Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Haiku!

Today I reach exactly 2/3 of a life in good health and content with my life.  I have a productive routine and have been recognized both for my professional work and public contributions.  It is comforting to reflect on past events and contemplate future potentials.

I just finished breakfast and, as I was washing the dishes, looking out the kitchen window,  and drinking the last of the coffee, my attention was focused on the old apple tree that Kristen and I planted so many years ago, with the help of our sons.  Now our sons are grown men and the apple tree is hanging on, each year struggling to survive.

We had to amputate a large portion of the tree this year as it just died unexpectedly.  One of the remaining branches then started leaking a clear fluid which ran down the trunk for months.  Each day the finches would fly by and drink this fluid, right in front of the kitchen window.  One day, as we watched them feast, Kristen asked me, "what do you think that fluid is?"

"Apple juice" was my instant reply, without really thinking.

Now the fluid has stopped, and the branch has seemed to heal itself.  The leaves are nearly gone and the tree is resting, waiting, and probably thinking to itself, "what season is this?"  After all, next week is predicted to be nearly 80 degrees and clear.  Perfect beach weather.

Then it hit me.  Today I expect a lot of "happy birthday" comments (thanks to Facebook).  Instead, I came up with this "happy haiku" which expresses more perfectly my emotions.  I hope you find some meaning in it, too.

Apple tree in snow:
waiting for Spring to reveal
its fruit of knowledge.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Treasure Box Series II Progress Report

Patrice Lejeune shows the inside of the top

As I work my way to the end of each year, I tend to reflect on the past.  I started my business in June of 1969 so each summer I pass that milestone, marking another year of self employment.  However, the end of each year means I am another year older, and that is a more sobering thought.

At this stage in my life, many of my friends have retired.  They often ask me "if" and "when" I expect to do the same.  That thought never crosses my mind.  My usual response is something like "When they pry the chisel from my cold dead hands." or something equally dramatic.

Why should I retire?  I have a 5000 square foot "playground" which contains all the materials and tools I need to create anything I can dream up.  All I need to do is find a photo or see an object and I can have it.  I used to lecture a lot on antiques and fakes and one of points I would always make about fakes is that "if someone made it in the past, then it is possible for someone to make it again."  Kind of like counterfeit money.  No matter how clever they try to be, someone will be able to copy it.

Most professional woodworkers struggle to create original designs.  I find that goal very difficult.  I really don't think I have an original idea in my head about design.  The problem with me is that I have worked on tens of thousands of antiques, visited hundreds of museums and read countless books, and my mind is packed with images.  No matter how hard I try to create something, there is always an element of historical precedent which begins to appear.

I have the same problem trying to imagine creating an original piece of music.  I mean, after all, there are only so many notes, chords and key signatures that exist.  How in the world can you sit down and write something completely new without including some rhythm or sound that you heard before?  I have the deepest respect for those who can do this.  I spent many years of my life playing chamber music and sitting in orchestras, performing classical music.  The best I could do was to play the notes well, and try to make some kind of music.

That is the same for me with my woodworking.  The best I can do is to perform the piece well, and pay respect to the masters of the craft from the past centuries.  I must admit that, after 45 years of practice, I have been able to achieve a modicum of success in that goal.

One aspect of my professional life which has been very helpful has been my relationship with ecole Boulle and Dr. Pierre Ramond, among others in Europe.  Leaving San Diego and spending time and money in Paris really paid off, giving me the experience and confidence to take my work to the next level.

It also provided me with an opportunity to partner with Patrice Lejeune, who has worked with me for over 7 years now.  We have a good working relationship, and each day we share the load, dividing up the activities according to each person's schedule.  I am fortunate to have a business partner who completely understands both the operation of the business and the school and can contribute in areas which I am not as strong.  Not to mention giving me a hand when the furniture needs to be put on the bench or in the truck.

The success of the Treasure Box series is a direct result of this partnership.  The work we put into these boxes is as good as it gets and I am sure they will be regarded with deep appreciation and respect for many years to come.

As I have rather busy lately with other projects and not able to post on my blog much, I would like to direct you to visit the recent post by Patrice on his blog.  His posts, which detail the actual work on the boxes, is more complete and includes photos of each stage of the work.

You can see that post here:    Patrice Lejeune's Blog

Note, in particular, the photo of the tulip veneer with the words "This veneer has been saw cut at the end of the 19th century."  How wonderful it is to be able to use historic materials as well as historic methods!  Thank you Patrick George.

We expect to be able to finish and deliver all 4 of these boxes early next year.  At that time our cat, Gigi, will need to find another place to rest.  She always seems to appreciate our work as well.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014


This year has been a good year for me, personally.  In January I attended the SAPFM Conference in Williamsburg where I received the Cartouche Award, with as much humility as I could muster.

Then I was invited to speak at the Woodworking in America Show in Winston Salem and had a great time with all those woodworking professionals and enthusiasts.  I am always excited to spend any time with Roy Underhill, who is a hero to all of us.

Business has picked up quite a bit here and some really nice pieces are showing up in the shop for work.  I look back on my career and realize that I have been fortunate indeed to have touched so many great objects and satisfied the needs and expectations of so many clients.  Work is rewarding when it is so satisfying.

I look forward to my birthday next week, and turning 66.  It seems like such a nice round number.  I wonder what next year will bring?  Always the optimist.  I am excited to return to Marc Adam's School next year, and look forward to making another clock among other things.

In any event, last night I received the pdf files for the 2014 SAPFM Journal, which is now in the mail, and I would like to thank Carl Voss and others for their professional assistance.  I realize not all the people who read this blog are members of SAPFM or perhaps even know about the group.  It is a fantastic group of dedicated and highly skillful woodworkers, which was created in 2000.  I joined immediately and have participated in past events with pleasure, contributing articles to the first three Journals.  If you want more information or wish to join or purchase a copy of the Journal, here is the link: Society of American Period Furniture Makers

In the past decade the Journal has become one of the most important publications in the field of American furniture.  However, there have also been some articles which included European furniture influences and these are important.  That is why I wrote an article for this issue focusing on the diversity and importance of European furniture designs, "European Influences on American and Colonial Designs."

My goal with this article was to encourage more research into the wonderful ethnic contributions to style and construction which evolved into the American form of furniture.  With all the news today about immigration we tend to forget that we are all immigrants and that is what is great about this country.

I am deeply honored to be recognized by this group and want to thank them for their tribute.