Whitney Miller, author of “Henry Boyd’s Freedom Bed,” continued looking for a news reporter position while working at Walgreens from October to December 2014, and in December she was hired as Morning Show Associate Producer/Digital Content at Fox Television KRIV in Houston.
“I was a behind-the-scenes journalist so I would write stories,” she says. “And they would let me create videos on their Facebook page. I remember writing a reporter story for Facebook and they liked it so much they let another anchor read the story and aired it on television. I was like, ‘Well, if what I wrote and put together was good enough for somebody else to read, then I should be able to read it.’ I was only there for a year and then I got back on air in another market, which was the normal trajectory of how it should have been. But it was good because I got to see what a big market was like.”
In November 2015, Whitney was hired by KBTX, the CBS affiliate in Bryan/College Station, Texas.
“I loved it,” Whitney says. “I was finally back in the saddle, back where I was supposed to be. I was there less than a year and started anchoring. Then I became the weekend anchor for three years after that. In College Station I became a professional woman, because in that community, they really love their news people. Especially if you’re from Texas, they really embrace you. And I also learned how much I really liked to tell stories. I got to meet so many people who believed in the work I was doing.”
Throughout her life Whitney has been the type of person who, if she sees something she likes, she tries to make it before she buys it.
“I think that was grown out of lack, not having enough money to get all the things,” she says. “When I was younger it was friendship bracelets and tie-dyed shirts – just things that everybody made, I tried to make.”
The internet broadened Whitney’s horizons. Online she was introduced to new ways of doing things and while living in College Station, she found a lot of ideas on Pinterest.
“I wanted to decorate my apartment but I needed to do it on a budget,” she says. “So I would look up stuff and I’d be like, ‘Oh! I want to make this farmhouse table!’ I met a family owned business, Country Thang Design, who made farmhouse tables and they showed me how to make one. I remember feeling like, ‘I can do this.’”
Whitney made her own headboard, and some headboards for friends. She learned how to sew and DIY T-shirts. And then, in 2017, her best friend bought her a Cricut Maker machine.
“I have been really crafty since then,” she says. “Every time I get access to a new kind of tool or knowledge, it just unlocks more creativity.”
Whitney doesn’t call herself a seamstress though. And for the longest time, she has refused to call herself an artist.
“It’s how I feel about journalism, I know a little bit about a lot,” she says. “Is a jack of all trades somebody who knows a little bit about everything? I’m like a jack of all trades. I like everything. I have tried everything but I have not mastered everything. I think to call yourself a seamstress, to call yourself an artist, you have to know everything about it. I think there’s some doubt there, I’m sure.”
But it’s not a negative feeling, she says. Rather, she has longer preferred to call herself a maker versus someone who is creative.
“I feel like I’m changing that now, now that this book has been created. I would say I’m creative at this point. I had the ability to draw in the past. When I was a kid, I took classes but it was never like, ‘Oh, you’re such a talented artist.’ Back then once I learned a technique of some kind, like these roses, that’s all I would draw. It wasn’t like I was coming up with anything new.”
“Which is weird, yes, but now I am,” she says. “Now I agree. But in the process of making it, I was like, ‘Uh, but are we? But am I?’ Because the early drawings were trash. It was like, ‘What are those?’”
From The Queen City to The Big Easy
In November 2019, Whitney left College Station, Texas.
“Growth has to happen,” she says. “I got to the point where I mastered College Station. There wasn’t an opportunity to be promoted to the main anchor role. I just knew I either needed to get to a bigger market and continue reporting, or I needed to anchor somewhere. I started looking for jobs once my contract ended. Cincinnati was my next stop.”
At the time, Whitney, who was hired as a reporter at WCPO, says Cincinnati felt like a wonderful situation. What she did not foresee – nor did anyone foresee – was a pandemic.
“I just packed up my life and moved,” she says. “ I just knew I was about to live my ‘Sex and the City’ life,” she adds, laughing. “I envisioned myself walking down the street next to the stadium holding my cute little dog, Derwin, and some football player, doctor or lawyer was going to stop me and say, ‘Oh my God lets get married.’ None of that happened! None of that happened. And that was very disappointing. Instead, there was this whole pandemic and I sat in the house with Derwin instead!” she laughs.
Whitney was a reporter for three years until she announced her departure and new job as a weekend news anchor at WWL-TV Channel 4 in New Orleans.
“I didn’t pick New Orleans, I think New Orleans chose me,” she says.
For more than 10 years Whitney has been a reporter and at this point in her career, she’s ready to grow as an anchor. She entertained several markets but once New Orleans became an option, nothing else made sense, she says.
