Monday, December 30, 2019

a family class

Yesterday my wife and daughter and I took a family class at ESSA with Julie Hop, a noted watercolorist from the ESSA staff. It was a delightful time. My daughter Lucy excelled. Her's is the work shown. I struggled, knowing that free expression is not as easy for me as is the use of jigs and fixtures of my own design for crafting wood.

Fortunately we started with the basics. By the end of the day we had paintings ready to frame and enough basic skill to get better at it. (knowing that it can take years to get good).

When we think of the word "economy," we tend to think large and complex. We ought to instead think of Thoreau, of Shakers, of parsimony, of thrift and of great grandparents who wasted not a single thing. I mention the Shakers in reference not only to thrift but to the quality of design that is reduced to utter simplicity. I mention Thoreau because he suggested a path toward a more meaningful life. Economy of thought can lead to an uncluttered state of mind, allowing us to live more simply, and to reveal and release something greater in ourselves toward building the value of community.

We need to think much more about real economy. Not the one discussed among the world's financial elite, but is instead shared at the community level. The economy where members of families and volunteers make an effort to be of service to each other. A new round of Republican tax cuts raises the nation's deficit by 50% and is poised to make the rich richer by 25% or more. They need the money to fill hollow lives. In the real economy, the one that's not tracked or measured, or even measurable in "economic" terms, people find may find real joy.

We need to redirect families and communities toward simple service. The economy so important to the sustenance of the economic elite is killing the planet. We have the opportunity to save it by becoming advocates of a more simple life.

reduce, conserve, simplify, make, fix and create.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Forest School

A lovely video sent to me by the department of education at the University of Helsinki shows a laboratory school in Finland in which children spend every Friday out of doors in the surrounding forest. Use this link:

Children learn best from real life. One of the things most lacking in education is the means to bring us into greater harmony with nature.

Woodworking draws a straight line from the forest toward creative empowerment. As you can see in the photo we are moving equipment into the new Clear Spring School wood studio.

Make, fix, and create.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas...

It's been a great season for online merchants as folks have been obsessed with buying meaningless stuff. That stuff may bring short term joy, and then become a burden of distribution or disposal. There are costs at both ends...When its made and we spend money for it, and then again when we have it hauled off and buried with massive quantities of stuff. In addition to the monetary costs, there's a large cost to the environment, again, at both ends.

My wife and I settled on a single gift to buy for each other. It is an original water color painting by a friend, Glenn Gant, who passed away in 1999. While Glenn was alive he never cared to sell his work. A good friend of mine would buy it by visiting Glenn in his home, making clear his admiration for a painting, and then lay a couple hundred dollar bills on the bed. You can learn just a bit about Glenn here: But no encyclopedia entry can touch upon the whole man. Glenn is also featured in the long video by Betty and Tony Maffei on my youtube channel. Building a Legacy of the Arts

The Eureka Art Gallery on North Main St. here in Eureka Springs is offering over 100 pieces of Glenn's work for sale that had been held in a private collection. The sale offers the opportunity to acquire a lovely piece of Eureka Springs Art from one of the founding members of our art community.

So, what do we make when we make something beautiful and useful? Certainly, and with some degree of certainty, a machine can make things faster and in some ways better than can we. But when we make something, we have the opportunity to escape mediocrity in the making of ourselves as artists. While the machine is in the process of wearing itself out making meaningless stuff, the artists on the other hand, hone and polish their own souls.

May the season bring joy. Make fix and create.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

a simple note on Chritmas Eve

Some days I have to sit back and attempt to make sense of things.
Black Elk described the wholeness to be found in nature as follows:
Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children. -- Black Elk
Again, along the same lines, the following is from Dr. Matti Bergström's book, Hjarnans resurser — en bok om ideernas ursprung "The Brain's Resources — a Book about the Origin of Ideas."
...We evolve in order to unite the world we live in into a wholeness. ...This is why the unifying force, the collective principle ... assumes ever greater importance in our lives. It becomes apparent in our thirst for peace, accord, and harmony, goodness, a social and religious paradise, love of our fellow humans and nature and an ensouling of nature. ...Even in our science we wish more and more to be rid of one-sided analysis, divisiveness and disjointed knowledge to create instead a method of research that tends toward synthesis and holism, wholeness and cohesion, where values can coexist without battling each other. — pp. 147-8
It seems the human condition requires great effort to make sense of. While our training and relentless activity is to discern one thing from another, the understanding of wholeness, a thing Froebel called Gliedganzes, requires us to put things together and to find the common thread. An ancient  Chinese text called the Hsin Hsin Ming describes the process and the solution. "The great way," it says is, "is not difficult for those who have no preferences, but make the slightest distinction, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart." The solution it proposes is that whenever doubts or dissensions arise they must be met with the firm assertion, "not two," that there are no real boundaries between us.

