This week 28 years ago Dick Proenneke was rolling pell-mell down a mountain steep as a cow’s face.
Editing this book has been so much fun, in part because of what we didn’t edit. Dick made it very clear that he did not want his journal entries edited, which Monroe Robinson has respected. The result? Intimacy.
We editors love to tidy things up. Here at Lost Art Press we have our own house style followed by AP Style and Merriam-Webster. We like consistency. Our goal is to create smooth and easy reading, much like the experience of driving on a freshly paved stretch of road. No one likes to hit a pothole while admiring the scenery.
That said, voice is scenery. We respect voice. We also know that as much as we find comfort in lines drawn on a map, sometimes turning off the highway and onto a bumpy dirt road provides the best view.
So much of this book is edited – the photos, the illustrations, Monroe’s text, the front matter, the back matter, the maps, and even the journal entries chosen and the order in which they appear. But Dick’s words, for the most part, are not. And so we are gifted with porkypines (porcupines). Hurdy gurdy drill (egg-beater drill). Purty (pretty). Cuttingest machine (a tool that is performing its job well).
Much of this book is about the things Dick made from found materials while living alone in Alaska. But every once in a while Monroe includes a gem of a journal entry such as the one below. Once you catch onto the rhythm of Dick’s writing style you find yourself with him, circling the mt. (mountain), hiking in deeper snow than expected, noting the tracks of wolves, climbing, sliding, lamenting snow in mittens and a lost walking stick, surviving (not “sorry charley” this time!), and warming and writing by the fire. Each journal entry is a delightful detour down a dirt road.
The illustrations for this book by Elin Price are complete and Linda Watts, our designer, is already working on Chapter 6 out of 9. We can’t wait to share this book with you, a deep dive into Dick’s life, misspellings and all.
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
March 15, 1993:
Clear, Calm and -8°.
Clear and stars looking down, it could get pretty cool tonight. The half gallon carton of vanilla ice cream set on the table out front and morning would find it about right for dishing it out. Zero degrees makes soft ice cream.
The fire was buried the whole night. I would have coals but puny ones. During breakfast I knew what I was going to do today. A good day to circle the mt. I had suggested it to Leon [Alsworth] and he said we will have to go on snowshoes. Maybe next week he could go but I was sure he wouldn’t. On those little Sherpa aluminum and plastic snowshoes I wouldn’t go. Only thing good about them is the ice claws for mt. travel. It was 9.30 when I closed the door. I would pack my snowshoes to the mouth of Low Pass creek. I had the Olympus OM1n with 50 and 28 mm lens. I was dressed cool for it would be a warm three hrs getting to the divide. That last 400 feet of elevation is as steep as a cows face.
I took a few frames from the mouth of Low Pass creek and then headed for the pass. No sign of porkypines at their winter home and now I wouldn’t know where to find one. I see no tracks.
I was breaking a deeper trail than I had expected. It would be a good climb up the trench to the pass. Old tracks of a wolverine headed or coming from the pass. I have seen porkypines in the pass making that slow hike to the Kijik country. In due time I was up there enjoying the view back down and across the lake. Lots of snow up there and I believe there is more snow in the bottom behind gold ridge than I have ever seen there. 1,700 feet from the lake is the gain in elevation when you climb to the pass. From the pass it is a gain of 1,300 feet to the summit where I would cross. No tracks not one as I traveled on. The fresh last snow laid like a cotton bat and about 6 inches deep on top of the settled snow pack. Just before I got to that last very steep pitch to the divide I came to a reasonably fresh wolf track coming down from the high ridge. Later I would see that track climbing up 1st canyon. So wolves cross there some times and so do wolverine for today I would see a wolverine track climbing to the 3,000 ft. ridge.
At last I stood at the base of that 400 ft. very steep climb. I would have to climb it without snowshoes so I put them on the light pack frame with my camera gear. The snow more than shoe pac deep but a base that was soft enough to give good traction. Traverse back and forth across a width of a couple hundred feet of the mt. Climb at a comfortable angle. Slow but steady does it and in due time I was up near the eye in the mt. I had looked for it as I climbed from Low Pass but couldn’t spot it. I found the snow so deep only a little of the eye was visible. At last I stood on the divide and the time a quarter till three. It had taken me more than five hrs from my cabin to the top 3,000 ft. up.
The sun was bright and a cool breeze had me looking for sun on the protected side of the ridge. I shot a few frames and ate my sourdough sadwich and one of Sis’s good cookies. Now it was down hill all the way to my cabin and about 2 hrs. steady going to get there. Steep for the 1st quarter mile. Now I learned what I once knew. Crampons can be necessary for that 1st quarter for the snow can be too hard to kick steps. Right there I should have turned back and down where I had climbed. I expected it to get better a hundred feet down. There is hard wind pack near the top. To play it safe I moved in the clear of rock outcrops below.
To lose footing and go pell mell down a steep pitch and hit a rock will spoil your day, but good. I was in the clear but footing was poor. If I started I wouldn’t stop for about 200 yds. And I started. I was using both hands on my good walking stick for a brake. Faster and faster and it was a pretty rough slide. My pack kept me from staying on my back and when I went side wise I started to roll. Ho Boy! All I could see was snow and blue sky revolving at a terrific rate. Presently I slowed and stopped. It had been the six inches of loose snow I was expecting higher up. It is surprising how much snow gets inside a tumble down the mt. My mittens were full. Snow inside my jacket. Didn’t lose my Bean cap with the ear flaps over my ears. Still had my pack on for I had hooked the rubber link across my chest. First thing I noticed was that my right upper arm pained a little. If it hurt so soon it wouldn’t hurt a lot more tomorrow. Legs were ok and that was good. If I had broken a leg it would be “sorry charley” you didn’t make it. Tonight would be well below zero. So I could put up with a sore arm and not complain. I discovered that I had lost my good walking stick. I looked for sign of it above and below. Even tried to climb but after climbing 50 feet I slid down 25. Tried again and just couldn’t get traction. So I got organized and headed down the mt. in the loose 6-8 inches of snow. When the incline flattened a bit I put on my snowshoes and came down the water course from the base of the steep going. I hadn’t gone far when I met a wolf track climbing to the divide. It was short steps and feet making drag marks in the loose snow for the wolf. Headed for the Kijik for I hadn’t seen tracks in the pass coming to the upper lake. Down, down but not so steep that I would lose control on snowshoes. At times I would support my right arm with my left hand. It was uncomfortable hanging free. Lower I came to a wolverine track climbing so it was going over the top. I find mr. wolverine just doesn’t seem to care how steep or rough it is. He doesn’t seem to appreciate an easy route.
Hope creek at last and from 1st canyon down it was nice going. Wished for my walking stick but managed without it. It was going to take just about 2 hrs. from the divide to my cabin and the sun would be just about ready to set directly behind the Pyramid mt.