“Part of that is the acceptance I feel in New Orleans. The people, the vibe, the culture is just so open. Especially coming from a place where I feel like it’s very closed, people in Cincinnati are tight and I feel like it takes years to be fully accepted there. I’ve made a lot of friends and met a lot of wonderful people in Ohio but that hospitality piece is just unmatched in the South. Nobody can beat that, especially New Orleans. It’s such a place of gathering and festiveness.”
Whitney will be living in the city, about a mile or two away from the French Quarter. Although she grew up in the suburbs and loves a good Target-Michaels-Jo-Anne’s situation, she enjoys the diversity and eclectic atmosphere city-life brings.
“I’m so excited,” she says about the move. “I can’t wait. It’s literally, it’s a dream. It’s a dream.”
The Magic Mountain
Christopher Schwarz has long been interested in Henry Boyd. Suzanne Ellison, Lost Art Press’s intrepid researcher, began researching Boyd years ago, and discovered a rich and impressive story about an enslaved Black man who bought his freedom, invented a revolutionary bedstead, built a woodworking business that shipped beds all over the country and helped enslaved people escape to freedom.
Meanwhile, Christopher wife, Lucy May, worked with Whitney Miller as a digital reporter at WCPO. (Lucy is now host of Cincinnati Edition on 91.7, WVXU.) Lucy introduced Whitney to Christopher, and Whitney took a class at Lost Art Press. It soon became clear that Whitney, with her backstory, passion for making and writing chops, was the perfect fit for writing a children’s book about Boyd’s life. Christopher asked and Whitney immediately agreed.
“For the longest time nothing would happen,” Whitney says. “It would just be one sentence on the page, no matter where I sat. If I went to a bookstore, if I went to a library, I couldn’t get out more than one sentence. I would read and read the research and I would try to come up with something and I would just think, ‘How are kids going to relate to this? How can I speak to kids so they will listen?’ And then I went to that mountain, the magic mountain. And the words just came out.”
Whitney has a friend who owns a retreat area in Whitwell, Tennessee, near Chattanooga called Bolt Farm Treehouse. Last summer they decided to meet and catch up. They originally planned to meet somewhere in the middle but after not being able to find a place, Whitney decided to drive and meet her friend in Tennessee. Along the way she saw fields and cabins – landscapes that looked like, in her mind, what the landscape might have looked like in Henry Boyd’s time. And that’s when the trip started to feel like it was meant to be.
“For me, the book writing process was very reaffirming because of how and where and which it all came out. Because it all came out at time in such a calm peaceful place just meant to me that it was meant to be. The reason I was on the mountain was not planned. The timing in which all the things occurred was not planned. Writing the book was not planned. None of it was planned. But when it happened it happened and it was so good.”
Something similar happened while illustrating the book. At first Whitney says she was frustrated and worried that she bit off more than she could chew. But then she put her journalist hat on and her maker hat on and researched – she figured out what she had to do. And then she found herself unexpectedly back at the magic mountain.
“It was another unplanned trip back,” she says. “And up there my creative juices started flowing so I was able to knock out a lot of pages and the timing was perfect.”
In August, Whitney began to feel the pressure of time. She had a big journalism convention coming up, weddings to attend, and her drawings weren’t done. The day she was flying out to her convention in Las Vegas, she had three more pages to draw. The flight was delayed. So, she began working on the pages. As she drew, the flight continued to be delayed. There was talk of cancellation. Whitney kept drawing. And just as she finished her last page, it was time to board the flight.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things
Whitney recently read “Henry Boyd’s Freedom Bed” to kids at the Saturday Hoops program, held weekly at Lincoln Recreation Center in Cincinnati. Teenagers and parents were listening to it, equally engaged. As were little kids. And then a little girl said Henry looked like her dad. It’s happened several times now.
“I mean, I can’t even,” Whitney says. “That alone was enough for me, because you just don’t realize – when I think back to my own childhood, the books that stood out to me are the books that had people who look like me in them.”
Whitney recalls Addy Walker, a fictional character from the American Girl series, and books about Black inventors that her mom would give to her and her sister.
“I don’t think I ever understood why, but when that little girl said, ‘Oh look, it’s Daddy!’ I thought, ‘Oh, this is why this is so necessary.’”
Whitney doesn’t like to do five or 10-year predictions because life has already taught her that you can’t predict what is going to happen.
“I couldn’t tell you this book was going to happen,” she says, “I’m always just amazed at the plan God has for my life because I think he just laughs at mine. I just know that I will be successful. I see success in my future, period. There’s no way I can fail. Because even when I fail, it’s not failure. I don’t see stopping. Stopping doesn’t happen over here.”
