondering why he'd stopped.

We are used to art being something we stare at and performers getting their accolades from having their work stared at. Yo-yo Ma was making a suggestion that perhaps there was another way of looking at things.

In the blog I make a point concerning the creation of useful beauty. This is the start of the May Festival of the Arts. Are the arts something to be stared at or lived with; made actual use of even to the point of being worn out and into the soul of who we are as individuals, families and communities?  The creation and use of useful beauty infuses artful spirit into the fabric of home and community life.

A few years back my high school students had noticed that nearly everything they owned came from China. I asked, "Do you have anything in your home that was made by someone you know?" One of my students answered, "I have the wooden bowl I turned in wood shop." That's a start. Cello plays–children play.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in growing and learning likewise.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

The mindfulness of crafted objects

We have become cogs in a machine whirring beyond our consciousness and control, but, what if we wanted to live our lives more fully conscious and awakened to mystery and wonder at the interconnections we have with nature and with each other?

What would be the nature of the objects that framed that experience? When we picked up a cup to drink, would it be one made through caring investment of human attention, or thoughtlessly and mindlessly cranked out by a machine in a foreign land and delivered through a complex and environmentally destructive mechanism to the local Target Store?

 Is consciousness something that just happens to us haphazard and regardless, or are there choices we make that affect the depth and quality of our experience? In the US, this rule seems to apply to crafts: the less useful the object, the greater its value... as though crafts, like art are to be placed on shelves and on walls and seen but not felt. And yet it is through the touch and use of an object that its full depth of meaning and relationship is revealed.

In today's world, the deep feelings and sensitivities of the craft maker are kept at arms length. Worse, they are extinguished on the altar of ever-greater efficiency that we call progress. Progress for the individual maker is different from what we call progress in the larger scheme of things. For the individual maker progress can be best defined as the process of discovering a successful place in community through which personal and familial needs can be met. Progress in the larger scheme of things rarely takes the individual into consideration. It involves markets and banks, whereas the progress for an individual maker demands the growth of skill.

So we get to choose. The choice involves the quality of our own lives and the quality of the communities in which we live.

Make, fix, and create. Plan for others to learn likewise.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

gender in wood shop...

My assistant Curtis made an interesting observation today having to do with the projects students choose for themselves in wood shop. I try not to draw lines between genders. My classes are mixed gender. Both boys and girls are regarded and treated in the same manner to the best of my ability.

As Curtis observed, the girls are much more inclined to work on projects that display the relationship between things. The boys have a greater inclination to make individual things. For example, while one of my boys is making a toy airplane, a girl would be making a bedroom on a board, making a small bed and related objects and then people and pets that occupy the room. The girls may make whole houses, amusement parks, or similar settings derived from their observations. Boys have a lesser interest in that kind of project, and a greater interest in making individual objects that interest them.

Does this suggest that one kind of project is of less importance than another? I attempt to adhere to the principles of Educational Sloyd. The first principle is to start with the interests of the child. And with that in mind, boys and girls alike tell me that wood shop is a favorite thing on the Clear Spring School campus. When they ask "Do we have wood shop today?" and I say yes,  they reply, "Good."

The idea that men do woodworking and that women by assignment must do something else, is a useless and obsolete framework. But the idea that girls might make a different selection of project than boys within woodworking is one to accept and pay attention to. Boys and girls are not the same, and it's OK that we accept that and allow for diverse interests. In fact, we must.

We must also recognize the important role that Educational Sloyd played both in the history of Manual Arts training, and in the expansion of women's roles outside the home as professionals with competence equal to (or greater than) men in the teaching profession. A large proportion of the graduates of Otto Salomon's teacher training academy in Sweden were women. In the US, women helped establish manual arts training in public schools and took the lead in training both boys and girls in the manual arts. Throughout my years of writing the Wisdom of the Hands blog, I've highlighted women who've had major roles in furthering manual arts training.

With a first coat of finish applied to the top of the maple table, I'll return my attention to the table base.

Make, fix, create,  and assist others in growing and learning likewise.

Monday, April 29, 2019

let the kids win.

This morning I'm reading an interesting article on the charter school movement. Most new things start with good intentions, but it makes a difference what the starting point is, and who's directing it. Put businessmen and politicians in charge of education, and they adopt a business model of education reform. They may want to do good, but their vision is blurred by who they are and the methods that they are accustomed to use. So it is with charters. Use statistics to drive the reform, carefully measuring profit and loss, and the kids lose.

I have a different view of education reform. Put the hands to work, and allow the children to do real things of benefit to themselves, their families and communities. Place less emphasis on measurable "achievement" and more on the children's character that's expressed in the real things they do. Make learning concrete rather than abstract so that children's inclination to get involved rather than sit passive is utilized in creating school atmospheres of engagement.

Businessmen and politicians scheme big. Children need us to think small. Small schools, small classes, doing real things. That's the truly big idea of the day. Whether it becomes the big idea for tomorrow is in your hands.