I opened the cabin door and learn’d Leon had been here. A bag containing letters a package and two batteries for my Bendix “King” radio. I still had a very few coals under the ashes and fine stuff would have a fire going quickly. I wanted to auger the ice this evening for I might not do it so easy tomorrow. I found it 27″ this 15th of March. Did my chores with little difficulty and got out of my damp hiking clothes. How would my journal entry go with that gimpy right arm. It has worked better but I managed better than I expected. I’ll take an “Ascription” at ladder climbing time. Now 10.30 Clear, calm and -3°.
A fascinating new lecture on travel to India in the 19th century, which focuses on how passengers traveled, the furniture they brought with them and the companies who supplied them, was recently given by Sean Clarke for the Stow and District Civic Society and is available here.
Sean and his brother, Simon Clarke, are the second generation to run Christopher Clarke Antiques, a shop founded in 1961 that specializes in military campaign furniture and travel items. Sean and Simon are considered leading historians and sellers of campaign furniture and were a great help to Christopher Schwarz when writing “Campaign Furniture.”
While the lecture is illustrated by pictures of campaign furniture, makers’ advertisements and passengers’ receipts, much of the lecture uses officers’ drawings and paintings as a guide to how campaign furniture was used in ships’ cabins.
When showing a series of sketches by Edward Hovell Thurlow, circa 1965, Clarke says, “Thurlow sketched throughout his career as many officers did. All were expected to have a degree in competency in drawing in the age before cameras but some also enjoyed it as a pastime in memory of their service.”
This brought to mind another, more personal illustration, made by my husband’s grandfather, Martin Uhl, a pilot who was captured and held prisoner at Stalag Luft III during WWII. I looked at his illustrated barracks again, this time paying close attention to the furniture in those sparse, cramped conditions – the bunk beds, the tables and benches, the shelving – pieces built for a particular use. And then I thought of Monroe Robinson’s upcoming book about Dick Proenneke, and the wealth of information Dick’s well-photographed cabin contains. Although these images are from different times and places entirely, thinking about them reiterated the importance of documentation, whether painted, illustrated or photographed, of the everyday.
The artwork featured in Clarke’s lecture illustrates the cleverness and ingenuity of multi-use campaign furniture designed for portability and the volatility of life at sea. A secretaire’s iron handles were used not only for easy carrying but also for tying down once aboard the ship. Also featured are small portable bookcases that fold into a box; a ship’s table with flaps that extend, removable legs and a hinged board that reveals a mirror and compartments for use as a washstand; a Gimballed Candlestick; mahogany swing trays that hung from the cabin’s ceiling; and folding chairs.
In one slide an image of 4th Officer G. Webb’s cabin onboard the Asia E.I.C. ship in 1797 shows a cannon in his room, with furniture both built and situated so that it could be moved quite quickly should the sudden need arise to point the cannon out the cabin’s window.
The lecture, which is fewer than 50 minutes, includes a wealth of images and information, and is a delightful way to spend an evening in.
If you ask Marc about his school, he’ll tell you that it should have never had his name on it. (After its first year with no name, Bob Flexner suggested Marc’s name and it unfortunately, in Marc’s eyes, stuck.) Ask Marc about the school’s accomplishments and he’ll say, “I could disappear and nobody would ever notice.” (Then listen as he talks passionately about the school’s students, instructors and staff.) Ask Marc about his craftsmanship and he’ll digress. (And tell you all about the impressive work he sees every Tuesday night, when instructors share slides of their work.)
But. Ask any one of the thousands of students who travel hundreds of miles to Marc Adams School of Woodworking each year and they’ll tell you about a difference maker in their life – Marc.
Marc never intended to open a woodworking and craft school. He never intended to be a woodworker period. But a great personal loss, a journey to the Middle East and a 19-year-old man in Dumyāṭ, Egypt, changed everything.
A good start
“I had a great childhood,” says Marc, who lived with his mom, dad and older brother. “I had great parents, great grandparents. So I kind of had an advantage that a lot of kids don’t have. But, at the same time, my parents had nothing.”
Marc’s dad, John, was a builder, and Marc knew what kind of week his dad was having based on how much Maalox disappeared from the bottle. “This was the ’60s and early ’70s,” Marc says. “Back in those days a builder was somebody who built the house himself. They dug the footers. They framed it. They put shingles on. They built the house. Contractors contract somebody else to do everything for them. But he came in a different generation. He was real hands-on.”
Marc’s dad was also active in the school community. He drove the athlete busses to all the sporting events, built press boxes, and worked at every basketball and football game. (Marc grew up where his dad grew up, attending the same high school.)
“He was just a real big man in the community, which was a real inspiration as a kid,” Marc says. “Everybody liked him, so it was a good start for me.”
In his spare time Marc’s dad built things they needed for the house – bunkbeds, dressers and the like. “I always thought it was just because we were poor and we couldn’t afford anything, but in reality, now that I’ve grown up, I’ve realized it was just because he liked doing that kind of stuff,” Marc says.
Sports were important to Marc, and he was an active participant. By high school he narrowed it down to running, and he was good. For 43 years he held his high school’s mile record – it was finally broken last year.
Marc won a running scholarship to Indiana Central University (now called University of Indianapolis), a private United Methodist Church-affiliated university in Indianapolis. Even as young as junior high Marc knew he wanted to be three things in life: a coach, a teacher and a youth pastor. In college he earned a bachelor’s degree in education, ran and dated his wife, Susie.
Marc first met Susie as a young child – she attended his mom’s nursery school. Fast forward to 1978 – Indiana (and much of the Midwest) was paralyzed by a blizzard. Susie, also a runner, was a senior in high school and her school wouldn’t allow girls to run in the gym if boys were wrestling or playing basketball. So Susie and her friends used the college’s track to run, and that’s how she re-met Marc. The next year Susie attended the same college, also as an education major, and the two dated throughout. They married after Susie graduated, in 1982.
At around the same time Marc graduated, 750 teachers in central Indiana were laid off.
“I just couldn’t get a job,” he says. “And I didn’t want to relocate. So I turned around and started on my master’s.”
He enrolled at IUPUI (Indiana University–Purdue University Indiana) and then, with a 4.0 GPA and only a few credits shy of his master’s, Marc’s path in life changed course.
Great loss and a new career
Marc’s mom loved crafts. And every year, from the time Marc was 5 years old, the entire family would attend a holiday craft and hobby show in Indianapolis.
“My dad would go to that show basically because my mom wanted to go,” Marc says. “It was mostly boring for my dad. But every year at that show Shopsmith would be set up.”
Launched in the 1940s, Shopsmith was a combination woodworking tool many home woodworkers envied.
“You have to go back to that time period,” Marc says. “In that time period, nothing was imported. The only place you had to buy tools was basically Sears. So for my dad, whose goal in life was to take an early retirement, build a building out back, put a wood-burning stove in it and do nothing else for the rest of his life but create things out of wood, the excitement in going to the show was that Shopsmith would be set up there.” Every year Marc noted his dad’s ever-growing enthusiasm for the machine and rare public display of excitement.
