Wood Movement

Quiet objects in unquiet times – part I

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A few days ago I caught a show at the Dancing Dog studio in Fort Bragg. The choreographer and performer spoke of life as variations on a few major themes; her themes, and those of her pieces, were breath, death and dance. She described herself as being in the ‘autumn’ of life, and how her aging body dictated – and enhanced – her choreographed movements. Her meditations on mortality, as well as the wintry weather, remind me of St. Bede and some of the spirits that animate my life here.

Bede described life as the swift flight of a sparrow through a warm hall in winter. Inside a fire blazes while out in the cold darkness wind howls around the falling snow. A sparrow sneaks in through a crack in the door and casts a moving shadow in the flickering light. As quickly as it appeared, it disappears through another crack, back out into wintry night. Bede concludes of life: ‘of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all.’

Feel free to get sidetracked: this video shows the power of dance to move us through life.

About two months ago an old graduate of the fine woodworking program passed away, donating his entire workshop back to the school. What the school couldn’t use was auctioned off, raising money to help keep the program going. Before the shopping spree David gave an informal eulogy, telling us a bit about a man who so generously gave back to a place he valued. It seems to me that acts like these reveal so much about what the program means to those involved.

My newest addition to the fleet – the lump of cocobolo, courtesy of Mr. Schooley’s workshop, produced two small hand planes.

The big spirit in these parts, however, belongs to James Krenov, the American-ish woodworker who wrote several books for the amateur craftsman before being ‘kidnapped’ to start the fine woodworking program in 1981. He taught until his retirement in 2002 and passed away in 2010. Yet, his presence remains – he is spread out over the landscape here. His attitude and writings on woodworking loosely define the program’s curriculum. Some of the tools he used hang on the wall like relics. Even the local tennis court’s lights were partly his doing.

I’ve learned that Krenov’s approach emphasizes the emotional, personal side of craftsmanship – the intimacy of working with your heart, hands and mind. The afterword of Worker in Wood suggests he was “concerned with the way the work is being done – not the how of technique, but the why of attitude. The feelings, presence, and spirit of the maker are paramount.” It continues: “a lingering search for the best wood, the best control, the best proportion and the best relationship should be recognized as more important than lower price, faster delivery, or fresher design.” And, “emotional, spiritual or ethical involvement is a personal attitude that increases the value of the activity, at least to the maker, and may also be recognizable as inherent in the object made with generosity and/or humility.”

Krenov wrote about getting older with his slabs of wood: “A half a year to get here, three years to dry… and time is passing. I am sad, not at the thought of getting old, but because I might miss so much lovely wood. Four years. Statistics predict I will still be around: instinct wags a warning finger. How strong will my back be then, how steady my hands and eye?” On another page he quotes from his favourite book: “Like Mermoz on those icy cliffs in the Andes (in St.-Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars): “Hands, don’t fail me now.”” Krenov seemed intrigued with the idea that our bodies eventually restrict our dance moves, so to speak, and compel us to give up what we love doing, before we rush back out into wintry night.

Here’s Krenov at 87, still making hand planes:

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