Meet the Author: Peter Follansbee

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A few weeks ago Peter Follansbee participated in a panel discussion titled “Looking Forward, Looking Back: Traditional Crafts and Contemporary Makers” at the Fuller Craft Museum as part of the opening reception for Living Traditions: The Handwork of Plymouth CRAFT. Peter was asked an either/or question: “When you’re making things, is the process of doing that just for you or for the community?”

Feeling put on the spot, he answered: “I’m doing this ’cause that is what I want to do.”

But that’s not completely true.

“Afterwards I was thinking of their use of the word ‘community’ and through all of this woodworking, from back in my early museum days all the way up to today, I’ve met so many people who are just fabulous, and many have become lifelong friends, just great, great folks, both students and other instructors and other woodworkers.”

With community comes commonality.

“I can find commonality with people that otherwise I would walk right past them, and they would walk right past me,” Peter says. “We share nothing in common except for this interest in and this desire in making things out of wood, and that is unlike what I said on the panel discussion. That is important to me. I can’t imagine a different life. So I’ve been lucky to kind of stumble into this one, and it was all through woodworking.”

And in a way Peter did stumble into this life, in a story that involves the death of his father at a young age, splitting logs for firewood, waffling between art painting and woodworking, and an unexpected 25-mile walk to Drew Langsner’s Country Workshops  school in North Carolina.

In the end, it was the community he sought, the community that accepted him, and the community he now serves that helped form his life, which reflects a quote by William Coperthwaite on an axe handle Peter recently carved: “I want to live in a society where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things.”

‘Without Love in the Dream it will Never Come True’
The youngest of five, Peter was born in 1957 in Weymouth, Mass., a suburb of Boston. His father worked at A.J. Wilkinson & Co., “back when a hardware store was a hardware store,” Peter says. The day after he graduated high school, Peter’s father walked into Wilkinson’s and applied for a job. He worked there until he died, at the age of 51 in 1975.

A widow, Peter’s mother had to reinvent herself and started working at a law firm in Boston. As an 18-year-old, Peter says he didn’t recognize what a big deal that was for his mother during the mid-1970s. “Later, some perspective really shown a light on it.”

Peter’s father had a basement woodshop filled with Delta and Powermatic tools: a lathe, table saw, jointer, drill press, circular saw. His father built furnishings to outfit the house. “I don’t remember anyone talking about it, and I certainly didn’t think about it,” Peter says. “You just sort of took it for granted that he made stuff. You make stuff.”

Peter was into art. He took art lessons as a child and, moving from crayons and pencils to pastels and paints, he essentially majored in art in high school — by grade 10 he was studying art history and knew art school was in his future.

And it was. He attended the Massachusetts College of Art and Design for a year. And then he dropped out. “It was a lot of scruffy 20-year-olds expressing themselves and doing wild and crazy stuff,” Peter says. “I wanted to learn under-glazing and classic painting, and I had no way to put that into words or to search out how I was going to get that so I just bagged it instead. … It was sort of funny. What I was looking for in painting I ultimately found in woodworking.”

But first there was, as Peter says, a whole lot of floundering. “Keep in mind that this was the mid-70s, so there was this whole dope culture, too. And I was reasonably involved in that. I wasn’t into hard drugs, but I kept pretty high all the time. So that clouded a lot of judgment.”

Upon his father’s death, Peter inherited a basement full of tools. And because he was an artist, he began making picture frames. “I started dabbling in framing my canvases while I was painting, and little by little I started to learn more about woodworking – not in any orderly fashion. So for many years I kind of divided my time between painting and making stuff out of wood.” This included a Shaker rocking chair, with almost no instruction.

“I failed miserably,” he says.

Then, a friend showed him a copy of Fine Woodworking magazine. Peter subscribed.

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Peter’s copy of Drew Langsner’s “Country Woodcraft.”

Peter was living with his mother and their house was close to a power line. To keep trees from tangling the line, the power company came out and cut them, but also left behind what they had cut. The energy crisis had hit, and folks were burning firewood regularly. So Peter taught himself how to split wood. He also wanted to make a chair. The September 1978 issue of Fine Woodworking arrived, and in it was an advertisement for the book “Make a Chair from a Tree” by John (now Jennie) Alexander and an excerpt from Drew Langsner’s book, “Country Woodcraft,” about splitting logs. “It was aimed right at me,” Peter says.