Make, fix and create. Encourage others to grow and learn likewise.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Planing white oak

  I am reading the new book, Crafting in the World, Materiality in the Making, with particular interest in the chapter by Suzanne Spencer-Wood concerning Educational Sloyd which makes reference to my articles and my assistance in guiding her thoughts.

Among academics, and particularly among those who in the early days of manual arts education, had hoped to use their supreme powers of intellect and linguistic persuasion to marginalize those who they thought worked with their hands alone, the idea they put forth was that hand work was a mindless exercise that did not belong in school. Rhythm of work was studied by Rudolphs J. Drillis in Latvia, and his work showed that a certain rhythm could make work less tiring and more efficient. So if someone, an academician, perhaps, was just watching without taking part in the exercise himself, the components of mindfulness required might be missed as the motions of the body may distract from the elements of mind that are less apparent to the uniformed or to those lacking experience in the real world.

As Crafting in the World shows, the manual arts are far from mindless. Works like Suzanne's are important in breaking through the prevailing mindset in academic life. The short video shows one of my students using a plane to surface wood. In viewing one might miss the aspects of mind involved.

Makali is watching the effects of the plane on wood. He is feeling through his hands and arms the amount of resistance as the plane's blade cuts. He observes the shavings that accumulate and removes them from the mouth of the plane when required. By gauging and comparing the amount of resistance as the plane passes over the surface of the wood  he learns the direction of wood grain.  He may shift the orientation of his labor to get better results. By observing the surface of the wood, he is guided in the continuation of his work. He may make a decision, based on either the amount of energy he has left, in his body or on the achievement of his desired effect, that he's done enough and is ready to move on to the next step. In the first place, it was something he wanted to do. That, and the persistence through his labor involves will, the primary element of mind, that should be the outcome of successful schooling. (Though it often is not as we as a society seem to prefer cultivating mindless consumers of information over the makers of real things.)

Make, fix, create, grow, create and assist others in learning likewise.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

the useful object

On Friday I planned a project with my Kindergarten students that was a bit of a stretch with regard to their interests. They had other ideas in mind.

I believe that one of the problems in the art world, and among artists is the idea that the arts are to be used only as adornment of walls, or pedestals or of bodies, and not to be useful in a more pedestrian fashion. In making that decision about art, craft is assigned a lower position in a hierarchy of values, uselessness is celebrated, and the range of beautiful objects that inhabit our lives is diminished. Artists, choosing to only make "art" miss the opportunity that arises from making the whole universe of myriad things that inhabit human life. Need a spatula? Would you rather have a plastic one from Dollar General, or one you've beautifully crafted yourself? For most of us, that would be a stretch, but headed perhaps, in the right direction.

In grade school, art is made to be stuck on refrigerators with magnets. In high school, projects are rarely kept. In shop classes where useful things were once made (most of those classes are no more) things were made with little attention to their originality or artistic merit.

The project I planned for my Kindergarten students to make was inspired by my interest in Educational Sloyd. In Sloyd, objects were made for use in the home and to be of use by those who enabled and encouraged the children to be in school. So in my Kindergarten woodworking class on Friday we made earring holders. If the mother doesn't need one, a sister or grandmother might. And so the useful object, beautifully crafted reigns supreme. Who say's it's not art? And I was relieved that the students enjoyed their work.

Yesterday in the mail, I received copies of a new book in which my research and writings about Sloyd play an important part. Suzanne Spencer-Wood, had contacted me a couple years back with regard to the role that gender differentiation played in Educational Sloyd. Her initial assumption was that shop classes were segregated along grip gender lines, and while it is absolutely true that boys were assigned to woodworking classes and girls to textile arts, following the divide that had long been established, I pointed out the important role that Educational Sloyd played in beginning to erase the barriers that women faced in education. I believe her chapter on Sloyd in this book was enriched by my insistence that Educational Sloyd was on the cutting edge of removing barriers, not of keeping them in place.

At Otto Salomon's Sloyd training school in Sweden, a simple review of photographic evidence shows the large number of women engaged in teaching Educational Sloyd. I hope others will read her book to gain greater insight into that portion of the history of manual arts training. The title is Crafting in the World, Materiality in the Making, Claire Burke and Suzanne M. Spencer-Wood, editors.

Make, fix, grow and create.

Friday, April 26, 2019

maker's market...

Clear Spring School held an elementary school maker's market at which they sold things they'd made to parents, teachers and each other. I bought a few things, including a bead ball, a book mark, a paper cat and a rocket propelled wooden boat.

It was a fun event and all students sold a few of the interesting things they made.

Make, fix grow and create...

Thursday, April 25, 2019

planing, rasping and sanding.

Making tiny benches at school has become of interest for some of my youngest kids. The benches, made from 6/4 white oak with a natural edge, require hand planing and sanding. The wood took fifty years to grow and three years to air dry. I am unwilling to supply such fine wood to students if they are unwilling to apply the effort required. Hurry is not allowed.