While in graduate school, Marc attended the craft show again with his parents. By now his dad had already started building a 3,000-square-foot building as a place to store a vehicle, and as a place for him to do woodworking and Marc’s mom to do crafts. Marc knew he would soon have steady income, so while watching the Shopsmith demonstrations at the craft show with his dad he had an epiphany. He and his dad could buy the machine now and split the monthly payments. His dad could finally own something he long desired, and Marc could use it to build an occasional piece of furniture for his someday house. His dad was thrilled by the idea.
On Monday they drove to Shopsmith in Dayton, Ohio, signed a contract and loaded up the machine. On Tuesday they began putting it together. On Wednesday, his dad had a heart attack and died, and with it, his dream of retirement. He was only 52.
Marc could have sent the Shopsmith back. But he didn’t. It took him a few months before he was able to walk into the shop his dad built.
“But when I finally walked back in, I looked at the parts, exactly where they were, the last place they were when he touched them,” Marc says. “And I said, ‘I can’t. I can’t put it in a box and send it back. I can’t do that.’ So I decided to keep it. And that is where it all started. Literally. I had no idea which way the blade spun on the machine. I had no idea how to make something. Like any young guy I could make what I needed but not in a fine manner. But I kept the machine and the next thing I knew my entire life stopped and all I wanted to do, before I had made the first payment on that machine, was I wanted to make things.”
Payments were $200 a month. Marc figured out how the machine worked and started making things with a goal to make just enough money to pay for the machine. Initially he intended to finish his master’s but as Marc studied the craft and became more skilled, he began buying more tools and accessories, pulling him further into debt. He loved making things, which was good because now he couldn’t get out of it – he owed too much to quit.
“I was chasing myself, trying to figure out how to do woodworking, because I didn’t know – I had never been trained in it,” he says. “And now I love it so much, but I find that I’m getting myself so far in debt.” What little money he did make went to pay off the debt. “I didn’t know how to price anything,” he says.
But with time, things began to shift. More work led to more money which led to better equipment which allowed him to produce work more efficiently. This allowed him to take on more work, which allowed him to hire somebody. Their joint efforts brought in my more money, which led to better equipment, more work and more hires. It spiraled. In the back of his mind, Marc still assumed he’d finish his master’s. But instead, his company grew and grew.
“I never took a business class in my life,” Marc says. “I had never taken a woodworking class in my life. So to be in my 20s and think that woodworking and owning my own woodworking business would be something that I would do, I would have figured I would be an underwater explorer exploring caves before I would have thought of that. That wasn’t on my radar at all.”
Although Marc had a lot to learn, years of athletics and good coaching prepared him well.
“Runners are different than football players who are the kind of guys who like to hit people,” Marc says. “Runners are the kind of people who like to push themselves beyond whatever they can do and never give up. So I had this inward drive: I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to embarrass myself as this point in time by losing. And so I just continued to work through all that and the work just kept coming and it kept getting more prestigious and bigger without me having any clue on how to do any of it. I just had to figure it out.”
And he did. By the late 1980s Marc was running a multi-million-dollar business with 35 employees, good people, he says, people who really knew what they were doing. His company had three divisions: a cabinet shop with a focus on residential and commercial kitchens, architectural millwork, and stairways and stair parts. But as so often happens, at some point Marc realized all he was doing was managing when he wanted to be woodworking.
A revelation by the Nile
In 1991, Marc was asked to become a technical consultant to the Western Wood Products Association, the Southern Forest Products Association, the American Hardwood Export Council and the U.S. government, lecturing internationally about business, industrial production and marketing.
While the oil wells were still on fire from the Persian Gulf War, Marc traveled to the Middle East along with experts from major businesses and industries worldwide, including automotive, banking, pharmaceutical, tech, textile and more. This consortium was established to help businesses in the Middle East establish connections worldwide. The U.S. sent Marc as a wood industry representative.
At each of the 13 stops local business leaders and community members would listen to presentations from CEOs and top players from business entities around the world, in large rooms with interpreters and tables with little flags representing dozens of countries. The half-hour presentations went alphabetically, so by the time it was the wood industry’s turn, everyone was always pretty tired. And yet each time Marc forged ahead, reading his U.S.-government-approved script. Once finished, everyone would be led to a large convention-room-type space with booths set up representing the different industries. Attendees would stop by booths to ask questions and network.
“At the end of the day, we’d be thumb wrestling with each other because nobody wanted to talk to us,” Marc says. “We’re talking about the Middle East. There aren’t many trees there. We were kind of the unthought-of group in the whole thing.”
They traveled from city to city on luxury buses, with military trucks filled with men and machine guns in front of and behind them.
“A lot of it had to do with show,” Marc says. “Al Jazeera was the only network on TV. And because this was a big group of very influential people worldwide, we were the only thing that was shown on national TV every single day. We were going to get them out of poverty – we were coming in to help. It was a big-time deal.”
One of their last stops was Dumyāṭ, a harbor city in Egypt. Because Marc and his companions had been on TV for days prior to this, hundreds of thousands of citizens in Dumyāṭ lined the streets as their buses paraded around. And in this particular city, more than half of those citizens were woodworkers.
Any and all things made in the Middle East out of wood ended up finding its way to Dumyāṭ,” Marc says. “So all of a sudden the wood group I was with, we were the main people. People were actually going to listen to us.”
Every presenter had an interpreter and the one assigned to Marc was 19 years old and lived in Dumyāṭ. Throughout the trip Marc’s interpreter spoke fondly of his hometown, and was excited for Marc to see it.
At every stop, Marc and his fellow business leaders had stayed in five-star hotels and had been treated to five-star meals. Dumyāṭ was different. Lunch was served outdoors in a local park, at benches and tables under big wire netting constructed to keep the bugs out. Everyone inside the netting was on display. Thousands and thousands of people stood outside looking in, watching, just as they had been watching on TV the previous days. Food was served in baskets and everything was homemade. Fellow U.S. business leaders warned Marc not to eat the homemade food – the water used to prepare the food might make him sick.
“Eat, eat! You need to eat!” Marc’s interpreter said. Marc tried to be polite and simply kept saying he was not hungry.
After the presentations and meal, Marc and his group found a long line of people at their wood industry booth.
“It was kind of fun,” Marc says. “For the first time we were getting attention where we had gotten no attention on the whole trip. And everybody wanted to talk to me because I was the person who represented the trade.”
Everything was slow because of the number of people who wanted to talk to Marc and the time it took to interpret questions and answers. Still, Marc took the time to listen and respond as well as he could. It was well after midnight when a man and his son approached him. No one on the buses could leave until Marc was done, and Marc was ready to go home. The man and the son asked Marc if he could come back when his tour was done, and spend time with them in their shop.
Marc had already been gone from home for several weeks and he had business to attend to back home. So he politely declined, which was interpreted. The man and his son asked again. Marc came up with another polite reason. They asked again, and that’s when Marc realized he had the perfect response.