Peter finally convinced himself his years of waffling between painting and woodworking were over – he had to choose, for the sake of focus. “So I stopped painting,” he says. “Which is a good thing.”

In 1980, Peter signed up to take a class at Country Workshops. He didn’t have a driver’s license and he had never flown – in fact, he had never been out of New England. “I got on a plane, and then two buses,” he says. “I was too shy to call Drew and say, ‘How do I get from the bus stop to your place?’ and not having any experience in rural America, I saw that his address was Marshall, N.C. The bus went to Marshall so I thought, I’ll just walk! And it was a 25-mile walk. I made it in time for dinner, and then pitched my tent and fell right asleep. It was really out of character for me, but it was one of those moments where the stars lined up and look at what it did.”

Of course, it wasn’t immediate.

“I was the worst possible student,” Peter says. “Drew will tell you. I was terrible. I was awful. Years later I would learn that Alexander would have 10, 12 students, and would watch for who was going to be the ‘destructor,’ the one you have to watch, the one who was going to ruin everything. And it was me. I was still a pothead, and I was still just a novice.”

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A coopering class at Country Workshops, around 1989.

But skill, of course, is separate from passion. “Oh man, it changed my life,” Peter says. “I flipped out, I loved it, I was just over the moon. It was great. So then I went home and made more chairs. By 1982 I was done with dope, and shortly after that I went back down to Drew’s, and then I would go twice a year every year. In 1988 I was an intern and stayed there for five months. By then I was getting serious and a little more coherent and semi-skilled.”

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A woodenware class at Country Workshops, early 1990s.

Throughout these years Peter continued to live with his mother, so his needs were few. He sold some chairs and, after learning how to make split baskets at Langsner’s, he sold those as part of a craft cooperative. “It sort of validated what I was doing,” Peter says. He realized he could make things. And people would buy them.

‘Once in a While, You get Shown the Light, in the Strangest of Places, if You Look at it Right’
In the late 1980s, Peter and Alexander were spending a week, along with some other folks, on improvements to Langsner’s facility – it was called volunteer week, and it was a way to support the school. One evening Alexander showed a series of slides of a disassembled cupboard door, then at Winterthur, made about 1660 in Braintree, Mass. “It was split out of a log, like the chair parts were, but instead of then going to a shavehorse and a drawknife, you went to a bench with a plane,” Peter says. “And then instead of boring the mortise with a brace and bit, you chopped it with a chisel. So it was similar to what we were doing with chairmaking, but different.” Only Peter shared in Alexander’s enthusiasm.

So the two began a correspondence, roping in furniture historian Robert Trent. Their letters included questions, sketches, diagrams and theories. Throughout the correspondence Alexander told Peter to refer to out-of-print books and visit the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. So, Peter did. At the time Jonathan Leo Fairbanks was curator and Ned Cooke was assistant curator.

“Those guys would let me come in stone cold off the street and study the objects in the collection,” Peter says. “I had no academic affiliation, no credentials, no references, nothing. I just showed up with a question and some curiosity, and they gave me access to stuff. It was fabulous.”

Around that time Trent was lecturing up in Boston. Alexander called Peter and said, “You’ve got to go hear Trent.” Peter called the lecture host and was told that in order to hear Trent, he’d have to buy a ticket to the entire lecture series. Peter hung up, called Alexander and said he wasn’t going to be able to go. Later that day Peter got a phone call from Trent. “He just went on a rant about what idiots they were and he put me on the list so I could go to the lecture. And that’s how I met Bob.”

As Peter’s community grew, so did his knowledge of 17th-century woodworking. In the mid-1990s Peter sneaked into a lecture by Trent at Plimoth Plantation. After the lecture a mutual friend introduced Peter to Joel Pontz, who worked at the museum. “Joel had seen a newspaper article about me,” Peter says. “I had a Delta lathe [his father’s] that I had thrown the motor away and hooked up a spring pole to it so it made for a curious article. Joel had seen that and said, ‘Wow, would you like to work here?’ And I said, ‘Yeah!’ And he said, ‘We don’t have a job for you.’”

But Pontz and Peter became friends, getting together one night a month for “shop night.”

Eventually Pontz left Plimoth, creating a space for Peter. “There was a woman running that program, called the Craft Center,” Peter says. “It was me, potters, textile artists and a few other things. I was hanging around visiting there and they said, ‘Go talk to this woman, we’ve got a part-time job [available].’ And later on she told me she went to her boss and said, ‘Who is this guy? Should we check up on him? Get references?’ And they just said, ‘Oh, Joel said he’s OK. Just hire him.’ And that woman is now my wife. I love to tell that story.”

