Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Making Classic Toys that Teach

At one time Froebel's classic gifts consisting of numbered sets of blocks, tiles and other interesting learning objects were made by artisans in small villages throughout Europe. Predating Maria Montessori by about 75 years, Froebel's gifts were among the earliest toys developed for early childhood developmental learning.

While you can buy Froebel's gifts in a manufactured form, that they were also made by individual village craftsmen, suggested that I write a book, Making Classic Toys that Teach to guide you in making them yourself. That you can make them yourself, for your own children or grandchildren is really, for me, a big deal. You learn some basic woodworking. Your children or grandchildren learn also, and you receive greater pleasure in watching them learn, because you've made the instruments used for their learning.

You can order the book for your holiday giving and enjoyment through Amazon here. Or from my Etsy store, here. 

A good description of Froebel's gifts can be found here: https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/froebels-gifts/ You have about 25 making days before Christmas. Other holidays are more closely upon us.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Buy a book, read, and promote the concept of hands-on learning

If you are beginning to shop for Christmas or any other seasonal holiday and are a maker or one of those who love working with your hands in the kitchen, garden, or workshop and you wish others might understand you better, this little book of mine may help you to explain yourself to others. Buy it as a gift to yourself, as I know you'll enjoy it. Give it as a gift to others as a way of enlisting friends in a revolution.

We have about 30 making days left before Christmas.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Seeking quality

We are killing ourselves and our planet with cheap stuff. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/23/opinion/patagonia-environnment-fast-fashion.html?unlocked_article_code=1.A00.ARcB.rR_6lDsGZwAn&smid=url-share

On Wednesday I picked up a computer desk I'd made about 20 years ago, it being donated by friends to the Museum of Eureka Springs Art. I'm building a base for it that will allow it to be easily moved around the museum. After a quick refresh of the finish, it will be good as new... not just because it was well made, but also because it's pretty enough to have been  taken good care of.

We must begin a renewed emphasis on quality, as it's the only thing that will save us as we hurtle toward planetary disaster. Things should be made to last, and things should be made to be repaired in the event they fail, and the sad fact is that they are not.

I'm not telling you this to preach, but also to remind myself. There are ships at sea, bringing us all cheap stuff. stuff that we have the right to refuse.

At this point we have about 30 making days left before Christmas. This is black Friday, a day celebrated by buying cheap stuff. It would be a better day to begin projects that develop skills and serve others.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, November 20, 2023

small drawers...

I'm making small drawers to fit the walnut stash boxes. The grooves for drawer guides have been cut, the bottoms fitted and the mortise and tenon joints that give the drawers strength and long life have been fitted and glued. A small square is used to assure assembly is square so it will fit in the body of the box.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, November 15, 2023


I finished repairing and refinishing the music stand that Crescent Dragonwagon commissioned for Ned Shank. That it leans to the right was not intentional. That resulted from gravity and from it being made from green wood.

Art often tells stories within communities, describing the relationships we have with each other. Illustrating those relationships, telling those stories, is one of the reasons our new museum is important. It can describe for visitors and residents alike, how the arts build communities and how artists nourish and sustain one another.

Make, fix and create...

On the wonders of wood

On the wonders of wood... There are clearly wonderful things about wood. It grows from the earth. It pulls minerals and water from the earth, processes carbon dioxide from the air to make oxygen and then grows large and strong in its relationship to gravity and light. There is no type of living thing that has engaged man's imagination more than our trees. We write poems about them.

Steel, glass, clay and stone are each materials that must be forcibly extracted from the earth before our use of them. Wood emerges abundantly on the surface of the earth, nearly as a gift. There is no material friendlier to the touch. Steel, glass and stone are either cold or hot to the touch. Wood, even in the harshest of conditions is mild to the touch. It may be rough and with splinters at first and yet, the touch can solve that problem as well. It becomes polished to perfection through our caress.

You can walk right into the forest with an axe or a knife, find a deadfall branch and begin making art. No other material lends itself so directly to man's creative genius.