“Tell them,” Marc said to his interpreter, “I’d really like to but I have a baby daughter at home, a brand-new baby daughter who is only four months old, and I can’t wait to get back and see her.”
The interpreter, father and son talked for a while and then the interpreter turn to Marc and said, “OK, here’s what he’d like to do. He’d like to give you his youngest daughter.”
Marc was so taken aback he laughed.
“And then my interpreter looked at me, and remember, he was 19-years-old,” Marc says. “And he told me, ‘You have really just insulted this man by laughing at him.’ And it made sense. Because you see for them, daughters aren’t as respected as sons are. ‘You don’t live in our world,’ he said. ‘For him, this would be a way that he could get something for his family, to help them in their world. Plus this would give his daughter an opportunity to get out of here and go somewhere else. And you thought that was funny.’ And that was it. That was it. I couldn’t handle it.”
That night, while sitting on a luxury bus waiting to go back to a luxury hotel in a neighboring town, Marc looked out his window. The moon was full, right on top of the Nile. And in the distance stood tall guard shacks with silhouettes of men with machine guns. And Marc thought about the last thing his interpreter said, the thing that really hurt, right before Marc got on the bus.
“He said, ‘Do you remember today when we ate lunch? You didn’t eat anything. And you remember all those people standing around watching? A lot of those people had to borrow the money to make the food in honor to serve you and you didn’t touch it. And at the same time those people, whose food you didn’t touch, aren’t eating tonight and probably won’t eat tomorrow.’”
Marc cried the entire way back to the hotel.
“You know all of sudden it hits you, what really matters in life?” Marc says. “It’s not so much how big you can run your business but how much you can do for mankind. And it was a really hard hit. I had a 19-year-old kid, in literally a four-hour span of time, change the entire way I looked at life.”
As soon as Marc got to the hotel he called Susie.
“I could keep running, and add more zeros to the dollar sign of our year-end profits, but I’m not really doing anything to change anybody’s life.”
He told her he was getting rid of the business and starting a school. And although Marc wasn’t able to stay in Egypt and help that father and son grow their business, he did hold true to his personal promise. He sold his business and built a school, one that has helped educate thousands of students.
Building a school and a new way of life
“Ultimately,” Marc says, “whether it was something that I did see or didn’t see, God had it all planned. Those years when I was in college learning about education and organization – all that was for a reason. Those years when I ran my business, the learning that I had to go through on my own, that was all to prepare me for what I needed to do to make the school run. So everything that happened along the way was predestined. And I believe that’s why we are where we are today. It’s a gift from God. I just keep hoping every day that I don’t screw it up.”
Today the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, on Marc and Susie’s property, offers up 40,000 square feet of space, including six workshops, four large bench rooms, three tools rooms, a dedicated turning center, outbuildings for special classes, a multimedia room and a cafeteria that serves 100. Each student has access to a custom-made Lie-Nielsen workbench. At each instructor’s bench is a digital camera system allowing the entire class to easily see demonstrations, and a specially designed sound system is available for those who struggle with hearing. The lineup for 2021, with COVID precautions in place, includes 245 courses in woodworking, metalsmithing, glass blowing, mosaic work, painting, CNC technology, instrument making, blacksmithing, paper sculpture, leather work, upholstery, calligraphy and even chocolate making.
When Marc returned from the Middle East, he sold his business and started building the school. His daughter, Markee, was born in 1990 and his son, John, in 1993. Marc spent a lot of time lecturing, for businesses, universities, clubs and at woodworking shows, all the while meeting people and making connections. Although this required traveling almost every week, once home and without a business to run he was able to spend time with his family and work on personal projects – woodworking has always remained a loved hobby. And even today, because the school is seasonal, Marc always finds bits of time in the winter months to make things. Every piece he makes has 800 to 2,000 hours of work in it, and for years it’s all had a Disney theme.
“The interesting thing about the Disney stuff is that it’s never drawn the same way twice,” Marc says. “So when you see a clip of it in the movie, and it comes back to it later in the movie, they are not drawn in the same way. So I would take all the images from the movie that I could and try to conceptualize how it would have been done.”
For the last 15 years he’s been making marquetry images of lobby cards (posters) that were released to movie theaters from 1928 to 1935 that feature Mickey. Each one takes a year to complete. He’s also reproduced front covers of Dell Comic Books, particularly the Uncle Scrooge series published in the 1950s through the early 1970s.
Marc grew up watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, but he was never really into cartoons, even as a child. In the mid-1980s he completed a commercial job and for the first time in his life he had some real extra money. So Marc and Susie decided to go to Disney World.
“The whole time I was there I was so blown away by the detail,” Marc says. “It was the detail that they put into everything that they made. And I realized that in my personal work, when I was making things, it didn’t have the detail. Every woodworker wants to find something that can be their own voice and for me, what hit me was detail.”
When Markee was born, Marc thought it would be fun to make something for her with Disney characters on it.
“I thought it would be unique,” he says, not realizing how ubiquitous Disney was with anything made and sold for kids. Turns out it was unique, in the time and talent Marc put into it and everything else Disney-themed since.
Many would say this level of detail is evident in every aspect of his school, too. Marc insists that’s only because of his employees plus the varied experiences every student and instructor brings. Teaching woodworking is not Marc’s first or second priority.
“We’re a vacation destination,” he says. “It’s our job to make sure people have a really good experience, whatever it is they come for. If, by chance, in their experience they learn a little bit about craft and making things, that’s great. But that’s not our focus. Our focus is on making sure people have a great time while they’re here. And I think that’s what a lot of these craft schools miss. They think their priority is showing somebody how to cut a dovetail. But our priority is showing somebody how to have a great time cutting a dovetail.”
Not a woodworking school
One of the many people Marc credits the school’s success to is his longtime friend and employee, Zane Powell. Marc and Zane grew up together. When they graduated high school, Zane got a job in a cabinet shop and Marc went to college. They drifted apart until one day Marc was making something for a client and noticed something else the client had, made out of wood, with the name Zane on it. Marc contacted the maker and it was as he hoped, his old friend Zane. Marc told Zane about his woodworking business and asked if Zane would work for him. Zane agreed and eventually ran the cabinet shop division.
When Marc sold his business, the new owners moved it 60 miles north. That was too far of a commute for Zane so he got a job in a factory. After work and on weekends he’d show up at Marc’s house, helping him remodel the business’s buildings into space suitable for a school. Zane helped Marc for three years until Marc was able to hire him full-time. In the early years, Marc asked Zane to teach, but Zane resisted. Instead he assisted Roger Cliffe, a well-known woodworking instructor. Roger had a heart attack and died unexpectedly, three weeks before 9/11. Suddenly Zane had to take on Roger’s role and Marc says he did so admirably.
“The thing about Zane, he was the funniest person in the room, but he never told a joke,” Marc says. “He has this incredible sense of humor. He was also incredibly gifted. And so not only was he a brilliant craftsman, he had a great humorous personality. And everybody who met him was touched by him.”