(Peter and his wife, Maureen, married in 2003 and now have twins – Rose and Daniel.)

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Peter demonstrating at his 16′ x 30′ shop at Plimoth Plantation.

Peter worked as a joiner at Plimoth Plantation for 20 years. “And for probably 14 of those years, I’m making up a number but it’s close, it was the greatest job a woodworker could have,” he says. “Absolutely fabulous. Because I had to go to work every day and go in and make stuff with wood I didn’t have to pay for, and all I had to do was talk to people about it. There was almost never a deadline. I didn’t have to worry – is it going to sell? – all I had to do was make it. And talk to people. And I got to do the research behind it.”

Research involved trips to England and around the country, visiting museums and attending symposiums and lectures. “I got to hobnob with all the people who could help me learn my craft and the history of it better and just talk, talk, talk, talk,” he says. “And what woodworker doesn’t want to show you want they’re doing?”

Because the audience would change every 10 to 30 minutes, Peter became a master at capturing their attention. “You instantly find out if this joke or this trick fails and that sort of thing, and I loved to do it.” He was not taught this. But through previous demonstrations at craft fairs and practice, he quickly learned that big crowds mean big movements, but little crowds mean small movements. With families, he says, you focus on the kids.

“It was great,” he says. “It was great fun and people came from all over the world, all kinds of people – you never knew who was going to walk through the door.” One day he was making a brace for a brace and a bit, and a British couple walked up and started talking knowledgeably about tools. Turns out it was Jane Rees and Mark Rees, authors of many important books about early tools and their makers.

There were questions that were asked, repeatedly. “It got old right away and then you had to learn what to do,” Peter says. “Some people learn how to deal with it and some people don’t. And the ones who don’t are bitter, nasty little people who shouldn’t be doing that job. So the question you get the most, no matter what you’re doing is, ‘How long does it take?’ I saw co-workers find all kinds of ways to fight that question and I thought, ‘Well, that’s stupid because that’s what they want to know.’ So you tell them that and then you can move on and tell them what you want to tell them.”

In order to do this, Peter actually timed his various operations so he always knew the answer to that question. “The repetition is annoying for me, but it isn’t repetition for the people asking,” Peter says. “It’s new to them.”

Peter says he misses that part of it, talking to people. He left Plimoth in 2014. In the end, there were some difficult years involving a change of directors and general bureaucracy. In 2008, friends of Peter’s, including his then boss and his wife, were let go.

Peter wanted to leave, but he needed to make money. Now he was the sole earner in his family and he had two children to support. So he stayed, all the while building up a following through his blog, Joiner’s Notes, planning for a future in which he could make it on the outside. “I stayed for many years,” Peter says. “It took a long time.” Christopher Schwarz stepped in, helping him find teaching gigs and, through Lost Art Press, publishing “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” with Jennie Alexander in 2012.

“Then it was just kind of floundering for a few years, and not having the nerve to pull the trigger,” Peter says. “One day I said to Maureen – our kids were then in school, they were in the second grade, going to public schools and we didn’t like that either – every day three of us go out the door to something you and I don’t believe in,” Peter says. “We should stop doing that. So we home-school our kids, and I quit my job.”

Immediately following a blog post about leaving Plimoth, Megan Fitzpatrick, editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, offered Peter a column. “It was really a godsend,” Peter says. “I greatly appreciated it.” And then Marc Adams called, asking him to teach. He teamed up with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks (check out his DVDs for sale here) and Roy Underhill. Peter says he booked too many teaching gigs that first year, worried about income.

After years of giving to the woodworking community – and the general public – the woodworking community gave back.

‘Hang it up and See what Tomorrow Brings’
Teaching, Peter says, is totally different from demonstrating. “I don’t get to do as much woodworking when I’m teaching. At the old job, all the attention was on me.” He laughs. “And I like teaching. It’s fun, it’s interesting, you get that group dynamic and some groups are duds and some groups are really great. A lot of students have become friends of mine.”

These days, Peter is still waiting for a “typical” year. He spent the last year building his shop. “I read on the Web one day, ‘He’s not doing much woodworking these days,’ and I thought, ‘I’m building this freaking shop by hand! That’s all woodworking!’ But what they meant was that I wasn’t doing much furniture, and I hadn’t.”