Wood can be such a simple and direct material with such depth of integrity, and yet we know that the wood most people have in the furnishings of their homes isn't really wood at all, but material mixed and compressed from a stew of random forest fibers, reshaped and decorated with printed images on plastic film.

There are several factors that go into the value of an object. One is the integrity of the material. You might ask, is it real? Real wood can be sanded, repaired and refinished. A piece of furniture made from real wood can thus be made to last generations. Another factor is the integrity of the craftsmanship. A craftsman can put into the making of things, the full extent of his knowledge and experience. How can he really know how to do that with newly invented materials? The best craftsmen choose materials with integrity that allow their use of techniques that make their work last beyond their own times. The third factor is the care that is given when the craftsman's work is done. Real wood sustains greater wear without loss of value or appearance, and seldom reaches that sorry point at which the owner of the work no longer cares for it.

The photo above is of a steam bent hickory music stand I made for a violinist. My intent was for it to look as though it just waltzed from the woods. In a sense, it did.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, November 14, 2023


I went to our new Museum of Eureka Springs Art to do a repair on the desk we brought in a few days ago, and found another piece of my earlier work had been delivered to the museum needing repair. This piece is a music stand I made for Crescent Dragonwagon to give to her 6 ft. 5 in. amateur violinist, Ned Shank. After his death, it ended up with John Mitchell, a well known art and antiques dealer in Eureka Springs. 

The back leg was broken, so is now being glued back in place, making use of the original mortise and tenon joint.

Back in its day Ned had it ornamented with crystals hanging from the  upper ribs. The music stand will  soon be ready to stand once again on its three legs.

Make, fix and create...

stash box progress

One of the advantages of working with solid hardwoods is that furniture made from them can be repaired, while veneered furniture can present greater difficulties. Today I'll do a bit of repair on the office furniture I'd made for the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, preparing it for another 20 year's use.

In the wood shop I'm making progress on stash boxes.  The first photo shows cutting parts to length last week. The second photo shows the boxes partially sanded and ready for making drawers.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 11, 2023

A homecoming of sorts...

Yesterday I drove to Jacksonville, Arkansas to pick up furniture that I'd made years ago that's being donated to the new Museum of Eureka Springs Art. I had made the furniture for Paul Harvel, then director of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce for his office in their new building in downtown Little Rock.

The office overlooks the Arkansas River.When Paul retired from the State Chamber, the furniture went with and was used in his offices at Chambers of Commerce in Fort Smith, Russelville, and Jacksonville, and for a time was loaned as the office furniture for the director of the largest advertising firm in the state. 

You can see that it was well traveled before arriving back here in Eureka Springs. Today we'll be setting it up in its new home, and I thank Paul and his wife Barbara for taking such very good care of it and for making such a generous gift to our new museum. I'd talked with Paul for years about his interest in donating the furniture to a museum to assure it would be taken care of. The launch of our new Museum of Eureka Springs Art came just in time. The photo was taken in its original home. The work is all solid wood, but for the glass tops, sugar maple trimmed in walnut.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, November 09, 2023

making a stash box

Over the years, I'm sure that many of the boxes I've made have been used as "stash boxes," a term used to describe a place to store drug paraphernalia. I've been asked to make box specifically for that use. 

These walnut boxes in process are made with finger joints and each will have a drawer. The design is based on one from my book Beautiful Boxes: Design and Technique.

My customer wanted it to be done in a darker wood. I'm also making it slightly larger. in width, length and depth to hold more stuff. 

The drawer will provide two levels of storage, so one needs not dig to the bottom to retrieve smaller objects. The larger of the two boxes is sold. The other will be available at a later date.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, November 06, 2023

do good work.

Here in the Ozarks we wonder whether this fall will be as beautiful as last. It makes a difference when you look out. Most of the trees capturing the morning light are red and white oaks. Touches of green are cedars and elm. The deep orange in the understory is from dogwood trees. The steps lead down to our front porch where I often sit with Rosie, our 5 year old golden doodle as she watches for squirrels.

