This week I returned to Greenville, S.C., where I had my first job at The Greenville News from 1990 to 1992. To be honest, I barely recognized the place, which has grown from a sleepy burg with a deserted downtown to a vibrant and bustling city with nice restaurants and an impressive arts scene.
To be fair, the city probably doesn’t recognize me, either. I wasn’t much of a woodworker (or a writer, for that matter) when I started work there in June 1990. But walking around its streets reminded me of a few important lessons the city taught me.
This is where I fell deeply in love with furniture. One of the newspaper’s photographers, Owen Riley, collected Arts & Crafts everything. His apartment, which was above mine on Atwood Street, was packed with original pieces that would make a modern-day collector freak the heck out. Owen spent hours telling me about every piece he owned. He explained the American Arts & Crafts movement to me in a way that cut deeply. He loved the furniture. But he also adored the textiles, the bookmaking, the ceramics, the philosophy – all the stuff that came before the movement became huge and flamed out.
He also took me on his sorties into the country to collect the stuff. And we peered in the darkness together at farmer’s markets and junk sales to look for spindles and the flash of medullary rays. This was the first step I took (without my father or grandfather) toward making furniture.
The newspaper hardened me into a writer who loved (and still loves) the front lines of the profession. I saw my first shooting victims here, piled up in the back seat of a car in the city’s now-fashionable West End. I interviewed my first murderer. Smelled my first trailer fire (hot plastic). Was interrogated by the State Law Enforcement Division. And was generally threatened almost daily. And once I was shot at during a drive-by.
Though I didn’t know it, this prepared me for the internet.
Experiences such as those usually tumble reporters into the editing ranks. Not me. Once I got a taste of the writing life, I never left it. At Popular Woodworking Magazine I was encouraged on an almost-yearly basis to become a manager or a group publisher or worse. I refused. I build and write every dang day. That habit started in this town, and I am indebted to Greenville forever for that experience.
My visit here this week has been surprisingly murder-free. I was invited by the Greenville Woodworkers Guild to offer a couple days of training and then speak to the club members. I don’t do many club events – I’d be on the road all year if I did. But during the last six years or so I’ve heard crazy rumors about the Greenville Guild. About its facility. And its members. I decided I needed to see for myself.
The Guild’s building is, honestly, like nothing I’ve ever seen. It features a shop that is cleaner and better equipped than most medium-sized commercial shops. There’s a bench room with 10 workbenches. An auditorium for 300. Lumber and project storage. A gallery. And lots of other areas of the building I didn’t get to explore.
New members pay a $200 initiation fee and then a $150 yearly fee and get to use the shop. That’s an incredible bargain. I’d join just for the access to the multiple wide belt sanders and 24” planer, but the commute would stink.
If you live in the Upstate of South Carolina, it’s an amazing resource and worth joining (as an anarchist, that statement is not easy to write). If every city had a place such as this, the craft of woodworking would be fundamentally transformed for the better.
— Christopher Schwarz