Today at Clear Spring School, the students are having a market in which they are going to sell things they have made to each other and to parents. Real money is not required.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The power to fix

Two nights ago my dog knocked into my glasses and the frame separated right at the bridge between the two lenses. The glasses being made of plastic and about 4 years old, had become brittle and snapped with ease.

I glued them with epoxy and they lasted only one day before breaking again. My new attempted fix is to glue them with epoxy and then wrap the bridge with nylon string with it coated by 5 minute epoxy, building up a stronger bridge. With luck they will last until they can be replaced.

Without personal ingenuity, and access to nylon string and epoxy, and due to my living a long way from one day new glasses suppliers, I would suffer the loss of perfect sight for a week or longer.

Use your ingenuity. Cultivate your power to fix. The rewards are enormous. There's satisfaction in it.

Make, fix, and create.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

the joy of making...

The students at Clear Spring School grades 1 through 6 are making things to see at their own market. Some have been working on things in wood shop. Many have been working on products at home so their parents are involved. It's a learning process.

They visited the local farmer's market this week to help them plan the event. They'll be mostly selling to family and friends and to each other. Yesterday some of my students began work on the lathe, not to sell but to practice and learn.

Yesterday my Kindergarten students made pencil holders. One said, "I plan to keep this on my shelf with my collection." That describes how the things my students have made are welcomed into their homes.

The editing of my woodworking with kids book was delayed by a staffing change at Spring House Press, but is about to resume. Today I will review files and make certain they are properly placed in relation to the table of contents. I will also oil boxes and resume sanding on the large maple plank.

Make, fix, grow and create...

Friday, April 19, 2019

more wood and stone...

The photo shows the inside of the loft of the large stone barn at Nääs, Sweden where I visited a few years back. The photo is fuzzy due to being taken in near darkness, but it shows the kinds of framing that one might find hidden in the remaining roof of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. For a craftsman to visit such places is a gift. This barn, all stone on the outside, was built in the 1700's.

The dairy barn that once served the castle at Nääs and then Otto Salomon's school for Sloyd is now a stable for horses, and very few would know of the wonders above. You would have to be a laborer or a sneak to find it.

John Ruskin bridged the terrain that lay between the designer and user, the economics of supply and demand by pointing out the effects of building on the builder... the common man at the heart of all things.  The following is by English professor and legal scholar John Matteson in a 2002 essay, "Constructing Ethics and the Ethics of Construction."
...we tend to think principally in terms of the relationship between producer and consumer, and we assume this to be the most significant relationship in any activity related to commerce. Our ethics unconsciously orient themselves around the relationship between supply and demand.

Ruskin is valuable to us because he did not share these assumptions. He rejected the idea that buying and selling lay at the heart of the ethics of architecture. He focused not on production for the purpose of consumption, but on the moral effect of the production upon the producer. He required above all that the process of building should, in all ways possible, enlist the emotion, the imagination, and the intellect of the laborer.
As they begin the process of saving the Notre Dame Cathedral, perhaps they should think less about what it will cost or what it will look like when fixed and more about how the process of restoration can transform and restore individuals and society. All the great monuments of architectural genius were built by common folk whose contributions should be held in the very highest regard. Plans should be cast to have the maximum developmental impact on the workmen and women, knowing that craftsmanship (not religion) is the foundation of ethical culture.

Make, fix, grow and create...

Thursday, April 18, 2019


I have always found stones that interest me, and to have a use for them makes them of even greater value. These are embedded in clear epoxy resin in a recess in the top surface of a table top.  The recess was formed then a limb was lost and decay was introduced in the living tree. Bark and new wood grew over.

I carried these common stones home from Maine after teaching at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. There are billions more like them on beaches throughout the northeast and along lakes and rivers around the world.

The clear resin is intended to make them look as though they are under water, with the exception of one that barely breaks the surface.

The duct tape forms a dam to keep the epoxy from leaking out low spots on the side. The epoxy will be planed flush with the surrounding wood, and the areas of wood that have been stained with overflow will be sanded.

As suggested by Bob Rokeby and by reading online, I found my heat gun to be useful in making bubbles rise to the surface of the layers of epoxy.  I applied the epoxy in 5 layers, mixing only 4 ounces at a time and allowing each layer to set before the next was applied. The stones were put in place resting on layer three and then covered in the next two.

Wood and stone are the materials of civilization. Man shapes them. They, in turn, shape man.

Make. fix, grow and create.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

with roof and spire

The photo shows Notre Dame Cathedral in 2014 with roof and spire. It will take years for it to be restored. I am thankful that enough of it remains that it can be rebuilt.

The hands shape human culture. The hands have the capacity to reshape civilization. I hope visitors to Paris will find an army of young men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds with saws and planes launched into the process of restoration. You cannot make old wood, but you can make new craftsmen and is that not the point of a cathedral? Who will worship there if you've not first shaped the spirit? The hands do that through our quest for useful beauty.

My sixth, 7th, and 8th grade students have been hand planing white oak, so they should be aware of the difficulty of building a cathedral in the 11th century with hand tools alone.

This is not the first cathedral damaged by fire, so there are folks around from the last time that can help.