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Parts to a headboard of a bedstead Peter is currently building for a client.

Now that his shop is built, Peter’s hoping for some normalcy. “If I’m not traveling and I’m not teaching, it’s going to be out in the shop building things,” he says. “I have some custom work that I’m way behind on, and I’m starting to get going on that now. So I have some big carved chairs, and a bedstead and a chest of drawers to make. I’m trying to get in a rhythm that I used to use at the museum. In the morning, I’ll split logs and make boards. I’ll do real physical work for a few hours, and then kind of switch gears and maybe do joinery and carving later in the day. I’m just trying to pace myself so I’m not beating myself up. I usually work several projects at a time, and try to leapfrog them to the finish line altogether.”

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The river in Peter’s backyard.

Peter and his family live in a little town near Plymouth, Mass., on the way to Cape Cod, on a small piece of property, maybe three-quarters of an acre. In the backyard is a river with a marsh behind it.

At the same panel discussion mentioned above, someone asked Peter if he’s more interested in the process or the finished product. Peter said, “Oh no, I can’t stand the finished product because when I finish them I don’t want to see them again.” Tim Manney, a chairmaker and toolmaker in Maine, was in the audience and called his bluff. “You’re lying,” Manney said. “Your house is full of your stuff!”

 

Peter admits that there may be two or three pieces of furniture in his house that he didn’t make.

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A new kitchen cabinet panel, in process.

When Maureen, Peter’s wife, was pregnant she ended up on bed rest for 11 weeks. While she was upstairs, Peter spent 11 weeks at Plimoth, building and carving new fronts to their kitchen cabinets. “So she came down after 11 weeks and saw that,” he says. “She had never seen it. There are probably seven or eight kitchen cabinets that are all carved.”

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Peter’s shop.

 

Building his shop was a lifelong dream. It’s 12’ x 16’ with 15 windows. “It’s like being outdoors when I’m indoors,” Peter says. “It’s where I want to be.”

A friend helped. He’d come by Peter’s for one or two days a week, lay out some stuff, show Peter how to cut it, and then leave. “I’d cut for a few days and then I’d call him up and say, ‘OK, I’m ready for the next step….’ I don’t want to do it again.”

He lost some woodworking time this winter, due to not having a stove. But a former student gave him a little stove and this summer he plans to hook it up.

In addition to building and teaching, Peter enjoys making spoons. “Spoons are taking over the world you know,” he says. “And why is that? Why are they making all these spoons?” At England’s Spoonfest last year Peter served as the keynote speaker for the opening night. “I told them all, ‘We checked and that’s enough spoons. We don’t need to make anymore.’ And they started to boo and throw things at me.”

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A sampling of Peter’s spoons.

Peter began making spoons in the 1980s. In 1988, during his intern year, he took a course taught by Jogge Sundqvist and was hooked. While at Plimoth he carved spoons that “were really ugly,” 17th-century English spoons, “and there’s nothing interesting about them.” Throughout the years Peter would carve spoons on his own and post pictures on his blog. One day somebody asked if he would sell one. “The thought never occurred to me,” Peter says. “I couldn’t imagine someone would buy one of those. I used to make them, and use them at home and give them as gifts.”

So why is everyone making spoons? Peter says he carves them because the ones he likes best form a natural, crooked shape – the curve of the spoon mimics the curve of the tree. “They’re a nice design challenge, and a functional sculpture sort of thing, a real good exercise in knife work and just an all-around interesting item.” But he says he’s also carving them because he wants more handmade stuff in the world.

“I think our culture has moved so far away, other than Lost Art Press readers and readers of these various blogs and things, just in general, our culture is really pretty far removed from that.”

One of Peter’s big influences in woodworking is Daniel O’Hagan, a man he met through Langsner many years ago. “I remember Daniel once writing to me and using the phrase ‘plastic and confused culture.’” O’Hagan lived outside of culture, Peter says. In 1958 he went back to the land and moved to eastern Pennsylvania. He built a log house with no electricity or running water, and he and his wife lived that way until he died in 2000.

“I don’t necessarily want to live that way,” Peter says. “I like running water. I like having a computer that connects me to all around the world and stuff but I like to sort of blend some of these two mindsets. So it’s places like Drew’s and Daniel’s where I first was in a handmade building filled with handmade stuff. And it speaks to me, there’s something about it.”

