It’s an unusual thing to be a woodworker. My daughter Katherine says her friends give her the strangest looks when she tells them I make furniture for a living.
“It’s like I told them, ‘Yeah, my dad’s a court jester.’” Katherine said.
Thankfully, I know that some of the 20-somethings in Katherine’s cohort will turn to woodworking for work, as a hobby or for survival during the zombie apocalypse. To make that happen, however, it’s best to plant a seed.
For me, that seed was children’s books. Especially the books of David Macaulay. I checked out his books from the Fort Smith Public Library over and over as a child. I knew exactly where they were shelved and would regularly pester the librarians about why “Underground” and “City” were always checked out.
These books show how the ancient world was assembled by people. Each book is a fictionalized account of the construction of a massive work, such as a pyramid or a cathedral. The story was always good, but what I adored were Macaulay’s intricate line drawings. I pored over every drawing to understand how an ancient cistern functioned. And I always looked closely at the details of the drawings. Macaulay might morbidly hide a skull or a dead rat or a human hand in the debris being dug up for a subway, for example.
If you have children in your life, I urge you to at least give these books a look. And consider giving them as holiday gifts. Even if the child cannot read, the illustrations are mesmerizing. They educate children about the built world. What is behind the walls and below the floor, and it shows how everything goes together and works.
My only gripe with the books is that Macaulay made the Welsh the villains in the book “Castle,” one of my all-time favorites. Macaulay was born in England so it’s understandable. But c’mon – the English are clearly the heavies in this tale.
Oh well. At least I know how a gardenrobe works now.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Someday soon I’m going to have a real-life Macaulay-gasam and visit Château de Guédelon, a real-life castle being built near Treigny, France, using 12- and 13th-century construction techniques. Work began in 1997 and continues to this day. There was a similar attempt in my home state of Arkansas that disbanded.
27 thoughts on “Plant a Seed this Holiday Season”
There is a 2014 BBC series about the current rebuilding of a 13th century castle at Guedelon: Secrets Of The Castle. On YouTube as well. If you hold any belief that craftsman in the 13th century didn’t know what they were doing or that we are much better now – watch this. Very cool
Chris, you might want to look for the books by Jan Adkins. Lots of how-things-work books, well illustrated. This time every year I re-read “Solstice, A Mystery of the Season.” When I was teaching elementary grades, I had his books in my classroom. They are wonderful.
When I was a kid (sometime prior to the flood, I believe) I had that same kind of relationship with the books of Edwin Tunis. They really sparked my imagination. I have no idea if they were still around a generation or two later.
Chris, I also grew up with these books and loved them. There was also a television program made from the castle book that was well worth watching. I bought these books for my children, and now that I have some young nieces and nephews I’m going to have to buy more for Christmas presents. Thanks for the for the walk down memory lane and the great Christmas present idea. Very timely.
I loved the mammoth book, I need to get it for the kids! Thanks for reminding me.
Let me know when your going, we are planning a early spring trip across the pond and would like to see the castle with some a little more knowledgable than me
May, June (warm enough and less rain and pre school holidays) or September (dry, post school holidays and European Heritage days is 3rd weekend of September – lots of stuff open that normally isn’t)
I will check these out they sound and look amazing. Thanks for sharing. The works of Mitsumasa Anno are along these lines as well but with a bit of magical realism. I have Anno’s Journey and Anno’s Alphabet. He also has a Spain and an Italy book among others.
It’s funny how many people to whom I tell that I am a furniture maker, will often reply with a question similar to this one: Oh…, ok, hey, my backyard fence is broken, can you fix that?
Or I get asked about plumbing?
Try working in domestic building maintenance/construction. Some of the stuff you get asked is out of this world. Yeah, some of what is asked you could do … question is, do you really want to?
Absolutely right there with you – Castle, Cathedral, and City were all seminal texts for me when I was a child of and I’m thrilled to be sharing then with my young kids now.
Chris, I may (barely) not be a child anymore, but your work has planted lots of seeds in my brain. I’m a 22 year old stuck in college with little purpose, but woodworking helps me give me some purpose
Some of the best kids books ever. I lived and breathed Macaulay’s books, and I fondly remember the mental escapism they fostered. Fantastic suggestion as a gift for a kid in your life today. Then maybe follow it up with a trip to see a castle or a ship or a big city…..?
Oh dear, I loved those books as a kid too. Still have the three I had since then, and today I found out he did a Cathedral one which I don’t have (but can still get), and a much more recent one on mosques, which aggravatingly seems to be unavailable everywhere.
Mosques is available on Amazon. I just ordered a copy.
Guédelon. Takes more than a full day to visit, they claim wheelchair friendly but paths so rough it ripped a tyre off so go prepared. Wish I could return to see the progress, amazing project.
Here’s the link to the PBS production of Castle on YouTube. There are others for Cathedral, Pyramid and Roman City which are easy enough to find.
MaCauley’s books are fantastic. I taught a high school physics class from The Way Things Work and enjoyed the comedy of Motel of the Mysteries.
While in Guédelon, it might be worthwhile to visit some of the old lime stone quarries around. They are very impressive places
I was thinking the same thing the other day, except with his “The Way Things Work” book. I used to love spending time with all the illustrations as a kid and imagining. They are great books for sparking the imagination.
I used to drool over the Macaulay books in the library. I was lucky enough to find them in the local used book shop a few years back so I could share them with my kids. Eric Sloane kindled the same kind of spark with me. I remember spending many fond hours in the woods behind my home trying to re-create scaled down versions the castles, log cabins, and forts I saw in those books.
2 of my favorite books growing up were the Disney books How it Works in the City, and How it Works in the Country. same idea only with goofy under the sink fixing the drain and scrooge McDuck getting an unexpected shower above.
My 6yo loves these books! I ordered City for myself a few years ago. Last year some question about Rome came up and I thought “well, why not show it to him?” We got him Castle, Cathedral, and Pyramid for Christmas and we actually kind of had to force him to read other books sometimes. Otherwise he’d just keep cycling through those three over and over. It impressed his aunts when we sent them along for a sleepover!
Seeing McCauley’s books at the top of this blog suddenly crystallized the entire reason I want to do (and am now starting) woodworking. I read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth 25 years ago and the story of building the cathedral deeply moved me. It’s still one of my favorite books.
I wanted to make something beautiful too but didn’t have the first clue how. Fast forward 25 years and I’ve got the means and the time to try. I’ll never build a cathedral but I will learn to make beautiful things, one shaving at a time.
I’ve got a great idea for a poster…
Very cool art, would love to get some.
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