The following is from Froebel and Education through Self-Activity by H. Courthope Bowen describing a conversation between Adolph Diesterweg and Froebel:
The night was clear, bright, and starry, as they drove home from Inselsberg to Liebenstein, and the beauty of the heavens had set them talking. "No one of the heavenly bodies is isolated; every planet has its centre in the sun of its system. All the solar systems are in relation and continual interaction with one another. This is the condition of all life — everywhere mutual relation of parts. As there above, in great things, unbroken connection and harmony rule, so also here below, even in the smallest thing; everywhere there are the same order and harmony, because the same law rules everywhere, the one law of God, which expresses itself in thousand-fold many-sidedness, but in the last analysis is one, for God is himself the law." "That is what people call pantheism," remarked Diesterweg. "And very unjustly," rejoined Froebel; "I do not say, like the pantheists, that the world is God's body, that God dwells in it, as in a house, but that the spirit of God dwells and lives in nature, produces, fosters, and unfolds everything, as the common life principle. As the spirit of the artist is found again in his masterpieces, so must we find God's spirit (Geist) in his works."
Have you not yourself, walked with friends along a pathway in a starry night and wondered at the billions of stars and the interrelationship between all things? You need not be religious to do so.

The illustration is of Anaxagoras who said simply, that man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands.

Make, fix, and create. Use the powers of mind that you have been given to transcend the fractures that divide us and that leave us lonely and afraid.

Monday, December 23, 2019

cultural affairs...

The first time I met Louis and Elsie Freund was at an art show sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Committee. I had a couple pieces of my pottery on display, and was gratified that senior artists of their stature took an interest in me. The show was held in the Eureka Springs Historical Museum and that must have been in the winter of 1976. I later became close to Louis and Elsie as we formed the Eureka Springs Guild of Artists and Craftspeople in the summer of 1977.

I had invited artists to join together at Lake Leatherwood to form an arts guild. I was proclaimed the first president due to my being the only one there with a piece of paper on which to take notes. Louis and Elsie joined the group at our next meeting which was held on the Balcony of the Crescent Hotel. It was there that we discussed the name of the organization, settling on the "Guild of Artists and Craftspeople" due to the word "craftsman" being too sexist for some.

I write this in remembrance of the need for senior artists to foster and bring forth the young. I can still feel what it felt like to be nurtured and encouraged by artists whose stature had been earned at an earlier time.

Today I continue moving into the new woodworking studio in the newly developing Hands on Learning Center at the Clear Spring School. The floor is completed in the classroom area and the table saw will be he next major tool to move in the front loader of my Kubota.

In the meantime, I'm convinced that the story of the arts in Eureka Springs and how the arts affect the development of community is important, and that it must be told as it would be useful to every small town in the world. The relationships formed between artists through which we nourish and encourage each other in our growth can be the basis of cultural renewal. A few moments with Louis and Elsie there in 1976 within the walls of the Eureka Springs Historical Museum, standing by a Raku pot I'd thrown, and receiving their acknowledgment, helped me to make clear to myself, that I'm an artist.

You can meet Louis and Elsie in this video taken in 1996 by friends Betty and Tony Maffei.

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

Sunday, December 22, 2019

finally it's time?

In the Saturday edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, columnist Rex Nelson, in writing about development in Northwest Arkansas, noted the following about my town of Eureka Springs.
"Finally, it's time for those with wealth in Benton and Washington Counties to fully adopt the quirky old Arkansas town of Eureka Springs in nearby Carroll County. That will be a subject of a future column."
The local Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission just approved and expenditure of $25,000 to launch a branding development scheme. We'll see where that goes.

Years ago, Eureka Springs Artists Don Kennett and Louis Freund worked very hard to get the local chamber of commerce to understand the importance of the arts. Earlier, Louis had been a staunch protector of our historic architecture. In speaking on behalf of establishing a historic district and the laws governing the protection of historic resources, Louis noted the millions of dollars being poured into the development of Colonial Williamsburg and contrasted that with Eureka Springs. He said that while they were spending millions to rebuild something from scratch, all we had to do was protect what we already have.

The same can be said of the arts. While Benton and Washington Counties are spending many millions to develop an arts community, all we really need to do is recognize who we are and what we have and protect it. A bit of recognition from those who have the big bucks would go a long way in helping Eureka Springs remain a pinnacle of the arts. The first step could be to get the local chamber of commerce and the City Advertising and Promotion Commission (CAPC) to recognize what should be as clear as the nose on our face.