According to John David, a master mason from the UK who had been involved in a cathedral renovation there, "What I've heard a number of times today is people saying 'we can't do this anymore, we haven't got the craftspeople to do it.' We have. We have plenty, and we have plenty of people who can train others."

Make, fix, grow and create. Provide for others to learn likewise.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

of wood and stone and man

Yesterday was a sad day. We watched as Notre Dame Cathedral burned. I think of the hands that worked on the place through generations. It was said that the roof alone required 14,000 trees, a whole forest of wood, and then we remind ourselves that each piece was planed and shaped and fitted by hand, and that with that shaping by hand and mind, folks wrestled with wondering. Who am I, why am I here, how do I make the best of my life, and how do I assure the best for my loved ones and my community. The use of the hands in crafting useful beauty brought answers to many questions. Just as it does today.

In the coming restoration of Notre Dame, there will be the promise of work, and growth and development of new generations. That is my own reassurance in the aftermath of a tragic day.

Make, fix, grow and create.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

at this point in box class

We are ready for day three of a jewelry box making class at ESSA, and we have a long day ahead of us, making dividers, fitting hinges, completing the drawers, attaching bases, and applying finish. Yesterday we cut the lids from the bodies of the boxes so you can actually open them. I had about twenty folks during a rainstorm yesterday watch my demonstrations on cutting miters and cutting the lid off a box. The photo shows one of my students cutting the lid from her box.

Make, fix and create... Assist others in growing likewise.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Filling a void...

I am preparing to fill a void in wood using epoxy where a branch had died and surrounding wood had grown over. Researching on the web I learned that air trapped in the wood can rise through the epoxy forming bubbles. To solve this problem I've used polyurethane to seal the inside surfaces of the void, and after the polyurethane has had a few days to dry fully, I can begin adding the epoxy 3 ounces or so at a time, gradually filling the void level to the surface of the surrounding wood. It's experimental.  My fingers are crossed.

I have been waking up in the middle of the night wondering how to solve this problem. My next question has to do with whether or not to add objects to the void or leave it so that you can peer clearly into the depths. No, I will not put LED lighting inside. Some craftsmen might be inclined to add colorants or powdered turquoise. I prefer a more natural look and the opportunity to look within.

Tomorrow I start my Jewelry Box class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix, grow and create. Our culture depend upon it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

if this then that, next

I received an email request for help from a former box making student. He was attempting to use barbed hinges as I had shown him in class, but had failed to fully understand the process. It is common when dealing with complex things to not get every point. And it is essential that we not just do what we think we've been told (even if we've taken notes), without also using our powers of observation and trusting what we can see for ourselves. We do learn more by observing and thinking than we can by just doing what we think we've been told.

In my own case, having had no one to teach box making to me, I can assure you that the powers of observation are essential and should not be overridden by words untested.

My student claimed also to be having trouble getting corners to all come together in a mitered box. I developed this simple check list to help in his observation.
  1. The angle of the saw must be set accurately at 45 degrees. 
  2. One must use a sled and stop block to assure that your parts are accurately cut. 
  3. The top panel and bottom must be accurately cut to length and width. This requires close observation, and when I demonstrate in class, students don't often see exactly what I see.
  4. Grooves in the top panel must be cut to the exact depth. 
  5. If everything goes together right in trial assembly but then seems to drift off after you’ve set the box aside to dry (that shouldn’t happen with rubber bands or clamps in place), then use corner clamps as a routine part of your operation. 
You can make your own using my methods shown in  Fine Woodworking, or buy nicely made ones from Lee Valley.

You can sometimes fix boxes (if they have no metal in them) by putting a drop or two of water in the offending joint and putting it in the microwave for a minute or so, just long enough to heat the glue at the offending joint. Quickly use corner clamps to pull the offending joint into proper position. But generally, I believe that if a joint will not pull tight, or won’t stay tight, there’s some real and direct reason for it and 9 times out of ten with my students, the culprit is a bottom or lid that’s cut too long or too wide or with grooves not as deep as the grooves cut into the sides.

Yesterday a very good friend from Marc Adams School of Woodworking passed away from cancer. Zane Powell had been one of my assistants there for many years. He had been with the school since it started. He had a wonderful sense of humor and had great patience for helping individual students better understand what I was attempting to teach. I will miss him, and I mourn  his passing with all those whose lives he had touched.

Make, fix, grow and create. Pass along what you know how to do. Share with others.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Jewelry box making at ESSA

I have a class at ESSA this weekend, starting on Friday making jewelry boxes complete with drawers and dividers. It's a great chance to learn and end up with a gift for yourself or a friend.

An advertisement that shows up on my iPad when I study languages (Norwegian, Swedish and Spanish) is for getting your bachelor's degree in education on line. I marvel that they would come up with such a thing. Can you learn what it takes to be a teacher and be worthy of a degree without all the practice required? It might be the perfect way for teacher's classroom assistants to obtain required credentials to teach, but I can assure you that teaching requires much more than what you can get from a book or from online sources. An ideal situation might be to put young aspiring teachers in the classroom under the guidance of trained teachers, and then allow them to fulfill at least a portion of their credential requirements through online classes concurrent with their time in real classrooms with read students.

