Saturday, September 5, 2020


                                "ICI NOUS SAVONS LE PASSE POUR LE FUTUR"

 Yesterday I participated in another Zoom group presentation sponsored by the Ruskin Society of Los Angeles.  It was 90 minutes and generally focused on my workspace and projects.  At the end I sat down for a short time to try to discuss my philosophy of work and naturally, when it was over, I immediately thought of concepts that I failed to introduce.  

It seems that every time l end a conversation or lecture and am alone with my thoughts, my brain starts to bring up ideas that were important.  There is always more to add to any discussion no matter how long it may last.

The minute I pressed "end" and the meeting went dark, I thought of the wisdom of Toshio Odate, a nationally recognized woodworker who lives on the East Coast.  I have mentioned this anecdote before in this blog and many times in lectures, but I failed to bring it up during the Ruskin talk, when it would have made an impression on the viewers.

It happened during the American Woodworker shows that were popular many years ago.  These shows brought together noted woodworkers to present their skills.  I was invited to demonstrate French marquetry, Roy Underhill was the keynote speaker and always brought the crowds, and Toshio would set himself in a booth to silently work his skills.

I was in a nearby booth and set up my chevalet, cutting a marquetry project out during the three days of the show.  This would involve many small pieces of wood and lots of discussion with the spectators.  In general, most middle age woodworkers who attended these shows were retired engineers, and they would often look at my wooden tool for a few minutes before offering their opinions about how they could improve it.

"Why don't you hook it up to a motor?"  they would suggest, more often than not.  I would patiently reply that it was designed before the Industrial Revolution when human power was normal, and that I had a lot of respect for the traditional methods and tools.  

I could see in their eyes that they were not satisfied with my answer, as if I was some old hippy who was reluctant to join the modern age.  At some point, when they determined that I was not going to see it their way, they would wander off to look at some new power tool demonstration, searching for that elusive tool that would make them a better woodworker.

However, there was another common statement that I would hear several times a day.  As I would carefully saw out tiny pieces of wood and place them in my tray, over and over for hours, I waited for the inevitable response: "That must take a lot of patience!"

My reply at the time was this:   "No.  Playing golf takes a lot of patience.  I don't see the point of hitting a ball and then chasing it, only to hit it again.  That takes a lot of patience."

I now realize this was a poor answer.  Many of the men who were standing around watching me work were amateur golfers.  This reply only served to alienate them.  I failed to see what they liked about playing golf and they failed to see what I liked about creating marquetry.

During one of my breaks I walked over to watch Toshio demonstrating.  He had an enormous Japanese hand saw in his hands and was re sawing a piece of wood that was about 24" wide, 2" thick and 6' long.  He was slowly and carefully sawing this piece of lumber into veneers.  Without saying a word, he would work for long stretches of time, paying no attention to the audience.

At one point, as I was watching, one of the woodworkers spoke out: "That must take a lot of patience."

Toshio would stop for only long enough to reply:  "No, it takes passion."  Then he would continue, silently.

At that moment I realized the problem with my response to the same question.  These woodworkers loved to play golf because it was a passionate hobby of theirs.  I loved to make marquetry because I was passionately involved with the process of the trade.

When I was working as a physicist, so many years ago, I patiently waited for the end of the week so I could do something that I really loved to do.  As soon as I made the decision to quit working in physics and was able to spend all my time working as a furniture conservator in private practice, I started hearing from my clients the same comment: "You are so lucky to be able to make a living doing what you want to do!"  

Isn't that the point of life?  Do what you love.  Follow your passion.  Be happy.


Sylvain said...

"Why don't you hook it up to a motor?"
For the same reason Paul Sellers promote hand braces: to stay in control and avoid slippage/overshoot that would ruin the all thing.

Wilson Burnham said...

Thank you for this post!

Carl Jara said...

and thank you for saying it.