As a younger man, I would travel around the country to sell my work and wherever I'd go, the reputation of Eureka Springs as an arts community preceded me. My customers had met others from this small town, artists and craftspeople who had established their own credentials as artists and the identity of Eureka Springs as a home for the arts.

I hope to have a brief conversation with Rex Nelson. When Arkansas poet John Gould Fletcher wrote to Louis and Elsie Freund back in the forties, he said, "not much happening in Eureka, but it sure is laid out pretty." That remains true to this day. That beauty brings to our town those who are particularly sensitive to the beauty of our natural landscape, and architecture. Those folks of course tend to be artists. And so the bedrock of this community, as strong as the limestone under this town, is in four parts, beauty, outdoor recreation, historic preservation, and the arts.

My thanks to Dr. Dan Bell for alerting me to the need for this post.

Make, fix, and create...

Saturday, December 21, 2019

moving beyond the days of 360° 24/7 self-aggrandizement

I mention again an interesting book by Catherine S. Barker. It was first published in 1941 and was republished this year with fresh notes and introductory materials by the University of Arkansas Press. Yesterday Today is a factual account of life in the Ozark Mountains and of the challenges faced by the rural poor. The book is lovingly written, and I celebrate the University of Arkansas Press for bringing it back to life.

The book presents an interesting contrast with life in the Ozarks today. Now we have multi-national corporations and companies that specialize in making things from plastic.

There's an interesting Zen saying, that, "Poverty is your greatest treasure. Never trade it for an easy life." A song lyric that interests me is from Joni Mitchel. She sang about "the thumb and the satchel or the rented Rolls Royce, and the crazy you get from too much choice."

We are in the times of 360 degree 24/7 self-aggrandizement. Did you know that the big gold letters on the top of Trump Hotels and towers are not gold and that they are actually made of plastic? You can make plastic look like virtually anything. But there's a difference between virtual and virtue. One is the denial of the other. Not enough is said these days about simplicity. Another favorite suggestion is to live simply so that others may simply live.

The eight year old youtube star is making 26 million bucks a year reviewing and thereby promoting toys. Can you guess what they're made of? In the meantime, the maker of Lego blocks is offering to take back legos from the hoards of unsorted legos that are out there, and to resort them and send them to the poor. That's better than having them floating in the great Pacific garbage gyre. Perhaps we could consider a similar effort in the collection and renewal of old barbies. Gather them up, take them apart and reassemble them into new creative forms.

I'll compare legos to homemade wooden Froebel blocks. Does the world have enough? Being made  from wood, most have been burned or composted with no harm to the environment. My book, Making Classic Toys that Teach might send my readers in the right direction.

Yesterday we began moving tools and work benches from the old Clear Spring School wood shop to our new studio in the hands on learning center. I felt extremely grateful to have had a tractor for some of the heaviest lifting and to have had great help.

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

Friday, December 20, 2019

a thought about wood.

The highest paid youtube star is 8 years old and earned 26 million dollars. 500 hours of youtube video are uploaded every minute. The way someone gets paid is by attracting viewers and receiving advertising revenue. Corporations get paid additionally by gathering information on us, where we are, what we buy, what we're likely to buy next, to thereby make certain they're the ones to sell it to us.

Eighty to 90% of what's sold in the US is destined for the landfill or disposal within 2-3 years. We have a relentless appetite to have fresh stuff put at our disposal. The costs are enormous, both on the personal level and for the planet. We have a huge balance of trade deficit that puts our future ever more securely in the hands of the Chinese and other investors in American "prosperity."

And so the question arises, "what if we were each empowered to make beautiful, useful, and lasting things for ourselves?"

Yesterday I helped the staff of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts make boxes. While the boxes we made in a short period of time were not perfect, (Perfection can only come through time and repetition) each box made is a symbol of growth that will find a useful place in each maker's life.

While environmentalists race to remove the great Pacific garbage patch of swirling plastic and as it grinds its way into smaller micro-plastic bits that will be impossible to remove from the marine ecosystem or from intrusion into all life, wood's not like that at all. It is a natural, renewable component to the planet. It can be composted or burned without deleterious effect. Wood has always been an important part of the natural environment. Plastic has not.

Today I'll begin moving the benches, tools and cabinetry of the Clear Spring School woodworking studio into its new space.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

the character of wood

This week my Kindergarten students finished their toy trains and were excited to take them home.

Today I have a special adult box making class for the staff of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. Tomorrow we begin moving the Clear Spring School wood studio to its new location.

