No words necessary


Several weeks ago I received the image above via text message from Megan Fitzpatrick. Just the picture. No accompanying words.

I knew immediately that she was copy-editing the book I’d written about English Arts and Crafts furniture.

“Trust Megan to find one of those,” I thought with a pang of guilt.

Find one of what? you ask. A Stonehenge-themed key fob.


A couple of years ago, Megan gave her colleague Scott Francis my name. Scott was the books editor at Popular Woodworking, and he was looking for someone to write a book about English Arts and Crafts furniture. He called me. I was certainly interested; by that time I had done a fair bit of research on one particular English maker of Arts and Crafts pieces, and my enthusiasm for the Arts and Crafts movement went back many years. Writing the book would also give me an opportunity to build some exciting work in the shop.

If I was going to write a book about English Arts and Crafts furniture, I sure as heck was not about to regurgitate what everyone else and his brother or sister have written about the movement, most often from a superficial perspective. We’re all familiar with the typical formulation:

Ruthless exploitation of workers by industry + essential William Morris quote “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” = The Arts and Crafts Movement.

I wanted to go deeper. Fortunately for me, Scott and Megan approved my proposal.

I dug out my 1985 Penguin Classics edition of John Ruskin’s Unto This Last and Other Writings, one particular section of which, the essay on “Moral Elements of Gothic,” had been simmering in my consciousness for approximately 25 years. Lovely stuff: a singeing take-down of Victorian industry and culture, in response to the countless hypocrisies of which Ruskin called for a renewed embrace of hardy medieval values.

And there was a bonus: Ruskin’s English differs so dramatically from that of our time as to constitute a semi-foreign language — one that happens to offer rich potential for humor in its translation into contemporary terms. I didn’t want to write an academic treatise likely to be read by three or four people. I wanted to speak to fellow woodworkers and those with a general interest in material culture, as well as the Arts and Crafts movement. So in writing the book I took every reasonable opportunity to indulge in the kind of humor I hoped would bring the content alive.


And now we return to that key fob.

I was on a tear, contrasting the way Brits just get on with life, surrounded by landscapes, art, and architecture formed by their ancestors over thousands of years, while we Americans feel the need to celebrate every minute of our own nation’s drop in the metaphorical bucket.

Drive southwest from London to Somerset and you’ll
glimpse an arrangement of large rocks surrounded by
scattered grazing sheep: Stonehenge. Today a small sign
indicates your entry into a UNESCO world heritage site
shortly before the stones come into view, but 35 years ago,
when I first drove down that road, there was no advance
notice. Unlike monuments of similar significance in the
United States, Stonehenge is not heralded by 20 miles of
billboards urging you to get stoned at the nearby truck
stop (blessedly, there seems to be no such establishment),
have lunch at the Bronze Age Bistro (ditto), or buy druid
fridge magnets and key fobs (these I don’t know about;
they may exist). The landmark is just there, on the horizon
to your right.

It was a throw-away line. A gag. But Megan is that kind of editor: She digs through the trash. Thanks to her curiosity and warped sense of humor, I now know that druid-related key fobs are a thing.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

English Arts & Crafts Furniture: Projects & Techniques for the Modern Maker is due to be published in May by Popular Woodworking Books.


Contemporary druids celebrating at Stonehenge. Image: wikimedia commons

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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13 Responses to No words necessary

  1. lcm7293 says:

    Popular Woodworking is publishing the book and not LAP? Either way looking forward to the book.

  2. tmsbmx says:

    I have to meet Megan for someday her sense of humor is just like mine. I don’t know is this a good thing….or well it is. I was laughing so hard when you came to the key fob explanation.

  3. Michael Peterson says:

    Yea, it must be me…wiener absent nerd

  4. fitz says:

    If your English A&C book is my PW legacy, I’ll count that as a success. It’s one of which to be proud!

  5. colsdave says:

    E-book versions of Ruskin’s “Unto This Last, and Other Essays on Political Economy” can be found here:

  6. JohnGW says:

    Has to be done.

  7. studioffm says:

    Good to hear that you are writing about the Arts and Crafts movement. Better be good, there is no room for yet another bad book on the Arts and Crafts . Best of luck
    david savage

  8. Tim Gillane says:

    There are places in Ruskin’s writings that are pretty funny in a caustic sort of way. There’s a section in “Modern Painters” where he criticizes 18th century French Academic painting (Claude Lorraine, I think) that’s very amusing. He didn’t do as well with his criticism of James Whistler, which hurt Ruskin more, both as a critic and as to his mental stability, than it hit Whistler.
    His writing style was ornate even for his period, but the effort’s worth it. Somehow, “Unto This Last” seems very appropriate for our times.

  9. Duncan says:

    And the other half? It must have been swarf.

If you can't spot the wiener in the comments, it might be you.

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