I returned this morning from a week of researching, scanning and interviewing on the Mendocino Coast of Northern California, where James Krenov spent the last 25 years of his life. While there, I had the privilege of looking through and archiving a huge number of photos, drawings, writings, lectures and correspondences that span Krenov’s lifetime, a bounty of raw materials to work through in the coming months.
In going through the photos and organizing my notes from interviews and conversations with his family, friends, shopmates and coworkers, a complex and mutable portrait of Krenov and his many facets has begun to emerge. There is the poetic writer and gifted orator who inspired so many through his books and lectures; the mentor and teacher who provided the backbone for a craft school that continues to churn out inspiration and talent; a deliberate cabinetmaker, encouraging sensitivity and improvisation, while also practicing a deliberate process of design and iteration; the irascible old master who had little patience for uncaring work or needless invention; a loving husband, ever-thankful for the support of his partner; and a very human father, one whose children tip-toed around the house with caution while he glued up his next cabinet, but who took them fishing and adventuring in the northern wilderness of Sweden.
While I am still early in my development of his biography, these raw materials themselves provide a beautiful series of vignettes into Krenov’s vastly complex persona that I hope shed light on just why this cabinetmaker’s story is so worthy of sharing. I’m in the midst of organizing these materials, which will themselves be archived and housed by The Krenov Foundation, so that future researchers and interested parties might find and include Krenov in their work.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting these various sides of Krenov (or Jim, or “the Old Man,” or JK) as I dig through the archives. My aspiration in writing this biography is not simply to retell the “who, what, when” of his story, but to shed light on the lives he impacted and those ideas, moments and memories that shaped him as a mentor, writer and craftsperson.
I’ll leave you with the simple triptych below, a very narrow window into one side of Krenov that few outside of the municipal tennis courts of Fort Bragg ever saw. Yet it seems to sum up the competitive, mercurial, sensitive and generous personalities (and free-wheeling band saw usage) that made Krenov who he was. Krenov was an avid tennis player; stories abound in the community about his constant search for a good (but not too good) court mate and the perfect racket.
So I present to you one side among so many: James Krenov, the amateur tennis player.
P.S. I owe a great many thanks to those who hosted me and sat down for conversations during my stay: Tina Krenov; David and Laura Welter; Ron Hock and Linda Rosengarten; Laura and Thea Mays; Michael Burns; Ejler Hjorth-Westh and Karen Mathes; Jim Budlong; Greg Smith; Todd Sorenson; Crispin Hollinshead; and the current students at The Krenov School (who gracefully put up with my hovering, photographing and rusty volleyball skills). I’m lucky to have such a warm and welcoming community of people to work with over the course of writing this book – it makes all the difference.