A friend of mine told me yesterday that he did not know how much good teachers were worth or how much time they spent making sure their kids were brought to a level of success. Then he married one. Needless to say, he now has a more realistic view of things. Teachers wake up with their students on their minds, and go to bed at night dreaming about the same subject: How to help their students succeed.

In the meantime, American politicians attempt to score points among voters by disparaging teachers and the teaching profession. Do not let them get away with that.

The jewelry box is made of white oak and basswood that's been textured and painted with milk paints. This morning I woke up remembering to order hinges for this class and called for expedited shipping so they will arrive in time.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, April 08, 2019

should Kindergartens be readied for kids?

Deborah Stipek at Stanford asked the question in a recent article, Should Children Be Ready for Kindergarten — Or Should Kindergarten Be Ready for Children?

Kindergarten is not what it once was. Now the common kindergarten curriculum is almost purely (and impurely) for the purpose of getting students ready for reading and math. All the other things we were to have learned in Froebel's Kindergarten have been brushed aside, as they have been in most other forms of public education. The question that concerns educational administrators, and politicians most, is "readiness to learn." Ready to learn what? It can be observed by even the most simple minds, that children are hard wired from birth to learn. Adults with their observational wits about them would envy the pace at which children learn. Try 2nd or third languages, for example. The administrative and political aims for kindergarten are distorted in comparison to what Kindergarten once was. That children are being bent out of shape by schooling is also a no-brainer.

When I attended an educational conference in Helsinki in 2008, I grew bored with the sociological discussions of the impact of various methods of manual arts training. I took a short break down the hall where I found a wood shop occupied by very busy Kindergarten teachers. They were earning their masters of Education degrees and to do so, required learning to teach woodworking (among other crafts) to their kids. Can it be any wonder then that Finland would beat the pants off the US in the international PISA testing?

There is no easy to measure cause and effect relationship between school wood shop and PISA test scores. To claim that I would be out on a limb. But my visit to the University of Helsinki wood shop helped illustrate a major difference between education in Finland and the US. In the US, we push reading and math at earlier ages, while in Finland's schools they begin reading at age 8 and far surpass American readers in 30% less time.

And so while all kids are "ready to learn," not all children are ready to read. Reading requires development that best occurs on the timing within the child. If we were to follow the Finnish model, children would be developing skills, character and intelligence while working to create beautiful and useful things to serve family and community through their own hands, years before they picked up a book in school.

Froebel's gift number 2 was so closely associated with the life of Freidrich Froebel, that its form consisting of a sphere, a cylinder and a cube form the marker at his grave. You'll notice that I've placed my own photo of gift number 2 upside down in protest to what Kindergarten has become. Froebel would roll over in his grave out of concern for what they've done to his child.

Make, fix and create. Be brave and confident in demanding change.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

a lucky balance

Yesterday I sanded a large table top and then because of limited space in my small shop, used that table top as a platform to apply Danish oil to boxes. I was reminded of my early days. Despite having a large number of tourists, Eureka Springs is a limited market. Tourists only rarely carry home furniture. And there are not enough residents in this small town to buy boxes. So making boxes to sell tourists and to export to galleries and furniture to sell locals within the state provided a balance that enabled me to survive as a craftsman. That's not an easy thing in small town America. These days it's not easy in big cities either.

Even my children in school know that most of the things that fill their homes and inhabit their lives are from China and are not made to last. In fact, you can go to  any Walmart and find it chock full of things that they want you to buy, but that will be discarded in landfills or floating in our oceans in five years or less.

We could cut out the middle man and give people in our own communities the opportunity to create the things we need. We would save on packaging and transportation and give people the chance to grow in character and intelligence. We would also provide employment that would be incredibly rewarding.

The things that have been made by people we care about are of greater value than the things that were made carelessly by others and that are detrimental to the environment.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, April 06, 2019

A Kindergarten demonstration project

The interesting thing about higher education is that the only forms of intelligence that are promoted though the system to its highest levels are academics and one of the great shortcomings is the exclusion of the training of the hands and body on an equal footing with the mind alone.

I find it interesting still that Teacher's College in New York, a sister of Columbia University, was founded to teach teachers to teach the manual arts. The recognition was there then that the hands and mind were integral to the development of character and intellect. And surely trained hands are still essential to the of training minds, unless you are aiming toward perpetuating useless intellectual foolishness and selfish elitism.

Right across the street from Columbia University and just a few blocks from Teachers College, Union Seminary and Barnard you'll find St. John the Divine Cathedral, a wonderful place left unfinished. Imagine a program in which students were allowed to train their hands and minds in harmony and at the same time. It's a shame the administrative minds in the neighborhood surrounding St. John the Divine cannot stretch that far.