When Zane disclosed his liver cancer diagnosis in 2018, a GoFundMe page was created to help financially, and students at the school jumped at the opportunity to give back to someone who had given them so much. Zane died in 2019.
“Losing Zane was a really difficult thing for us,” Marc says. “He was an incredible person. An incredible craftsman. Everybody loved him. Nobody ever said anything bad about him in any way. He was just an outgoing kind of guy. And all those years we never, ever, ever had any issues. No differences and the amazing thing was, in all those years, he never asked me for a raise or more money or time off, ever.”
Marc and others still find messages from Zane around the school.
“He was a great artist. So you might be working on a machine and underneath you’ll see some kind of stupid drawing he did of something somewhere and it is always so funny.”
While there is an advantage to being able to grieve with employees, instructors and students who all knew and loved Zane, constantly being in the public eye, during good times and bad, can be trying.
“Being that the school is 30 steps from my house you learn to give up your personal life,” Marc says. “Because there is no privacy. Everything you do is public. Everything you say, everywhere you go. Trying to raise kids in that environment is a really hard thing to do. When my son was 5 years old, I wanted to go out and start playing basketball with him. And so I did and I’m working with my son and I’ve got guys standing at the front door of the shop laughing every time I miss a shot. So your kids can’t be normal kids because in the course of a summer we’ll have thousands and thousands of people on our property. And they can’t go out and make too much noise or they’ll disrupt a class. So it’s really hard. You just kind of get used to it, knowing that everybody knows what you do and you also get used to knowing that people are sometimes going to criticize you before they pat you on the back. So losing Zane – we all had it tough. We all just grieved in our own ways and dealt with it as we could.”
In 2020, Marc had 112 instructors from around the world slated to teach 245 workshops to more than 2,500 students. And then the world shut down, including the school. Shutting down even two months (April and May) meant postponing 64 workshops and refunding more than 700 students – doable, but tough for a school that relies solely on tuition. But then came the emails, hundreds of them. Almost everyone chose to roll their deposit into a future workshop or gift it to the school. And then, after working with an advisory board of physicians with expertise in the coronavirus from around the country, and working overtime to reconfigure the school, Marc reopened on June 1, 2020.
“I chose that week specifically because that was the week we were doing a memorial for Zane,” he says.
Last year about 1,200 students came along with 39 instructors.
“We had zero spread of COVID through our facilities, which is phenomenal,” Marc says. “And all of those people who were here, they needed to be here. It relieved a lot of stress they had in their life. We had more people this last summer come to one of our key people crying, literally crying, because of the emotions of what they were going through in their life. And they were able to get away from it and come to a place with less burden. We tell people that last summer we were all counselors moreso than anything else because people needed to get away from what they were going through and they were able to do that here. And we had more of an emotional responsibility to people last year more than anything.”
Marc talks a lot about the emotional ties people have with the school, and credits the active building of friendships among staff, instructors and students.
“They develop these incredible relationships, and Zane was a bit part of why all that happened,” Marc says. “He would have been an incredibly big part of helping people through these times.”
These relationships are also why Marc has no interest in offering online classes.
“It’s hard to laugh out loud when you’re at home looking at a computer screen,” he says. “Our investment is here where you actually get to smell the dust. You get to ask questions at any time. You have a panoramic view of everything. You have interaction with the instructor all day instead of just for a few hours at a time. The entire body of learning has to involve as many senses as possible and you just don’t get that through a computer screen. That world isn’t for us and it isn’t the world we’re in. People will always seek our world. We’re in a phase now because of the pandemic but that phase is going to go away.”
In the meantime, Marc is continually looking for new ways for students to build relationships through craft. And the word “craft” is important here. In fact, “time honored crafts” is a phrase Marc has slowly been adding to the very name of the school.
“My goal from the beginning was not for this to be a woodworking school,” Marc says. “I wanted this to be a craft school. But my income and my world at the time I started the school was woodworking and you have to get something established first before you move on to other things. You have to have the facilities and resources.”
Marc started offering breakout classes 20 years ago, and they are some of the first to sell out. Running six classes at a time also serves as easy advertising. Students can take a break from what they’re doing and sit in another class for a short amount of time, as if watching a trailer for a feature film. Although while Marc is committed to a continual broadening of horizons, some of these experiences, such as chocolate making and glassblowing, require a significant investment in equipment.
“But see, the thing for me, from a business standpoint, I never look at whether a class makes money or not,” he says. “I really don’t. I look at each week. How did we do this week? Well, we offered six classes and we did well.”
Staple woodworking classes have long carried light-attended classes and costly breakout classes. But Marc has been careful to introduce them slowly, establishing new markets while existing markets foot the bill.
Daily, Marc regrets not being able to personally take more classes. He’s tried, but is easily pulled in different directions. (It’s why he loves the bottle magic class, a class where you learn how to stick things in bottles. It’s secretive, behind closed doors, so he hid in that room for a week taking the class with little interruption.) As the school becomes more of a team-led effort, Marc hopes to take more classes in the future.
“You reach a point where you don’t work for money.” – Walt Disney
These days Marc enjoys spending time with his grown children and being a grandfather. His daughter, Markee, married Pat Murrin, who she met at her dad’s school. Pat started out as a student while in college, eventually earning his Master Woodworker Certificate at the school. He now owns Murrin Woodworking Studio, five miles down the road from Marc and Susie. Markee is an elementary school teacher. Together they have a daughter who recently turned 2, and they’re expecting another. Marc’s son, John, works with diesel engines in the trucking industry. Early 2020 John was in northern Italy for work. Marc and Susie dropped everything school-related for several days trying to get him out before the country shut down to the coronavirus. He was on a plane three days before international travel was banned.
Marc still runs, almost every day, typically about 3 miles. “It’s my big getaway and I really, really enjoy doing that,” he says. Susie will often ride her bike while Marc runs.
“You kind of hate to call this a hobby but we also really like to mow,” he says. They own several houses around the school where students can stay, and mowing helps gets them away from the school during the busy spring and summer months. Susie also enjoys tending her many wildflower gardens.
It should also be noted that Marc’s home and school sits on 17 acres.
“There’s always something that needs to be done there,” he says. “And so instead of looking at that as work, I look at that as sort of my other hobby. I really enjoy getting out and taking care of my pond or cutting branches off of trees or whatever needs to be done.”
They don’t sit around and watch TV Marc adds, laughing.
“You know the saying ‘if you like what you do you’ll never work a day in your life’?” Marc asks. “I totally disagree with that. That’s an incorrect statement. The statement should be, ‘If you enjoy what you’re doing you’ll want to work every day in your life.’ And so for me, that’s kind of where we are.”
“How long did it take?” is sometimes a difficult question to answer when it comes to making a book, particularly when you consider the time spent acquiring the knowledge that is at the heart of any book.