Whitney has always been positive by nature, something she attributes to both her mom and dad. She says those who constantly try to bring positive people back down to earth live from a place of fear.
“Being a realist and not having any hope can be detrimental,” she says. “If you don’t see freedom. You are a slave to your own mind. And I’m not that. And I will never be that. I know there’s no limit. It’s like infinity and beyond for me.”
That said, she differentiates being a realist from keeping it real. When speaking with younger generations, she sees that for some, it’s more difficult for them to cope with truths. So Whitney says she doesn’t sugarcoat. But she also doesn’t speak in absolutes.
“We live in such a time that anything can happen,” she says. “You can go viral tomorrow for some silly TikTok you did, and then somebody discovers, Oh, wait, there’s some substance to you because they were on your page just looking at the silly little thing you did. We live in such a world where opportunities come at the blink of an eye.”
Whitney also credits the divine.
“There’s no way that I sat next to Lucy, we talked about wood, she introduced me to her husband who is a woodworker, who writes freaking books, you know what I’m saying?” she says. “I take a class and then all of a sudden he says I should write a book. Oh, you think you can draw a book? There is no realism in that – there is no reality in that. That is some hocus pocus shit. That is, literally, Jesus. There is no other way. I was not thinking about trying to write a book. I didn’t plan this. And I don’t take it for granted that there are people who have stories they want to tell and who are really trying to figure out how to do it.”
Fear, doubt and limiting thoughts, Whitney says, are so often what gets folks stuck.
“I just want people to not be afraid to try new things,” she says. “I think that’s what Henry Boyd did, out of necessity, and I think that’s what I did with my life, too. I figured out a job because I needed the money. I knew I wanted to be a journalist by any means necessary and I figured it out. You can’t be afraid to figure it out. That’s my lesson: Don’t be afraid to figure it out.”
Whitney Miller, news anchor, and author/illustrator of “Henry Boyd’s Freedom Bed,” grew up in Houston, Texas, with her mom, dad and younger sister. Her dad was a “computer doctor” who owned his own business, Millertech, and serviced computers for large companies. Her mom worked in insurance and financial services.
“I just remember her smelling really good, coming home from work and going to work,” Whitney says.
Whitney laughs, remembering for years telling everyone about how tight-knit her family was, like the family from “Leave It to Beaver.” And for years, they were. Her grandma, a nurse, lived with them for quite some time and took them to a nondenominational church, Christian Tabernacle, every Wednesday and Sunday.
“I feel like that church was very formative of who I am, who I turned out to be,” Whitney says. “I felt like it was a very non-judgmental-type of church. It was very relaxed. I was always there and always involved.”
Whitney was involved in choir, church plays, was a youth volunteer at church and attended a Christian school during her elementary years.
As a child, Whitney was encouraged by her mom in craft and play; she made sure to keep her girls busy. Every summer her mom would sign Whitney and her sister up for arts and crafts classes, and Whitney almost always chose an acting or drawing class.
“One summer my mom was like, ‘Y’all are not going to be bored this summer,’” Whitney says. “So we go to Hobby Lobby and she bought us this book that had 365 crafts to try, a huge book, and she was like, ‘Figure out what crafts you want to try, I’m going to buy all the materials and I don’t want to ever hear the word bored this whole summer long.’ So for two days we tried as many crafts as we could and then we stopped,” Whitney laughs. “But we always had this book that we could come back to and she was always giving us stuff that we could touch and try and do; I think that’s why I’ve always been curious to try different things.”
Whitney switched from Christian school to public in middle school, and remained active in after-school activities. She enrolled in Leadership Officer Training Corps (LOTC, similar to ROTC). Whitney’s mom had been in the Army and the elective had a description for orienteering. Whitney loved the idea of a treasure hunt – using a map and compass to figure things out on her own. Turns out, the course didn’t actually do orienteering at all but the elective did teach her a lot about leadership. So she stuck with it, continuing with ROTC through high school.
The switch from Christian to public school was, in many ways, relatively easy, Whitney says, in part because her parents instilled the importance of self-esteem in both their daughters. In high school, Whitney’s parents divorced, something she didn’t necessarily see coming as a child. Although the divorce didn’t faze her much as a teenager, it was something she says she eventually faced later on, in college.
On a Hustle, Straight Through Grad School
When Whitney was 16 years old, she got her first job, outside of babysitting, at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
“My mom used to call me the ‘snacker lady’ because they used to have these sandwiches called snackers,” Whitney says. “I got hired because this woman was like, ‘I like your smile – I want to hire you. And then she changed the billboard sign outside of KFC to ‘Hiring Smiles.’ It’s a little strange now to think about it,” she adds, laughing.