Peter’s own home is now filled with woodenware and wooden furniture. Maureen is a potter and knitter (you can view, and buy, her fiber arts here), so they have many handmade items in their house. “That’s important to me,” Peter says. “Especially once we had the kids. People would say, ‘Do you want the kids to do what you do?’ and no. I don’t want them to do what I do. I want them to know that you can make things with your hands, that people make things, but I want them to be happy. I want them to do what makes them happy. I’m doing what makes me happy but that doesn’t mean that’s what would make them happy.”

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A red-breasted merganser, taking off on Peter’s property.

Peter doesn’t subscribe to American culture. He hasn’t owned a TV in years. He enjoys bird watching. He likes to be out in nature. He likes to be home but recognizes the joy in traveling. “There aren’t many other parts of my life,” he says. “I can sit here if I had the time, I could just sit here and just watch the river as the tide comes in and goes out, comes in and goes out, and just keeps changing. I’m fine with that. That could be my entertainment. I don’t really need entertainment, but that could be my amusement. It could hold my attention.”

Peter’s not entirely sure what his future will look like but for now it’s something along the lines of “broke but happy.” “I wake up every morning perfectly happy, but I do need to generate income better than I do,” he says. In order to spur this along, he’s planning on teaching students in his home shop. He can only fit one at a time (if teaching spoon carving classes, two). He already has a few folks on schedule. “And if that works, that will help me because I’m home,” he says. “There isn’t a lot of demand for my carved oak furniture. There’s some, but not enough to pay all the bills. So there has to be teaching. I have a new book under way with Chris and Megan [through Lost Art Press], so those bits and pieces will hopefully add up to something. I want to stay healthy, so I can keep going. That’s as far ahead as I’ve looked.”

A while ago Peter did a piece for Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. They had the bottom half of a two-part cabinet made in about 1680 and they hired Peter to make the conjectural top. Their conservation department guided him in coloring it. Color is intriguing to Peter. On a trip to Sweden he visited the Nordic Museum and spent six hours studying thousands of pieces in the museum’s storehouse. “It was just stunning, beautiful, beautiful stuff all highly decorated, almost always painted, very reminiscent of what we often term, inappropriately, Pennsylvania Dutch furniture.”

And while he doesn’t plan to veer too far from carved oak furniture – he’s invested, now, and he’s good at it – he still wishes for more hours in the day. “There’s a fellow from Hungary who wrote to me from his blog whose building chests out of riven beech with tools that we’ve never seen and making them all by hand the way they were made 500 years ago,” Peter says. “I’d love to go and see his work and see him do it and do it with him.”

‘Inspiration, Move me Brightly’
Now that it’s spring, and the birds’ songs come early, Peter finds himself in his shop quite early. He says he hopes to hit his stride. And although he’s currently figuring things out, he still considers himself extremely lucky. There’s community behind that sentiment.

“I try to remember to always thank my students in [my classes],” he says. “I try to make them understand that I appreciate them dedicating the time and the resources to come and take that class because if they don’t do it, they won’t hire me anymore if I can’t get students. So I always appreciate that. I had classes two years in a row where it was one weekend a month for five months. They laid out a lot of cash to do that, they set out a lot of time, and that’s the thing nobody has any to give up. Everybody is running low on time, so I always appreciate that kind of stuff.”

There’s community behind most of Peter’s sentiments, even if he failed to acknowledge that at the panel discussion a few weeks ago. And for those looking in, the flip side is more than apparent: Both the general public (visitors to Plimoth) and the woodworking community have benefited greatly from Peter, who is incredibly smart yet humble, honest and easy-going, a skilled teacher, demonstrator and entertainer, and a man who has surrounded himself with beautiful things, most of his own making. That society of people who is intoxicated with the joy of making things? We’re closer, because of him.

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

Posted in Make a Joint Stool from a Tree, Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Finishing Lies

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  1. Covers in one coat
  2. Protects from inside the wood
  3. Stain and polyurethane in one step
  4. No harsh fumes – strips multiple layers
  5. Danish Oil (ask the Danes about this finish)
  6. Spar varnish – exceptional protection from sunlight, rain & moisture
  7. You must finish both sides of a panel
  8. Perfect results every time
  9. No-fail finish
  10. No need to sand between coats.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Finishing, Uncategorized | 36 Comments

Master of Nothing

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One of the common criticisms I hear of North American woodworkers is that we try to do so many things – casework, carving, veneering, chairmaking, turning – that we never become good at any one of those things.