Early proponents of manual arts understood that to teach all to create useful and beautiful objects was an important component in democracy, as it helped to sustain the shared sense of the dignity of human labor. What would happen if students of one of the world's great universities were to enter their intellectual engagements reinforced and illuminated through the shared framework of humanity that only the hands can provide?

Yesterday in wood shop my Kindergarten students made a "demonstration" project based on Froebel's Kindergarten gift number 2. My instruction was to follow as follows. See one, do one, teach one. They enjoyed the project, which consisted of a stand and a cylinder hanging on a string. A dowel can be used to set the cylinder in motion and as it spins the shape blurs into a spherical form. If you color the ends of the cylinder, the colors blend and merge into new colors just as they would if mixed on a pallet. It will be a lovely thing for them to be able to demonstrate to family and friends.

One of my first grade boys asked his grandmother what she used to make in wood shop. She explained that she didn't have wood shop when she was his age. He said, "I'm so sorry."

Make, fix, grow and create...

Friday, April 05, 2019

building a culture of the arts.

The past few days I've had conversations with friends centered on an interesting subject. One conversation was with an artist who asked about the difficulties of selling our work. The other was with one of my oldest and dearest friends who had in my early years as a craftsman, kept me busy making display cabinets for his shop and furniture for his home. He noted that through the years, he had shown my work to many friends and bragged about its features, thinking that they too, would want to buy my work. He asked if I had any thoughts about why they did not.

I can tell you who buys hand crafted work (generally) and why they do. In my own case, most of my work has been sold to other artists, people who know what it takes to make work, and know the reasons for it. As we became a nation where the makers are an exception, and not prevalent in our communities, the value of the hand-crafted, artist designed product is only rarely known  deeply enough to guide behavior. Potential customers can appreciate the values in the work when those features are pointed out to them, but its's so much easier for them to buy manufactured stuff  than to invest art, which in most cases they do not fully understand.

We have a problem. We have neglected the building of a base of art buyers by failing to offer art making as a primary goal in education. By failing to engage students in the making of beautiful and useful things, we've failed to impart the character required to build communities in which artists are nourished and encouraged in further growth.

We can change that, but it will take time. We start by becoming makers, and then use whatever tools we have  at our disposal to encourage others to make.

Make, fix, grow and create.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

it's not done til it's pretty.

The rest of the class is gone for the day, but one girl remains. She wanted to make an airplane because she found a plastic propeller, so  after two days of woodshop she wants to take it home, but not before the coloring is complete. Can you and I both understand that? When we are doing real things, they matter.

I was listening to the radio as I went to and from school this morning. They told of an organization trying to get young people to enter the job market. Work has become a hard sell. Students have become conditioned to doing nothing. They live in their parent's basements, and are disillusioned and disengaged. I place this at the foot of learning as it is practiced in American education.

Give children a chance at real learning! The inclination for it is hardwired in every human being. One word can change the whole of modern schooling. The word is industriousness and it's a natural part of being a human being. It's sad that it has been conditioned out of our student body by requiring our children to sit still and to do nothing but empty exercises.

There is a great quote in Time Magazine this week from Peter Tabichi, science teacher in Nairobi who won the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize on March 24. He stated his philosophy as, "You have to do more and talk less." Along with that goes encouraging your students to be of value to their families and their communities.

Today I'll be planing and sanding the large maple table top.

Make, fix and create... Provide for others to learn likewise.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

silver maple

The photo shows the large silver maple table top being lifted for loading into Bill Hinson's truck. Bill and his daughter Suzanne went with me on an adventure to 2nd life woods to pick it up and it's now in my shop ready for work. I've left it long to be trimmed to final size after I've made decisions about how the irregular shape will be best fit my customer's seating needs. You will see more of this table top in the coming months. It is heavy enough that I can barely lift one end.

There is an important balance to be found in the making of useful and beautiful things. If an object is not beautiful and well-crafted, meeting one's aesthetic considerations in how it looks and feels, it will likely not be treated with care or respect and will not survive. If an object is not useful, we may not find ways to adopt it into our lives. And then there is this:
"Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them." -- D.H. Lawrence
The question then, is  "What are wakened hands, and how do we wake them up?"

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

a table top.

This afternoon I pick up a large maple slab, natural edged on both sides to make a dining table. It's size and weight will make it a challenge to lift and live with in my shop as I shape the ends and plane and sand the surfaces to perfection.

Yesterday in wood shop at the Clear Spring School, my students worked on a variety of projects including more of the phone holders I'd made with my Kindergarten class on Friday.

Since my classes contain students of varying skill and maturity, requiring all students to do exactly the same thing tends to be impractical. The students love the opportunity to make what they want, limited only be the available materials.

Skills of mind and skills of hand are not different things, as each refreshes and strengthens the other.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, April 01, 2019

a successful event...

Yesterday, adults and children got a chance to make things at ESSA. Woodturners from Stateline Woodturning Association kept the turning room very busy. Guests were allowed to try their hands at blacksmithing, wood carving, jewelry crafting, making hand carved and painted gnomes, and making sloyd trivets from Gustaf Larsson's book Elementary Sloyd and Whittling.