There is a reason to observe the beauty that may surround us, and to share it with others. A recent survey found that folks were pleased with their personal lives, and were pleased at the success of their communities, but terrified for the future of our country and the world, that view twisted by our obsession with the national

The folks out there want us to be angry, so that we can be controlled and manipulated. Beauty helps us to find our center, to be powerful and at peace. This doesn't mean that we should not be concerned with such things as the travesty of national politics, or the wars in Gaza and Ukraine, but that we formulate our views based on an inner sense of beauty and peace, that we may thence be led to manifest those things in this world.

There's a Chinese saying that I paraphrase — When you perceive evil, do good work.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Artificial intelligence vs. hands-on learning

Interesting research at Perdue in 2009 illustrated how hands-on learning was superior to lecture and book based learning for all students. The results were even more significant when gender and language barriers were considered. https://www.purdue.edu/uns/x/2009a/090128DarkStudy.html  And so the question becomes, can hands on learning help to moderate some of the issues of polarization and tribalism currently plaguing  our culture and politics.

In the days of educational sloyd, manual arts were considered to have particular value, not only to those destined to become tradesmen, but even more importantly to those privileged to have leadership roles in the culture and economy. The point was for the upper classes and economic elite develop respect for all labor. 

Work with the hands is an equalizer. It helps those who may not be academically inclined to demonstrate expertise. When schools took on the role of sorting kids it was disastrous. Some students were targeted upward and some down based on standardized test scores that we know to be faulty and biased.

With the rise of Artificial intelligence it is more important than ever that we develop a common framework of understanding that arises  in each and every child through the senses. The hands have a particular role, as the eyes and ears are easily deceived. The hands measure the weight, size, density, and texture of objects, and thereby help us all to build a better framework for discernment of truth.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Building a shared foundation for shared belief

The way the hands bridge between the arts, science and religion is directly associated with the way we learn as was described by Diesterweg (an associate of Friedrich Froebel) and was described by Otto Salomon in the Theory of Educational Sloyd.

We start with interest of the child
We build from the known to the unknown
From the easy to the more difficult
From the simple to the complex
and from the concrete to the abstract.

Fundamental science begins early, as you can’t whittle a stick without observing the effects of the knife. If the blade is digging too deep, you “hypothesize” and alter the angle or reverse the stick to compensate for the direction of the grain. Religion is dangerous because we are constantly asked to accept on “faith” that which is proposed by others, often for the purpose of manipulating us, rather than being trusted to build upon shared experience

Everything in life from the most simple things, offers the challenge of observation and interpretation. Both religion and science are perceived as theoretical abstractions, when people, even from the youngest child, have the capacity to observe and reflect, but are cut short from building a cosmology of understanding within their own lives.

Personal and international tragedies mounted in the name of religion, cut short the building of those cosmologies within individuals. What’s happening in Gaza and Israel is an example.

I had an interesting experience in high school. We’d taken a standardized test in Biology and after grading, the teacher asked me to stand up so he could acknowledge me for having scored in the 99th percentile. No other student in the class had even come close. What I chose not to tell him was that none of the questions on the test were in any way related to anything he’d taught in class. Nor were the questions related to anything I’d studied on my own. What happened was that my having some experience in the real world, I think, gave me a foundation for discernment in separating the truth, from stuff made up to resemble the truth.

Instead of trusting children to make observations based on experience and the use of their senses, we begin indoctrination at a very early age, insisting that children believe what they are told that comes second or third hand from others. You will note the difference between first and second “hand” as the word hand is a direct reference to the acquisition of knowledge. In German there are two forms of knowledge, kentniss, which refers to knowledge gained directly, and wissenschaft which refers to knowledge being gained 2nd or third  hand.

Of course, we can’t possibly learn everything from experience, as there’s a lot to know, but a basic structure of knowing that comes in the manner described by Diesterweg offers a foundation for discernment of truth. From the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract offers a view of the construction of what Jerome Bruner called scaffolding… an internal construction of understanding, built through the senses in response to observation and the encouragement to reflect. We all have hands, and common use of them begins to build a structure of shared understanding that actually has the power to remake the world in which we live. That’s probably not why the Kaiser outlawed Froebel’s Kindergarten in 1851, as he would not have been capable of understanding that.

Make, fix and create...