There’s truth to the criticism. When I work side-by-side with traditionally trained European woodworkers, they beat the pants off me (speed-wise). German, English and Swiss joiners can cut dovetails and assemble casework much faster than I can.

I do get a small measure of revenge when I pick up a turning tool without a second thought to make a leg or knob. Most of them have never touched a lathe, worked with green timber, dealt with compound-angle wet/dry chair joints or carved even a simple detail.

Maybe it’s the frontier blood in our veins or the fact that our society never embraced the European apprentice system for woodworking. There was just too much work to do, not enough people to do it and not enough time to train people in that manner. Heck, most North Americans I know are one or two generations removed from our subsistence farming ancestors.

At times I wish our history was different. I covet the pure European skill when I watch people from the French schools, for example, make astonishing chairs with ease. Or when I watch German carvers at work on restoring a cathedral. Or English joiners making ridiculous dovetails. I feel inferior, as if I’ve spent my entire adult life working at the craft and haven’t really gotten anywhere.

And this is the part of the writing arc where I am supposed to say: But we’re great! We get to do so many different things! And blah blah freedom #Murica.

That’s not how I resolve this conflict in my mind. I turn to the parable of the scorpion and the frog, made famous in the movie “The Crying Game.”

A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across the river. But the frog queries: “How do I know you won’t sting me?”

The scorpion replies: “Because if I do, we’ll both die.”

Satisfied, the frog allows the scorpion to hop on his back. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. And before they both drown, the frog asks: “Why?”

“It’s in my nature,” replies the scorpion.

Sometimes I ponder my 11-year-old self. Would I have signed onto a seven-year apprenticeship at a technical academy if it were offered? It’s an unanswerable, navel-gazing question, and so I pick up a saw and get back to cutting some tenons. And so should you.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites, Uncategorized | 25 Comments

Classic Orders – An Exercise

Classic-Order-1

Fig. 2.4.1. The classic orders dominated pre-20th-century furniture-design books. Above is shown a Corinthian capital.


This is an excerpt from “By Hand and Eye”  by Geo. R. Walker and Jim Tolpin. 

The lifeblood of craft has always depended on knowledge passing from one generation to the next, and I struggle finding words to convey the importance that classic orders played. This is an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of thousands of artisans gone before you, a chance to learn things that cannot be put into words, because this leads into a room in your imagination. The classic orders aren’t about memorizing some nifty proportional recipes. In fact, it’s the furthest thing from recipes. It’s about learning to see. The physical act of drawing challenges the mind to reshuffle and see things anew. Try not to approach this like you’re learning a task or skill; instead just immerse yourself in this rite of passage. Have some fun with it, and let the ancients knock down the cobwebs and pry open some windows in some long-forgotten play space in your imagination.

Classic-Order-2

Fig. 2.4.2. You’ll need a sharp pencil, an eraser, several dividers, a straightedge and a couple fine-point markers to make your pencil lines permanent at the final step.

Grab a clean pine board about 8″ wide and 3′ long for a canvas. If (when) you botch the first attempt, simply plane or sand to reveal a new surface for another go. Pencil in all your lines then, after the entire drawing is complete, go back over your pencil lines with a marker. Think of it like a maze or a puzzle that will change the way you think and make new connections in your imagination. I encourage you, as always, to do this with pencil and not a computer to make sure you get the most direct connection between the portal of your hand and inner eye.

A word about scale. Because you will be drawing a relatively small image, some of the details will be too awkward to draw with a compass. For elements such as moulding profiles or the finer points on the capital, draw a separate detail sketch in larger format with a compass. Once you have completed the larger sketch, go back and hand sketch those details in. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how well you can freehand sketch once you have the boundary of the form established and little practice on the larger detail drawings. This has real value in furniture design, also. For example, a volute is a delightful form to work into a design, yet because of scale, almost always requires drawing freehand. Generating a volute with a compass will inform your freehand attempts. Also because of scale, don’t attempt to use geometry to draw the entasis (slight convex bulging) on the upper two thirds of the column, just draw a straight taper.

In this drawing exercise you will render a Roman Doric order based on James Gibbs’ “Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture” (circa 1732). There are five orders – Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite – that exist in an almost endless number of versions and varieties to draw and explore.