“I was a clown once. I was a clown,” Whitney says. “But for no reason at all I just felt like I needed the money. I don’t know what I was buying, but I needed money. Someone said, ‘You just have to dress up like this clown and go to kids’ parties.’ So, I dressed up like a clown and I went to one party. I don’t know how much money I got, maybe $50 or something like that, and I never did that shit again,” Whitney laughs.
“I never did that shit again. These little children – they loved it! But never again! I don’t even know how I got there. Why did my mom let me do that? I was on a hustle. My friends used to say, ‘Oh, you’re a true Jamaican.’ Because I used to have all kinds of jobs.”
It’s a stereotype she says she didn’t mind leaning into because she loved the feeling of being responsible for herself. “I had a lot of jobs. Especially in college – I had multiple jobs when I was going to school. I just liked to work.”
Whitney didn’t grow up wanting to be an author or news anchor. In high school she loved the TV show “CSI”; after learning about DNA in her biology class, she was sure she would be a forensic scientist.
“And then I would tell my friends I also wanted to be the female P. Diddy because I wanted to be a singer but I knew that singers don’t get as much money as the person who owns the record label so I decided I would own a record label and make my own music,” she says. “Obviously, I didn’t do any of that.”
What she did do was get a free ride to The Ohio State University (OSU) thanks to good grades and scholarships. When she got there she was asked what she wanted to major in – she had no clue.
“I hadn’t figured that part out,” she says. “A lot of people I was there with were doing communications and I thought, I like to talk.”
As a communications major she found that only a small number of students could join the journalism program. This inspired her and she got in.
“I was like, OK. I’m going to be a journalist,” she says. “And the minute I figured that out I was on it.”
Whitney interned at all four major news stations in Columbus while an OSU undergrad.
“You were literally not allowed to do that,” she says. “But I would go to my counselors and I would say, ‘You got to figure out a way I can do this one and that one – I want to do all of them. And I did that.”
Whitney shot her résumé tape on campus. It included a video of her and her friends chasing winter storms.
“And when President Obama became president I stood outside and said, ‘This is a historic day.’ The video of me doing that is hilarious because I look a mess,” she says. “I didn’t know what I was talking about. But I was so hungry to be a journalist. I just remember really, really wanting to do it by any means necessary. I later found out that tape was trash because nobody hired me from it.”
After Whitney graduated from OSU she moved to Cleveland, thinking her tape and Ohio connections would help her get a job in journalism. But they did not. So in 2010, she enrolled in a Master of Arts program in broadcast journalism at DePaul University in Chicago.
“And that’s when I got a way better tape – and a way better understanding of broadcasting,” she says. “At Ohio State I was learning print journalism. I had all the journalistic ethics but I did not have the foundation for television in terms of delivery and on-camera presence. I was just winging it.”
Whitney loved DePaul’s hands-on broadcast journalism program. There she took classes on how to put a story together and she took an entire class dedicated to creating a tape she could use to look for future jobs.
Angels Filling in the Gap
Whitney graduated with an M.A. in broadcast journalism from DePaul in 2012. At the time, broadcast journalists simply had to go wherever they could to get a job. So she sent her tape everywhere.
“My professor told me, ‘You just need to show up in these cities and put yourself in front of the news director so they know who they’re talking to and who they’re dealing with,’” Whitney says. “For example, I would call a station in Peoria, Illinois, and I would say, ‘Oh, I’m going to be in town visiting family.’ I had no money either. It was Jesus and friends who would send me $50 to get back to Chicago. I would literally just drive everywhere. I’d go in to these stations and they’d look at my tape and say, ‘Thank you for stopping by’ and I would just leave and nothing would come from it. At all. But I wouldn’t give up. I just kept doing it.”
Toledo was the last city Whitney tried this in and although that news director didn’t offer her a job, he did critique her tape.
“He was like, ‘You should move this here, that here, get rid of this,’ and when I got back to Chicago, I fixed my tape and I literally started sending it out again. I got an email immediately because of those changes from a news director in Anchorage Alaska.
After a Skype interview Whitney was offered a job.
“I called my mom and I was like, ‘I’m moving to Alaska,’” Whitney says. “And she was like, ‘Um, what?’ You could tell that she did not really want me to go but I think she knew there was no stopping me. She was happy for me. She was happy that I was finally getting my dream job because I was living on my uncle’s couch at that point, having quit my job at a bank to search for a reporter gig. I didn’t have anything. I sold my car, packed up all my stuff and flew to Anchorage.”
Whitney says she was more excited than nervous.