Hands On ESSA was a fundraising event, so the cash jars filled, and postcards designed by area artists were sold to the highest bidders. What we have here is a facility built in service to the arts that is being loved.

Make, fix and create... encourage others to learn likewise.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Hands on ESSA

Please come to ESSA today, Sunday March 31, 3 to 6 PM for hands-on learning activities. I will be helping students make Sloyd trivets from Gustaf Larsson's book Elementary Sloyd and Whittling, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Nature Pattern Blocks. Woodturners from the Stateline Woodturning Association will be giving hands on instruction on the lathe, and we'll also have wood carving, pottery making, blacksmithing and more.

In the wood shop we'll use the medical school model, show one, do one, teach one, and if all goes well, my students will be assisting each other.

On Friday my students, fifth and sixth grades worked on boxes and my Kindergarten students made phone stands to give their parents. The idea of Sloyd was to make useful objects that would reinforce the relationship between school and life at home. At that time (mid to late 1800's), many parents saw schooling as useless, in comparison to the usefulness of the child working at home or on the farm. Each child's labor could be a factor in the family's survival. To send a child to school involved sacrifice.

But when the parent saw the child's growth in tangible form, the partnership between home and school was made crystal clear. Instead of report cards or test scores that came home twice a year, providing only an abstract and subjective view of student performance, useful and beautiful objects provided a constant chain of feedback, establishing the child's interest in school, and the parent's resolve in dedicating their own resources to their child's education. When a child sees mother or father using and cherishing a thing she's made, powerful things are happening in that child's life.

More about Hands On ESSA can be found here:

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

Thursday, March 28, 2019

cell phones, screen time and kids...

Some of my students discovered that I have a youtube channel. They asked if I'm famous. And so it goes. We would be so much better off to live simply and without so much loss of time on our digital devices,. Discovering what we can do with our own hands may be more fulfilling than to simply watch what others can do.

A number of reports with well documented research has told of the major complications related to excessive cell phone usage, and restrictions should be applied. This article from November in Time Magazine tells that parents should have serious talks with their kids.

Yesterday one of my students cut her finger very slightly with a whittling knife. Parents worry about injury in wood shop. But they will give their children unrestricted use of cell phones that are closely linked to depression and suicide. Go figure. A cut on the finger is visible and can be fixed with a band aid. There is no band aid for depression.

Jean M. Twenge, in this week's Time Magazine asks, "Think of this in terms of risk vs. benefits. What is the harm in limiting (not eliminating) the use of electronic devices? Very little. What is the harm in doing nothing, if a lot of time on devices might be behind the sharp rise in teen depression? Too much."

Every parent should be made aware of the risks. The time spent on digital devices is taken from the time spent on engagement in the real world. That's true for adults as well as for kids.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

"an utterly defective grip?"

The following passage is from J. A. Hobson's book, John Ruskin Social Reformer, 1898, available on google books.
 "Educational reformers from Xenophon to Froebel have emphasized the natural union of "head and hand" as the first principle of education. Not merely is dexterity of hand and eye a useful accomplishment, while the foolish and immoral contempt which "gentility" affects for manual work is scotched in childhood; the direct intellectual gain is still more important. Children who draw their intellectual pabulum from books alone, and whose experience embodies no regular and systematic experience of the nature of matter in relation to human service, the qualities of useful substances, and the tools and modes of work by which these substances can be wrought into serviceable forms, grow up to manhood and womanhood and pass on through life with an utterly defective grip on the earth on which they live and the material environment of life."
My thanks to Tim Holton for sending the link to a book that has great relevance to the Wisdom of the Hands. John Ruskin believed as I do that all children, regardless of class or future occupation, should be exposed to the creative, useful art, through manual training in school. It prepares each to be of greater service to self and humanity.

Yesterday in woodshop my students grades 1-4 were given "free day" in which they could do anything they wanted. Free day allows them to work at the level of skill they are most ready for, and to progress at their own pace. The warrior dog shown with moveable legs is from the video game Minecraft and made by a second grade boy.

One of my students came back after class, during recess to explain that he really needs more time in wood shop. He explained that he loves it and his parents think he's really good at it. I explained that all the other subjects are also important, and will make his time in wood shop even more useful to him.

Make, fix and create... Allow children to learn likewise.

Monday, March 25, 2019

five points.

The idea of manual arts training was and is to develop the skill, intellect and the character of the child. Allow me to reflect on the principles of Educational Sloyd.

From the easy to the more difficult refers most directly to the gradual development of skill, though it can also refer to the child's conceptual framework and what it can grasp.

From the known to the unknown can refer most accurately to the development of a framework of knowledge within the child's gradual awakening to the world around it. It can also refer to what the child knows how to do, thus referring to the child's growing capacity to act intelligently in its world.

From the simple to the complex  suggests that by starting out with simple things in school we build the child's capacity to grow into the complexities of life. These days we are particularly troubled by a population unwilling or unable to understand complex issues. They prefer to have complex things reduced to one liners and have been left too lazy to understand complex issues. Instead of having the strength, and interest to go deeply into complex issues, members of our society simply place themselves in us against them relationships with each other, and fail in their responsibility to engage intelligently as citizens.

