Every month in the late 1990s, an oversized manila envelope would land on my desk at Popular Woodworking magazine. When that happened, I’d finish editing the sentence I was working on, put down my red pen and rip into the package.
Inside was the newest Good Woodworking magazine with the latest John Brown column. I would read the article several times. Photocopy it for my records (I still have those photocopies). And then pass the magazine to one of my fellow editors who would read it for the tool reviews or how-to-make chopsticks article.
I adored John Brown’s column for two reasons. One, his writing was outrageous, even by the typically wilder U.K. standards. This gave me confidence and license to loosen up my own woodworking writing so I didn’t sound like an instruction manual for a toaster oven.
Two, the chairs. Gawd, I loved the chairs he showed in the articles. While I adored the chairs shown in his 1990 book, “Welsh Stick Chairs,” the chairs in his magazine articles were far more interesting because John Brown had learned so much in the decade since writing his book.
Today I went to the mailbox and there was an oversized manila envelope with a U.K. postmark waiting for me. I put down my satchel and ripped into the package. Inside was a mint August 1999 issue of Good Woodworking magazine. And on page 50 was the John Brown article titled “Of All the Works of Man.” One of my favorites.
We’re collecting these vintage magazines to help illustrate the upcoming book by Christopher Williams titled “The Life & Work of John Brown.” The book will feature 20 of JB’s best columns. We purchased the rights to reprint these articles for the book, but the publisher who now owns the rights to the articles doesn’t have the images from the columns. So I need to invoke some digital trickery to illustrate John Brown’s columns for the book.
It’s a bit weird to see this article again after 20 years and in mint condition – like encountering an old friend who hasn’t aged a day. (And who is still a dang interesting guy.)
— Christopher Schwarz
14 thoughts on “How it Began”
And so,.. it begins.
It’s digital trickery when trying to obfuscate (certain sales flyers come to mind), but digital magic when trying to revive long lost artifacts. Let the magic begin!
I just zoomed in to read the pages of the article pictured… Wow 1999! the conversation has not changed much in 20 years!
I have digital copies of issues 13 to 31, and 58 to 64. I have others, but these are the only ones that have Brown’s column, I think. If it can help, let me know.
John, how did you get those digital issues? Just by subscription? Or do they offer digital back issues in bundles? I’ve recently had reason to peruse these old issues specifically to read the John Brown articles and am trying to figure out the best way to do that…
I was studying in Grimsby for my NVQ2 in bench joinery when Good Woodworking magazine started in the early nineties. I once built the bench John Brown made via the monthly articles he wrote. I had every copy until relatively recently when my wife, in her wisdom decided I didn’t need them any more !! If I remember the first edition, ( which at some point a mouse had decided the bottom corner would make a good lunch ) included fashioning a wooden cushion, !! No idea why !!
Thumbs up Chris! Well said!!
Looking forward to the book, Chris (and Chris). Also want to figure out the best way to read a bunch of those old John Brown articles. I want to get a better understanding of his approach to writing the articles and maybe get an injection of outrageous while I’m at it. Any suggestions?
I know the feeling of that last sentiment. I once found an unopened copy of Blood, Sweat, and Tears first record, Child Is The Father To Man. Granted, I owned the album on CD before I owned a single record, but a piece of art that good should be pretty messed up 30 years later.
Was there an “of all the works of woman” issue?
I have read JB’s book (the LAP version) probably 10 times by now, and about everything I could find of and about him on the Internet. His whole persona and the way he thinks and writes is so inspiring to me. John Brown has liberated my way of woodworking. I crave to read all I can find.
Unfortunately, I’ve found it to be quite difficult to find much. A small piece about him here, and some quotes there. There was some interesting articles with great photos to by found in the Good Woodworking online archives, but nothing much.
What I really want to read is all his monthly contributions to the magazine. I’ve found excerpts from his monthly column, but only a couple, I’ve been looking on Ebay for back issues, but no real luck there either. I’m obviously looking forward the book you and Chris W are working on, but I’d love to read all the original columns, one by one. Unless it’s a business secret, would you care to tell me how you get hold of the magazines?
it’s a pity Nick Gibbs is out of business.
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