Woodworking is a bit different from other means of artistic expression. If you cut a piece of steel too short, you can heat it, and hammer it, extending its length. Lacking a forge, you can widen your weld, simply filling in the unsightly gap.  If clay is too long or too short, it can be squished or stretched to fit.

Wood's not like that. Precision is required. Woodworkers have joked about a board stretcher. No such invention has been made. Then there's the other joke. "I cut this board twice, and it's still too short."

And so there are certain characteristics inherent in the wood. Those characteristics make it challenging. They also make it lovely. Its beauty. What more need I say?

Well, I might mention its usefulness. Today my students will be making boxes that I can assure you will find a useful place in life.

And is there yet one more thing I might say about the character of wood? Yes indeed. Like human beings, wood is narrative. It tells its own story. The life of the tree is written in the grain, along with its strength and its loveliness. As we work with wood, using it to tell our own stories, we are blending in a larger world of creation.

And is there yet one more thing I might say about the character of wood? I can tell you about the diverse properties of various species. They are hard or soft. They are weak or strong (comparatively). Woods come in diverse colors and are suited to a wide variety of best uses. To enter the world of wood can be to fall into a wonderful entrapment in which one may discover love for the natural world.

Make, fix, create, and adjust education so that others learn lifewise.

Friday, December 13, 2019

I want to make that.

My younger students see the things that the older students are making and they tell me, "I want to make that." The opportunities in wood shop are endless.

Wood lends itself to being transformed into useful, lasting beauty. It also offers enough resistance to its transformation that it alters the character and temperament of the maker.
Alteration of character is a necessary mission for education. At the Clear Spring School students become makers and doers and live lives richer, more resilient and more in touch.

Yesterday one of my classes of elementary school students asked if they could make canes. And in a weakened state, I allowed them to use materials I'd prepared for older students to make canes for the elderly and disabled.

The handles came from scrap stock that I pick up at a handle factory, and the shafts are cut from hardwood stock into an octagonal shape using the table saw. The handles are drilled at center using a 5/8 in. Forstner bit. The tenons on the ends of the shafts are formed using a Veritas tenon cutter. The work can be quickly done because we have tools and I supply materials for such projects.

I have been reading an interesting book by Catherine S. Barker. It was first published in 1941 and was republished this year with fresh notes and introductory materials by the University of Arkansas Press. Yesterday Today is a factual account of life in the Ozark Mountains and of the challenges faced by the rural poor. The book is lovingly written, and I celebrate the U of A Press for bringing it back to life.

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

Thursday, December 12, 2019

finishing up...

We have one more week in the current Clear Spring School wood shop before we begin moving into the new hands on learning center. That means many student projects must be finished and taken home, or taken apart if they are abandoned.

Our Kindergarten students are finishing their toy trains. The engines and cars will be assembled in strings next week.

Other students are making boxes, canes and walking sticks.

Part of the value of woodworking is that in order to do it, students must think and observe closely, just as they must do in science. In fact, many early scientists were craftsmen as well in making the laboratory equipment required.

One of the challenges I have is that students come up with elaborate ideas about things they want to make. For instance, one student wanted to make a chicken house and came up with a design requiring what I estimated to be three sheets of plywood. I asked, "Do you see any wood around here that would enable you to do that?" He settled on a much smaller design.

In the digital world where many children and adults spend their time, all things are made easy. In fact, each new version of each program has been made successively more and more "user friendly" meaning easy to use. If it's easy to use, it can be done any anyone, no special skills required, and no student growth required. And yet, if you study kids you learn that they want to learn new and challenging things that allow them to demonstrate expertise and set themselves apart from each other. I refer you back to David Henry Feldman's essay that can be found by searching this blog for "The Child as Craftsman."

Kids have long been set apart from each other by having parents who buy them stuff. But there's a shallowness and artificiality to that when you compare it with the opportunities found in craftsmanship which requires students to do real things and develop real skill in the real world.

I received copies of Not Dead Yet, Reflections on Life, Aging and Death, yesterday to share with family and friends. My sister Mary needs not receive a copy as she's one of the contributors to the book. The Kindle edition is cheap, but it's nice to hold a real book. I thank the editor Dan Krotz for including our essays in it.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 09, 2019

building readers

An OpEd in the New York Times  tells about success in Mississippi in teaching children to read. The idea Mississippi legislators came up with was that if teachers were taught the scientific basis for success in reading, their students would have greater success. The simple formula is this.

  decoding ability x language comprehension = reading comprehension 

You'll note in this formula that if decoding ability is zero, the reading comprehension is also zero. Or if language comprehension is zero, then reading comprehension will also be zero. So teachers in Mississippi are taught to emphasize both the use of words and the decoding and sounding out strings of letters. What they fail to mention is a third factor, readiness to read. Not all children mature to be ready to read at the same time. When they're not ready, frustration ensues, and school districts spend hundreds of millions of dollars attempting fix something that should never have been broken in the first place.