This is particularly true for Monroe Robinson, author of the upcoming book on Dick Proenneke. I asked Monroe to write about himself for the book’s introduction and, after reading it, I realized Monroe’s life story could be a book in and of itself. His bridge to Dick (which I say both figuratively and literally as it includes the building of a log bridge in Alaska) is filled with determination, vision loss, talent, bravery, compassion and adventure. On top of all that are the 19 summers Monroe served as caretaker of Dick’s cabin, restoring and, when needed, creating museum-quality reproductions, using the same raw materials Dick would have used and, when possible, Dick’s tools.
So to answer the question “how long did it take,” well, Monroe’s life accounts for a lot of it. Then there are Dick’s journals, which, once transcribed, amounted to more than 7,000 pages which Monroe spent hours combing through. Also: writing the book; editing it (with help from Monroe’s wife, K. Schubeck); acquiring and sorting thousands of photos from the National Park Service, and Dick’s family members and friends; our edits (here at Lost Art Press) of both text and photos; the creation of a design template (Linda Watts has completed this and it’s gorgeous); the creation of three maps (which Monroe and Brendan Gaffney are working on); and more than 60 hand-drawn illustrations.
We needed so many illustrations for two reasons: (1) some photos weren’t high-enough resolution or in good enough condition to reproduce and (2) there were some things Monroe wanted to show/explain that could only realistically be done in illustration form. Monroe has always been drawn to Eric Sloane’s work and so, with that in mind, after a long search we hired Elin Price, a UK-based paper artist.
Elin grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and now lives on the edge of the Peak District. Primarily a paper artist, Elin draws and designs everything she creates, hand cutting with a Swann-Morton scalpel. Her work ranges in size from a giant mermaid (their local mermaid who is said to live in Mermaids Pool on the slope of Kinder) for the New Mills Festival to papercut scenes as small as her thumbnail. Her academic background includes archaeological illustration, which provided her with training in observational drawing and depicting small details. And being skilled in observation is precisely why she excels at both papercuts and the beautiful illustrations she’s making of Dick’s handcrafted life.
To help guide Elin, Monroe created a 43-page document filled with pictures and texts. This has been quite helpful as often Elin is creating illustrations of tools without proper photo representation. Take, for example, Dick’s ice chisel, which Monroe talks about in Chapter 2.
“The only photos of the chisel are present day photos taken in the archives with the shaft of the ice chisel being a maximum of 2” in diameter a few inches above the steel chisel,” Monroe wrote to Elin in a follow-up email. “The 2” diameter maintains at that diameter for more than 2’ up the shaft before tapering as a natural spruce sapling would taper toward the upper end of the handle. That section of the shaft that maintains 2” diameter is not the natural taper of the spruce sapling. Dick first made the ice chisel using the spruce sapling with its natural taper, so the diameter of the handle increased in diameter throughout the length of the handle until just before the metal chisel. Your illustration will be best if it illustrates what the ice chisel handle looked like when Dick made it in 1968, with a maximum diameter of 3”, which is the natural taper of the sapling. Years after he made the chisel (1977), he shaved the handle diameter from 3” to 2”. Two inches is the width of the steel blade. That is why the photos are different than what is needed in your illustration.”
Monroe continues, noting a saw cut up the shaft but he asks Elin not to include the natural crack that developed over time. He talks about the wire wraps that hold the shaft together, and asks Elin to use two, not three as shown in the photo, and he talks about the groove Dick carved to help hold the wraps in place, and the location of the wraps’ knots.
“Your illustration could show little flats from Dick shaving the taper in the lower end of the handle and finally rounding the end, much like you so beautifully did with the chisel handle in the illustration with the collection of tools,” Monroe writes.
Elin gathers all this – Monroe’s mindful, detailed instructions, photos from various sources and Dick’s journal entries – and then, she draws. Careful. Observational. And all a work of art.
Elin plans to have all the illustrations complete by the end of February. As Elin finishes a chapter’s worth of illustrations, Linda will work on the design, that way both can be done simultaneously.
We hope to have this book – representative of a mind boggling number of hours of work (and observation) – to the printer this spring.
It was November 13, 1942, and his mother was living with another woman and her small child in Los Angeles, California, while his father was working as a psychiatric social worker in the army, stationed in Texas. After the war his parents divorced, and his mom remarried.
Drew’s stepfather was a classical violinist and his mother was a serious pianist. Drew also spent many afternoons with his father, an art historian, visiting artist studios, galleries and museums.
He and his half-brother, who was 8 years younger, spent their childhood in West L.A., which Drew says was then a nice place to grow up in. A self-described quiet and shy child, Drew struggled with rote memorization at school and never yearned for a paper route in order to buy things like most of his friends. He preferred making things, and his parents always made sure he had access to art supplies.
“Nobody had much money in our family at the time so I was always encouraged to do art things and try making stuff,” he says.
Instead of having him study for his bar mitzvah, Drew’s parents signed him up for weekly art lessons with Adalaide Fogg and Mary Gordon, liberal progressives who painted, made jewelry and prints, and supplemented their income by opening up their studio to provide lessons for children.
After high school, Drew enrolled at San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge) to study anthropology. He had always been interested in the topic and while the school wasn’t his first choice the anthropology department there had recently hired Dorothy Lee, “a really brilliant woman who was fed up with teaching at Harvard to be the department head,” Drew says. Lee was interesting, connected easily with young people and eschewed standardized, formal education. Drew thrived and in two years took enough courses minus one to satisfy an anthropology degree.
Drew disliked the San Fernando Valley and was falling in love with San Francisco. (This was San Francisco in the 1960s after all.) So he transferred to San Francisco State, which he loved – except for the anthropology department. In one class Drew stated an ethical objection to a field method used by anthropologists. The instructor, who was the department head, suggested that it would be a good idea for Drew to consider work in a different field. Drew managed to pass the course and earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1964.
While at San Francisco State, Drew had fallen in love with the university’s dark room and ceramic studios. And in 1966, he earned a master’s degree in painting and sculpture. Although there was a woodshop on campus, there were no instructions on how to use the tools, Drew said. And while Charles Haywood was writing in the U.K. at the time, Drew had never heard of him and publications like Fine Woodworkingdidn’t exist.
“Interestingly, while I was in the art department at the graduate level at San Francisco State University, I had no idea that they had an industrial arts department,” he says. “I literally didn’t know it existed.” Turns out John Kassay, who later went on to write “The Book of Shaker Furniture” in 1980 and “The Book of American Windsor Furniture: Styles and Technologies” in 1998, was teaching on campus at the same time Drew was a student. “It wasn’t until 30 years later while on the phone with him one day that I found out he was teaching right where I was,” Drew says. “For me it was all learning on one’s own and sometimes woodworking was part of it and sometimes it was not.”
In graduate school Drew became friends with a guy who grew up in a “real all-American middle-class kind of family,” he says, which was quite different from the way Drew grew up. The dad in this family had a little woodworking shop, complete with a table saw, and together, father and son were building a boat. Drew would visit this family often, and says he learned a lot about woodworking while helping build the boat.