From the concrete to the abstract really suggests where schools have generally left our population in the dark and emasculated of their intellectual capacity. Schools launch students into abstract subjects without building from the concrete realities of real life. Schools do that by teaching students to memorize factoids abstractly presented and irrelevant to their own lives while they ignore direct investigation of the reality that surrounds us.

It was believed that manual arts training in schools was crucial to the fulfillment of the ideals of democracy. All of this was to be launched from the interests of the child. Before the disruption of natural growth patterns by unnatural schooling, children learned by doing things in service to their families and communities.  Now students are expected to sit still and drugs are often recommended if they are incapable or unwilling to do so.

Make, fix, and create. Plead the case that others must have the opportunity to learn likewise.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

blue tape...

I learned a trick from one of our teachers at ESSA, Steve Palmer, from St. Louis. It's to put blue masking tape along the joints where wood is being glued together to form a table top. You put the tape down extending beyond the edge, then use a knife to trim the tape flush. Then when the boards are glued tight, the excess glue is squeezed out onto the tape rather than onto the wood so it can be easily peeled away rather than scraped or sanded.

I am preparing eight partial coopered columns at a 26 in. radius to form parts of a table base, and while I'm less concerned with glue squeezing out on the outside of the column where it can be easily sanded off, the inside coopered shape will present greater difficulty. So Steve's technique will make my finish work less difficult.

The coopered columns are to be formed from 8 coopered parts, forming an inside and outside radius as shown in the photo. Side strips will be added, making 4 hollow coopered forms each only a fraction of a compete circle. The forms will be connected together with a central beam giving stability to the table, The curvature of the base units will also stabilize the top, preventing movement.

When the coopered base units have been glued together (a process relying on lots of clear plastic tape) they will be textured to give a hand carved resemblance to the surface of wood after the bark has been removed.

In the photo, the blue tape is being used to simply hold parts together while I work out the details and dimensions of additional parts.

This is the last day of spring break and classes resume at the Clear Spring School on Monday. I'm grateful to have had some  extra time to spend in the shop.

Make, fix and create. Increase the odds that others have a chance to learn likewise.

Friday, March 22, 2019


For some time I've been trying to explain political reality from a manual arts perspective. There are a few folks I've referenced in previous blog posts that may help you to sort out and dig deep. One is Joe the Plumber. ( each of these can be found by using the search function of this blog, found at upper left) Another is Karl Popper whose concept "verisimilitude" can also be useful in digging deep. For facebook readers, you'll have to go to the blog,

What follows is a blog post from WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2010

Narrative and reality

Jerome Bruner's article "The Narrative Construction of Reality" suggests that narrative plays an important role in how man "achieves a 'true' knowledge of the world... that is to say, how we get a reliable fix on the world, a world that is... assumed to be immutable and... 'there to be observed'." (we develop narratives and then chat in our own heads and with each other about them) But it should be noted that belief and reality often differ.

In my continuing interest to explain the narrative function of crafts, I want to address one minor point of comparison. In discursive narrative, verisimilitude, or what Stephen Colbert called "truthiness" is completely acceptable. In my interpretation of Bruner's article, discursive narrative may be based on real events or fictional, without diminishing our use of it to establish belief or to portray reality in shaping the beliefs of others. A great example is when Ronald Reagan used his movie characters' "experiences" as being valid in explaining and rationalizing positions he took in office as president.

In political narrative, it has become completely acceptable to just make stuff up. I want to compare this with craftwork as narrative expression. Crafts are not about making things up, but about making real things. Narrative, as used in politics, religion and entertainment creates belief based on verisimilitude, on ideas that may appear to resemble truth from certain psychological predispositions but may not be able to pass full muster of physical reality.

In other words, in discursive narrative, you get to make stuff up. In crafts, you make beautiful and useful stuff instead, and if you are interested in reality, there is no substitute for the real thing, and I'm not talking Coke.

There is an honesty in craft work that is missing in too much k-12 and university education, and the results can be disastrous for the entire society. The following is from Charles Henry Ham's book, Mind and Hand, 1886:
"It is thus that the trained hand comes at last to foresee, as it were, that a false proposition is surely destined to be exploded. The habit of rectitude gives it prescience. It invariably discovers, sooner or later, that a false proposition, when embodied in wood or iron, becomes a conspicuous abortion, involving in disgrace both the designer and the maker. A false proposition in the abstract may be rendered very alluring; a false proposition in the concrete is always hideous. One of the chief effects of manual training is, then, the discovery and development of truth; and truth, in its broadest signification, is merely another name for justice; and justice is the synonym of morality."
I find it interesting that Karl Popper, the philosopher who came up with the concept "verisimilitude" had an early career in a cabinet shop that he described as being his launch into the realm of philosophy.

Today in the woodshed, I'll be working on a table base.

Make, fix and create...