Recently I was corresponding with Narayan Nayar, my friend and collaborator on “Virtuoso,” about my crossing paths with an old family friend of his at a local chapter meeting of the Mid-west Tool Collectors Association, and what a small world it was sometimes. Narayan related, “I think I told you this story, but my dad – a guy with a formidable reputation himself – was traveling in Florence, Italy, last year or the year before and someone in his travel group approached him and asked him, ‘Are you related to the photographer of the Studley Tool Chest?’” That exchange confirmed for Mr. Nayar the path his son had chosen, and I can only imagine the swell of pride he had in knowing Narayan’s impressive successes.
That vignette brought to mind the tale of Lu-ban, the totemic figure in Chinese woodworking mythology. According to the tale recounted in a children’s book I have somewhere in my inventory, Lu-ban was a son of a farmer and the father was displeased when Lu-ban chose the path of becoming a temple carpenter rather than continuing in the tradition of working on the family farm. With a heavy heart his father bid farewell to Lu-ban, wondering if he would ever see his son again given that all the great temples were being built in faraway places. Decades passed with no word from Lu-ban, then one day a box arrived at the father’s farm house. The box was simple but exquisitely made, and inside the box was a single wide wood shaving, nearly transparent and many meters long. It was a simple message from Lu-ban saying, “Yes, Father, I am a success.”
I never recall that story without getting a lump in my throat.
— Don Williams, donsbarn.com