1960s San Francisco
After graduation Drew, who at this point owned a small table saw, started a small business making stretched canvasses for professional and more well-off artists. He also started to make some sculptures and, as funds would allow, would occasionally buy a new tool from Sears.
Drew loved living in San Francisco in the 1960s, and that decade proved formative.
“It’s part of my story,” he says.
He was involved in civil rights and anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, and drawn to people who were producing the Whole Earth Catalog.
“Back then we would walk everywhere,” he says. “We would walk across San Francisco. I lived in a neighborhood, it was pretty much a slum, and we would walk to China Town and say, ‘We have $3 for dinner. What can you make us?’ And they would make us dinner. It would show up. And there were all kinds of stuff happening in various arts and it was all accessible. It wasn’t a pricey play to live like it’s become.”
Around this time Drew met his wife, Louise. He had heard about a woman named Ann Halprin who ran a modern dance studio. He and Louise met at one of the studio’s summer workshops on experimental dance theater. “A couple years later we were living together and then a couple years after that we were getting married,” he says.
Around this time Drew and his friend, Jay Beckwith, began building adventure playgrounds for kids, essentially sculptures for kids to climb on. “We were using our art-school mentality to cut up existing structures with funny angles and put it all back together in a totally different configuration,” he says.
One night, while watching a friend of a friend’s slideshow from a trip to Nepal, Drew says he felt an attachment to the landscape and Nepalese people, and how closely they were living to an outdoors life. At the time, a lot of young people were traveling to India and Nepal, and Drew and Louise decided they wanted to do the same. Drew, a fan of Bernard Rudofsky’s “Architecture Without Architects,” wanted to take photographs of people and write a book about the vernacular architecture they found along the way. Louise also became interested in the book, with a focus on finding out more about the people they met and how they lived their lives.
“I was a little kid who marveled at the building of the Hollywood Freeway and I even thought I’d be an industrial designer someday but somewhere in my teenage years I became more interested with what you could make with your hands without a bunch of machines and big bucks and spending a lot of money,” he says.
The two saved a little money, “way too little,” Drew says, and began driving east. Along the way they spent a summer at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico, then continued on, visiting Louise’s parents in Chicago and dropping off their old Chevy truck in New Jersey on a farm owned by an artist friend of Drew’s father. And then they flew to England, intent on reaching Nepal.
A Year in Europe + an Apprenticeship in Coopering
Initially Drew and Louise wanted to do their entire trip on public transportation and by hitchhiking, thinking that would put them closer to the people they wanted to meet.
“But we found out we were lousy hitchhikers,” Drew says, laughing.
So they traveled by bus and train. Their first big stop was Greece – winter was coming, so they decided to stay put. Drew took a train back to Munich, bought a used police motorcycle and brought it back to Greece. The motorcycle, it turns out, was a lemon and although Drew says they spent half their winter in Greece trying to fix it they enjoyed their time in places they were stuck.
Once the weather began to warm they took a ferry to Turkey but soon they realized their motorcycle wasn’t going to make it. Back to Munich they went (tax regulations made it impossible to sell or even give away the motorcycle in Turkey) where they found some American soldiers willing to buy it. They saw a “for sale” sign on a Volkswagen Beetle, “a really good one,” Drew says, and they bought it. By now they had given up on Nepal and instead had their eye on Scandinavia. “We thought we could explore some rural parts of Western Europe, starting with the Swiss Alps,” Drew says. And that’s where they met Kufermeister Ruedi Kohler.
Ruedi was one of the last traditionally trained Swiss coopers and he made wooden, open buckets for use in Alpine dairies. “They were really quite beautiful and very specialized to the area where he lived,” Drew says. Drew and Louise bought a bucket and put it in the back seat of their Volkswagen. Every day, as they headed up to Norway and Sweden, Drew looked at that bucket and wondered how Ruedi made it. “I knew enough about making stuff to realize I couldn’t do it,” Drew says. “And I had no idea how he did it with his tools.”
Drew and Louise drove around for several weeks, considering a permanent move to Norway. Ultimately they decided against it but before moving back they had an idea: Maybe Drew could apprentice with Ruedi. “Ruedi seemed to be really kind and definitely very skillful and he lived in this beautiful log chalet in a kind of obscure corner of the Alps,” Drew says. “And I thought maybe he would take on a student.”
Ruedi agreed and Drew began a 10-week apprenticeship in single-bottom coopering, working six days a week. Because of the language barrier, Ruedi would simply show Drew how to do something, Drew would try, then Ruedi would show him again, over and over, until Drew improved. Drew wrote down questions on a little pad of paper and every once in a while a local schoolteacher who knew rudimentary English would come by and translate Drew’s questions and Ruedi’s responses.
“I still have never found anyone as skillful as Ruedi,” Drew says. “And he turned out to be even nicer than we had thought – his wife and family also.”
Planting Roots in North Carolina
Once Drew’s apprenticeship ended, he and Louise were ready to move back to the U.S. Although they loved the San Francisco Bay area they wanted to experience a different kind of environment, something less urban – but they weren’t sure where. So they picked up their old Chevy at the farm in New Jersey and began driving it back across the country.
While in Greece a publisher from Harmony Books, a division of the Crown Publishing Group, who Drew and Louise meet at the Lama Foundation, sent them a letter stating interest in publishing their book. So once back in San Francisco Drew began writing, processing film, making prints and even working on the book’s layout. Louise worked on it, too.
It was the beginning of the Foxfire books era and having spent a year traveling in rural Europe, both Drew and Louise knew they wanted to live in a less material world. They considered Vermont, but didn’t want to be involved with its winters. Other places they deemed nice were too expensive.
While at the Lama Foundation they had met a guy who owned 100 acres in North Carolina who had the intention of starting a craft community. Drew and Louise happened to run into this guy again and he said they were welcome to stay in a small house on the property while they looked for a place to live. So, they did.
“We got everything done with the book,” Drew says. “Winter was over and we took that old Chevy truck back across the U.S. to exactly where I’m sitting right now.”
The guy’s plans fell through, and Drew and Louise, who had fallen in love with the seclusion and beauty of the southern Appalachian mountains, bought his 100 acres. And although they eventually built a new house, they’ve never moved off the property.
Initially they had no idea how they were going to earn a living but they were confident they’d figure it out. “We always figured things out,” Drew says.
While they never wanted to farm for a living they were interested in small-scale farming and making a bit of income off of it. Drew was interested in farming using draft animals, and they wanted to grow their own food. “We just wanted to experience it,” he says. “We wondered what the possibilities were, what we could do.”
In 1977, Wille Sundqvist visited which, in part, prompted Drew and Louise to start a craft school focused on traditional woodworking. “But I don’t want to talk about Country Workshops,” Drew says. “Too much has already been written about Country Workshops.”