When I visited the University of Helsinki wood shop in 2008, I found Kindergarten teachers learning to teach woodworking to their kids. Each teacher was excitedly engaged. Woodworking builds language comprehension, as does doing other real things. By delaying the start of school reading until age 8 and by doing other real things in school, beyond reading and math, the Finns build better readers in 30% less time.

In my own shop, I've been attending to orphaned boxes, those left unfinished after using them to demonstrate techniques. The photo shows installing hinges and one finished box.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, December 05, 2019

canes and ornaments

Yesterday my students worked on canes and ornaments. The canes are made for the elderly and infirm at our local medical clinic, and the ornaments are being made for a Christmas Tree at the Crescent Hotel. Beginning on December 7, you can vote on your favorite tree by giving a dollar or more.

Those trees that get the most votes receive additional money from the hotel. On or after December 7, take money, go to the hotel and vote big. We hope the hands and toys will capture the hearts of those visiting the forest of trees representing charitable organizations in our community.

My students will be finishing more ornaments in the wood shop today.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019


My students and I have now made about 30 toys to use as ornaments on a Clear Spring School Christmas tree for the Crescent Hotel to be displayed starting Dec. 7. Most of them have now been painted. I'll take a photo of some of the finished cars today.

Today my Kindergarten students will begin making toy trains, and I have a new way to hold the train cars connected in a string. By cutting a groove in the underside of each one, a simple string can be hot melt glued in place connecting them. It does not offer the option of coupling and uncoupling cars, but is a simple way to make a train to capture the love of  the youngest kids.

Part of the fun of woodworking with kids is that the teacher gets to be creative and learn new things.

Last night I packaged 20 boxes to ship to a customer in Little Rock.

I had correspondence with a publisher who told me that they were going to place greater emphasis on publishing scholarly works, making it less likely that they would publish my book Wisdom of the Hands: Crafting Self, Community and Human Culture. The perception that "scholarly" precludes personal experience in reshaping and restoring the role of the hands in learning and in life, is a dangerous thing. In the German language they recognize two kinds of knowledge, Wissennshaft that comes second hand from reading about stuff, and Kentniss that comes from doing real things. The perception that "scholarly" is about one and not the other is a sad notion in academia. The wisdom of the hands is likely a threat to the academic status quo.

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

Tuesday, December 03, 2019


Three recent studies suggests that instead of fidget spinners being useful in helping some students toward classroom learning success, they have the opposite effect. It has been argued that fidget spinners help kids adapt to the stress of the modern classroom, having particular effect on those students suffering from ADHD. Claims for the value of fidget spinners were made by the marketers on pure speculation and without evidence.

On the other hand, fidget spinners may be useful in helping kids to cope with boring lessons... not in helping to manage to learn those lessons but helping them to manage sitting still without disrupting others. So let's be clear. Children don't fit well in classrooms that are one size supposed-to-fit all.

On Thursday I talked with my great nephew Knox about his schooling. As a very bright boy he would find school to be very boring but for being recognized as "gifted" and being assigned a mentor who listens to his interests and helps design lessons specific to what he wants most to learn. But then, this raises the question, are not all children "gifted" and talented in one way or another? Perhaps with individually assigned mentors or smaller class sizes we'd find out.

On the other hand, there are two things standing in the way of greater educational success, each of these well proven by research. Poverty is the greatest obstacle standing in the way of student success, and it should come as no surprise that my great nephew Knox, comes from a family that gives him full support and total love. Gifted kids come from families like his that offer attention and support.

The other obstacle is class size. Teachers with 25 to 30 kids in a class are incapable of knowing their students' interests or exact level of development and thus must force engagement through other means.  They command, "Sit still kids." When sitting still is not what their minds, and bodies need. Don't you remember the figits from when you were a kid?

So these are two things to fix. Poverty and class size. Shouldn't we be talking about these two things? And of course the third point is the hands. Students should be engaged in project based learning through which their hands are engaged in doing real things. The value of doing real things is far greater than cramming useless information into the brain that will be quickly forgotten

Today my elementary students will be making toy cars and trucks. My middle school students will be making canes for the elderly. My high school students will be working on their longboards.

The photo is for my friend Bob whose shop I visited last week, and for whom I tried to explain my method for attaching the ESSA compound miter saw to dust collection. A picture is worth far more than a thousand words. It is great fun to visit other woodworker's shops and seeing how they've solved problems common to us all.

Make, fix and create...