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
31 thoughts on “Another Greenville”
I always get jealous when I read about one of these fantastic clubs/guilds/co-ops. Good for them.
Is that carpeting in the bench room?
Great blog from a great writer and even better craftsman.
Yes, that is carpet. When we took over the building, that portion was a Christmas shop, and, after some bad experiences removing the old carpet we let it remain. The old carpet was broadloom, and the unraveling strands became a safety hazard and also ruined a couple of vacuums. We replaced the broadloom recently with commercial carpet tiles, which are much more durable. We did have to purchase an army of vacuums with beater bars.
Thanks for your comments.
yes just install new carpet most thru out the building except for the machine floor
Yes it is. There is even carpeting in the main shop where the large work tables are. Amazing place and I proudly say I am a member, mentor and supervisor.
Chris, I attended your presentation on chair design and bio-metrics last night at the Guild and enjoyed it very much.
Your research is bring back many lost facts and techniques to woodworkers everywhere.
johncashman73, yes the bench room and work areas in the machine room are carpeted. The areas around the machines are concrete.
The Guild IS a fantastic resource with woodworkers of all levels willing to help each other and produce amazing projects for themselves and various local charities. I participate in the Guild’s toy program which made over 1000 toys that were given to local charities last year.
Dang! Is that carpet on the floor of the bench room?
Pro: maybe I wouldn’t have to regrind every time I drop a chisel
Con: needs a vacuum cleaner that REALLY sucks
We need more of these sorts of “club” workplaces. THANKS for showing it.
Wow that is an amazing guild, space and rate. I wish I lived closer to it as well — I’d join. Have a great time down there.
That is one great guild. Almost makes me want to move back.
Ahhhh … if only there was a great guild like that in Louisville …
I’m on the board of the Alabama Woodworkers Guild and thought we have a nice workshop (which we do and Chris has taught at the AWG in the past), but the auditorium at the Greenville guild; wow!
Hindsight is 20/20. My five years in Greenville would have been better spent at this guild, than the five I spent studying ancient Greek at BJU.
Dang it! I just returned from my first trip there, and didn’t know about this place! I will be back, though. You’re right about the art and food scene there. In fact, my girlfriend had a show at a gallery who carries her paintings down there regularly. So we are going to be going down there every year or two. Will definitely check it out, even if it’s just a walk through. Thanks for making me aware of it!
I can see how your journalism ethic informs everything that you do. There are a lot of real Journalists still working today and boy do we need them! This is a world I would not have a window into (save your writings and one old friend from Uni). I would not survive 1 day on that job (maybe not 1 hour).
That shop space is amazing – inspirational.
Amen to “real” journalists and jounalistic ethics! Journalism without a mission to inform and ferret out the truths of things, i.e., commercial propaganda arms of politics and special interests, give a bad name to the profession and the ideal of press freedom. Good and bad journalism has been with us since the beginnings of our constitutional democratic experiment – and the internet has made it largely a sewer where everyone can express opinions with extraordinary irresponsibility, amoral intent and virtual anonymity.
I, too, experienced the Peter Principle in action in 27 years of work in a corporation. It appears that HUs are convinced that talent can only be used effectively – and rewarded – by becoming one of the management rank and file. Not so. I resisted consistently because I had no interest in managing people to do what I did exceptionally well. I won – by becoming the only VP who had no one who answered to me, unheard of. As it was I retired (my idea, not theirs) at 60 because I could no longer tolerate the corporate ethics behaviors. If you have a calling, wish to develop and actually do what you do best, resist becoming a manager or a consultant! Surrender and you’ll never be satisfied or happy.
Greenville and their guild is now preparing for the Schwarz effect.
An auditorium with a workbench at the centre of the stage. I have never seen that combination before. I love it.
Being shot at in a drive by. YIKES!😵
Chris, really appreciated you coming down to teach us this past weekend. My fear of chairs is no more.
Really enjoyed reading your Core77 piece and this post. You are keeping it real and motivating for other woodworkers to continue chiseling away at their craft.
Wow, I would love to hear the story of how that building came together.
Though an amazing group of individuals whom donated countless hours so the Art of Woodworking will continue on for many, many years to come. Many donations, both people-hours and monetary, have made our very special Guild the way it is. I am blessed to be an active member and very thankful I live in Greenville.
It’s good to reflect or reminisce on former home ground. Including the good, bad, and the ugly. And, yes, the Guild has a beautiful facility.
Chris, Are you trying to make us jealous, here in Kansas City? Looks like quite a building.
Chris, I attended the monthly meeting and really appreciated your presentation.
A couple of years ago, I rebuilt a child’s chair for a friend and it had splayed legs and back spindles. I used your non-numeric trig method, but it was still a chore..I tried to make the lines for all the back spindles converge at a single point, but it just didn’t work out.
Thanks for all the tips.
Your comments on our Greenville Woodworkers Guild are very kind. We were privileged to have you visit this past weekend and look forward to another visit in the future. Your book on Hand Planes was exceptional and one that I keep close for reference, for my Hand Tool Joinery Class.
I was in the class on Saturday. Great experience! Chris is a great teacher! Thanks for your patience. Monday night presentation was also great. I have 3 of Chris’ books and am ordering 2 more today. Now I have to decide: English tool chest or Dutch tool chest??
Born and raised in G’Vegas, now call Asheville (AVL) home. Proud to say my roots still run deep there.
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