That’s fair. Still folks equate the name “Drew Langsner” with two things: “Country Woodcraft,” the book he first released in 1978 completely reviving hand-tool woodworking in the modern world, and Country Workshops. In 1978 Drew and Louise opened their home and farm to students to learn about traditional woodworking. Instructors at Country Workshops included Wille Sundqvist, Jögge Sundqvist, Jennie Alexander and John Brown. Peter Follansbee, who spent time learning and teaching there, had this to say on his blog when he learned Drew and Louise were closing it down, 40 years after they opened: “Many green woodworkers in America and beyond can trace their roots to Drew & Louise, even if they don’t know it …”.
Although it may seem like it, Drew says it’s not always easy for him to connect with other people. “I’m not that gregarious or maybe kind,” he says. “But I’ve always been attracted to that kind of thing. One of the best things that ever happened during the 40 years of Country Workshops had to do with meeting the people who came as students and as teachers.”
During the last 20 years of Country Workshops Drew organized and hosted 17 international craft tours where people not only looked at craft work but met craft people – in their homes. “It seems to be something that Americans want to do but a lot of other people don’t understand that attraction at all,” Drew says. “They don’t particularly care if this potter has three kids who all play musical instruments or they’re just cuter than hell. They just want to get in that guy’s studio, buy some stuff and go. People like myself and a lot of the people that I took on those craft tours, we wanted to spend the day with the potter and meet his wife and see what his house was like and check out their neighborhood and have a meal with them. And we often succeeded in doing something like. It was my love of anthropology pasted into craft.”
Country Workshops shut down for good in 2017.
“During a lot of years Country Workshops, particularly, was a struggle but because of the people we were dealing with it was a pleasure,” Drew says. “A really good ride. And we survived. We did five years longer than I had ever thought and we were able to put together enough savings so that we’re able to live out here and not worry much. Instead we worry about the country and the world.”
A Love of Learning – And Sculpture
Today a typical day for Drew starts with a shower then reading, first some news and then 20 to 30 minutes of something more serious. “I’ve become much more interested in what I sometimes think of as getting the education I should have been paying attention to in high school and college,” he says. “I’ve been doing some, not heavy-duty, but definitely serious reading the last 10 years – philosophy and various things to do with the arts and history and thinking and stuff like that. I’m liking that a whole lot.”
Next comes exercise, something he’s been doing for years but given some recent health setbacks he’s now more focused.
“I make my own breakfast,” he says. “Then I take a walk, which is something that Louise has been encouraging forever but is more important now that the cardiologist has prescribed it.” He typically walks around their property for an hour, including down to the mailbox and back, which is two miles.
“Then I usually fool around for a while and we have lunch,” he says. “And then I try to do some outdoor work on something and usually there’s chores or things that need to be fixed and then before supper I try to get in a couple hours in the shop working on my sculpture projects. I have a hard time working on that stuff until I’ve cleared my mind of what needs to be done around this place which is too big.”
When the weather’s good Drew spends time working with the young forest that’s developing on the edge of their fields – lots of pruning, thinning and weeding. And then there’s always firewood work and work on the driveway and other light farm work.
“I just don’t worry about what I can’t do anymore,” he says. “Louise, she hasn’t made peace yet with the fact that she can’t keep up with getting rid of the bittersweet and the poison ivy. I do what I can, I get help when I can and I don’t let that bother me.”
In the evening he does more reading.
Prior to the pandemic Drew would try to sail one day a week on a nearby lake. He and Louise also enjoyed spending time with their neighbors, and visiting their daughter, son-in-law and grandson in California. Now those visits are FaceTime.
Drew has been spending a lot of time with his “Bhuto Dancer II” (which he talks about in “Country Woodcraft: Then & Now”), a sculpture made from a fallen remnant of a scrub apple tree.
“Right now I’m involved with the real painting on it,” he says. “It’s no longer just flat white and it’s been a really tough one to paint to get things right. I didn’t have an exact vision at all how it’s going to be once painted. I’m getting there, I’m almost there. And then I have some other old pieces of wood that were hollowed out that I’m saving. There are some that are real easy to work on but the one I want to do next is another one that is very unique. It’s a hollow log with dried fungus all over the surface which I’ve stabilized with lots of glue and epoxy. I have a form and what I’m trying to do is work with it to the point where the observer doesn’t think it’s a piece of a tree anymore. It’s an experience that you have visually and tactilely that has actually nothing to do with how it started as a tree except that it can only be thought of as that as it is a tree that grew that way. And that’s that.”
Drew has made many small sculptures, including bowls, and several big outdoor ones.
“My hope for the future is that I get some kind of exposure and success with these things,” he says. “And so far I’ve had absolutely none. And I’m unwilling to try to market myself as an artist. I’m hoping to be discovered.”
‘I Like Life When it’s Good’
When talking about a life philosophy, Drew says he simply tries to be honest and fair.
“Just the golden rule,” he says. “I don’t like to see people get cheated and I don’t want to have anything to do with that kind of thing. And I want to participate as much as I can and try to feel. I like life when it’s good. It’s a struggle. This year, of course, was an extra tough one with two big medical things plus America and Covid. But I’ve done pretty well.”
Drew dealt with both prostate cancer and quadruple bypass surgery this year. His bloodwork has been very promising where the cancer is concerned. Heart health, he says, never ends. Drew’s father died from a heart attack at age 56. And while Drew has lived a pretty heart-healthy lifestyle the last 30 years, he knows he carries those genes.
“A phone conference with my doctor ended with him saying I want you go and get a stress test this afternoon,” Drew says. “I foolishly put it off for a week but I did it. And at the end of the test the evaluating doctor said, ‘I have some bad news for you. You flunked the stress test. The doctor and I want you to go to the hospital right now.’ By the next morning I was getting woken up from four bypasses. So that’s something.”
Living 50 miles from the nearest hospital, Drew says he was very fortunate the doctors ordered him to go to the hospital when they did.
For years Drew says he was involved in organizations trying to change politics in their area, environmental pursuits and peace pursuits.
“I still support those things as much as I can but now I just want to live,” he says.
In the meantime Drew is approaching life with the same anthropologic curiosity he’s had since he was a college student.
Right now he’s reading a 500-page biography of Francisco Goya, the painter. He’s excited to finish “Bhuto Dancer II.” He loves listening to music late at night – mostly jazz, but also some blues and rock-and-roll – often with headphones.
“It’s so easy for me and Louise,” he says. “There’s so many things that we’re interested in that are so fascinating to learn about. Just seeing how plants grow, what goes on. Did you see the popular movie ‘My Teacher the Octopus?’ Our world is just full of that fabulous kind of stuff. I don’t want to get dragged down by the things that are dragging us down.”
You can order “Country Woodcraft: Then & Now” (Lost Art Press) here. “Green Woodworking” and “The Chairmaker’s Workshop” are available from Drew personally, here. Simply include a note with the title(s) you wish to buy, and your mailing address. Payment is accepted via PayPal.