Classic-Order-3

Fig. 2.4.3. The moulding at the top of this base is a proportional extension of the base below it. The half-circle indicates that it’sone-third of the base’s height. The quarter-arc shows the linkage between the height of the moulding and the projection of the base.

A few points about communicating proportions using arcs. One common way to show how a proportion relates to another element is to use a half-circle or quarter-circle to indicate a connection. Typically, a half-circle extends a mirror image proportion along the same line. Conversely, a quarter-circle mirrors a proportion from one element to an adjacent element but from horizontal to vertical (or vice versa).

Start by organizing the form (Doric order) into its major vertical parts: the beginning, middle and ending, better known as pedestal, column and entablature. Draw a vertical centerline and establish the top and bottom of your drawing with a pair of horizontal lines, leaving yourself a few inches of margin above and below. Use dividers to step off these major elements and indicate their boundaries with horizontal lines. Once you establish the height of the middle (column) you can determine the module. In the case of the Doric, divide the column height into eight equal parts. That’s the diameter of the shaft near the base and also, therefore, your module. Now – and this is important – draw a small module key in the space below your drawing. Many of the elements that follow will be simple divisions of the module, for example, the column-base height is a one-half module, so having this key handy will speed up the drawing process. To create a key, draw a horizontal line and mark off two modules end-to-end using vertical hash marks to highlight them. Then use your dividers and, through trial and error, step off one module into halves, quarters and eighths. Then step off the second module into thirds, sixths and 12ths.

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Fig. 2.4.4. On this Doric order the diameter of the column at the base is the module. That is, one eigth the overall height of the column. Once you find the module, step off a key with simple divisions of the module. You can then use the key to quickly reset your dividers as the drawing progresses.

Start with the largest divisions and work down to the smaller details. Once you have established the overall column height and diameter of the shaft at the base, there are a couple reference lines to pencil in. Note that the column height is divided into thirds and that the lower third’s shaft diameter remains constant while the upper two-thirds curve in gradually – an effect the Greeks called entasis. (As I mentioned earlier, however, at this scale you may want to just render the entasis as a slight taper rather than as a curve.) Also note the use of reference lines: One extends the outside diameter of the shaft above the column while a second extends the outside of the column base below into the pedestal. These lines allow you to step off the horizontal projection of elements in the pedestal and entablature.

Once you’ve established the overall vertical organization, draw in the details of the pedestal. Start by stepping off the vertical organization and then establish the horizontal projection for each part. Most are a function of the module or pulled from an adjacent proportion. Move up to the column and then the entablature.

For certain, you will take a wrong turn or two and have to backtrack and rethink it. It’s all part of learning to see proportionally. When your drawing is completed, you’ll not only have some studies to hang on the shop wall, but you’ll also have created an important mile marker on your journey to becoming an artisan designer.

Meghan Bates

Posted in By Hand & Eye, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Quick Update on Books & Prints

perdixWhen the messages to help@lostartpress.com start to get a little on the “Where’s my book you Nigerian scammer?” side, it’s time to do an update on the blog.

Roman Workbenches
The plan was to mail this book in early April. Like all complicated projects, we hit a couple snags (a premature baby, wrong grain direction on the end sheets, toads). The bindery is assembling the book now and it should be finished any day now. Then it will be trucked to Indianapolis, boxed and mailed. Let’s say early May.

Copperplate Prints
Briony Morrow-Cribbs, the copperplate artist, has all the raw materials and orders from customers. Kara has ordered the special packing materials and backing boards to protect the prints in transit. And Ohio Book is making the boxes for those of you who ordered an entire set. We hope the process – excepting a toad storm – will take a month.

Deluxe Roubo on Furniture
Designer Wesley Tanner and I reviewed the color proofs for the book yesterday and found only a few images that needed corrections by the printer. We’re still on track for a June release. But, as always, this is a complex project using companies all over the map. It’s more likely things will go wrong than right.

‘Carve the Acanthus’ by Mary May
Meghan Bates is designing the book and is working on chapter 10. I suspect the book is giving her fits (though she won’t say so) because there are an enormous number of photos and drawings. At this rate, the book should be out in August or September.

As always, thanks for your patience. We try to set realistic timelines, but manufacturing things is difficult. If you ever change your mind on a book that you’ve pre-ordered, simply send a message to help@lostartpress.com and we will immediately cancel your order and cheerfully refund your money. No questions asked.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Jonathan Fisher: Above the Fatigues of Earth

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When I sent the first draft of the Jonathan Fisher manuscript to Chris a couple weeks ago, it was an incredible relief. It felt surreal to click “send” on that email after four long years of digging into this man’s life and work. Like every dedicated author, I’ve poured my life into this research and have become so invested in it that everything I do seems to relate back to it. By this point in the project, my wife and children are tiring of the dinner conversations about offset totes, matching dado widths and examining fore plane camber.

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But I can’t shut up about it. Fisher is the ultimate case study of pre-industrial craftsmanship and examining his tools, furniture and journal entries in the context of his house has been nothing short of revolutionary to my shop time. It has opened my eyes to the way these artisans were able to make use of a surprisingly small tool kit to accomplish a large variety of forms. I’ve learned from Fisher how to work efficiently with hand tools and how to prioritize my time and energy at the bench. If you already know my writing, this theme will be familiar. In fact, it was the research for this book that was the seed for Mortise & Tenon Magazine.

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What I’ve tried to do in this book is present the story of how furniture making fit into Fisher’s early 19th-century frontier life. The thing is, we not only have the tools and furniture to study, but we have access to his most candid moments in his letters and journal entries. We get to see what made him tick – something almost never possible for a pre-industrial artisan. So, even though this book is all about Fisher’s tools and furniture, I’ve decided to weave the context of his life into each chapter. Seeing this context deepens and enriches our understanding of his work.

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Jonathan Fisher’s life was far from easy. He dealt with migraine headaches, stomach pains, diarrhea and serious injuries from manual labor on a regular basis. Even in the midst of debilitating physical pain, Fisher carried on with the work at hand. On March 17, 1826, his journal reads, “High N.W. scattering clouds, cold. From 9 A.M. ‘till about 5 P.M. exercised with earache, some of the time severely. Tried first camphor on wool, then hot tobacco smoke, then had several drops of West Indian Rum dropped in. This in the first trial gave a little relief; in the second removed the severity of the pain. At intervals through the day planed out stuff for a common ruler, a pair of parallel rulers and modern dividers, finished the latter. A part of the time walked the room in great pain. It is easy to bear pain when we do not feel it, but when it is acute, then to bear it with patience is something.”

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Unlike some other artisans in his day, Fisher viewed his time in his shop as a relief from the pressures of life. Fisher’s son, Josiah, recalled of his father, “All of his amusements (if they could be called such) and all his relaxations from study were of such a nature as to leave him free, in great measure, for those trains of thought which lifted him above the fatigues of earth. He could resort to the artist’s pencil and forget all of his perplexities… or indulge his mechanical taste at his bench or lathe. Thus, with his own hands, he made all the frames, sash, doors and wainscoting of his dwelling.” He found great satisfaction in working with his hands. On one occasion he wrote, “While my hands were occupied in needful labor, I was led to exclaim in heart, hands, what a blessing they are when employed aright.”

Jonathan Fisher was a fascinating artisan. I can’t wait to share this research with you. Because I’ve been focused on finishing the manuscript, I haven’t been able to blog much about it until now. If you’re curious, though, I have been leaking tidbits on Instagram here.

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The past couple weeks, I’ve been sorting through thousands of photographs and writing captions. Even though having the photos helped guide the manuscript, I discovered during the writing process that sometimes I still didn’t have the exact shot I needed. Narayan Nayar warned me about this. Fortunately, I still have my camera and my key to the house so capturing what I need is not a problem.

I have just about all the photographs selected and am now finishing up their captions. After that, I’ll polish off Chris’ minor re-write recommendations. Good progress has been made and I expect to hand it off to Chris for his final edit by the end of the month.

— Joshua Klein, Mortise & Tenon Magazine

Posted in Hands Employed Aright | 12 Comments

I am a Welshman

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“I am a Welshman, and I am influenced in the chairs I make, or some of them, by old Welsh chairs. Irish chairs are as different as is possible, so are Scottish chairs. Brittany is Celtic. The people of Brittany, Cornwall and Wales speak a language which has little relation to the Irish or Scots Gaelic. Celtic (with a hard C) is difficult to define, but it is a fashionable ‘buzz’ word, as was heritage a year or two back…. I would forbid the word Celtic to be applied to my work, it is Welsh. Welsh.”

— John Brown in a letter to Drew Langsner at Country Workshops, Jan. 3, 1995

Posted in John Brown Book, Uncategorized | 6 Comments