“When you’ve been searching for a job for a long time, you don’t care,” she says. “You just go and get started.”
Whitney recently watched her old tapes from her time in Anchorage.
“I was terrible then too,” she says, laughing. “Oh, girl, you could just see how green I was and how I think I’m doing what all news people do. I can see that in my face. I was searching for my voice, my identity as a journalist. But now I’m just me. Before I was definitely trying to be someone else.”
Whitney worked in Alaska for two years. While she says she had a good time and made some great connections, she did find it isolating at times, only visiting home once while she lived there.
“And they didn’t have a Chipotle,” she adds, laughing. “They didn’t have a Chipotle! What? I got out of there. When my contract was over I was done.”
And then Whitney moved back to Houston.
“I thought I would get a job immediately because I was so good now!” she says. “I thought I was so good at being a journalist and I did not understand that the Houston market was too large and they would never hire someone on-air with only two years of experience.”
At this point, Whitney was living with her mom in a small apartment in Houston.
“She was getting on my nerves and I was getting on her nerves,” Whitney says. “And I remember I went to Chick-Fil-A, and this is like a month in, and I give them my credit card and they’re like, ‘Um, you don’t have enough money to get this sandwich.’ But they gave it to me anyway because, you know, Chick-Fil-A is like Jesus, they gave me the sandwich and I sat in the car and I just cried and cried and cried. I just wanted a journalism job. It was there I remembered that same person who used to drive to Toledo, who used to drive to all those places. I told myself ‘I just gotta do what I gotta do.’ So I went and got a job at a call center.”
The call center was terrible, Whitney says. She was in training for two weeks. She remembers seeing roaches in the bathroom.
“I would cry on the way to the training class because I was like, This is not my career! I would ask God ‘why do I have to come here?’” she says.
Around this time she walked into a Walgreens. A friend who used to work there encouraged Whitney to talk to the manager. So she did. She told the manager that she no longer wanted to work at the call center and she needed a job. He agreed to an interview and she showed him her news tapes from Alaska.
“And he was like, ‘No. You need to be on the news. You can’t work here.’ I said, ‘No, I literally can’t buy a chicken sandwich,’ Whitney says. ‘I need to work. Please let me work here.’ He doubled down and said, ‘No. You really can’t work here. You need to be on TV and I don’t want you to give that up.’ And I was like, ‘I will literally never give up trying to be on TV. I just need money to live.’”
The manager finally relented. Whitney applied to be an associate but he gave her an assistant manager position.
“I worked there and he would check in with me often, he’d say ‘What’s going on with you? As soon as you get a job with one of these TV stations, you can just go. You can quit,’” Whitney says.
“It has been that way my whole life. I just like to call them angels. These people who have dropped in to stand in whatever gap that occurs in my life. I know I am completely blessed and I don’t take it for granted. I just know.”
Jögge Sundqvist (woodworker, teacher, performer, musician and author of several books) and Nina Lindelöf married 12 years ago, after having been together for 30 years. How did they meet?
“Ho, ho! It was rock ‘n’ roll,” Jögge says. “It was lovely.”
There were a lot of parties during those days. “And I saw this wonderful woman and I was so shy, I didn’t even dare to look at her,” Jögge says. “And she started to raise some interest. It was just right, totally right. And it still is.”
In 1992 they moved to the countryside, to Kasamark, about 20 minutes outside Umeå. At the time Nina had been working as a successful costume designer for Umeå’s local theaters.
“But we wanted out from the city,” Jögge says. “We had a daughter, Hillevi, who was 2-years-old, and we wanted her to grow up in the countryside, close to the forest, free.”
They spent two years before they found an 1824 nearly all-original Västerbottengård, a log house with two squared rooms on each side, an entrance in the middle and a little sleeping chamber beside the entrance. They planned to restore it.
Jögge turned the old barn into a workshop to begin the restoration.
“I didn’t know much about making bigger things, like houses,” he says. “But I was very happy exploring working with logs and the ways of restoring an old house carefully and with respect for tradition.”
They lived in another house on the property during the restoration process. They had a son, Herman, in 1994. After five years, they sold the house they were living in so they could afford to move to the Västerbotten house.
By now Jögge had quit his job at Umeå Central Station, having been headhunted by the craft society to work as a craft consultant, “which I really appreciated a lot,” he says. In addition to working on his own craft he served as a craft consultant throughout Västerbotten part-time, between 1988 and 1998.
Surolle, a Sour Old Man Who Set Jögge Free Jögge approached craft and parenting in the same way his father did, never insisting that his children become slöjders.
“Because then, it would never happen,” he says. “My father was just showing me how exciting it was. He was very enthusiastic – you can do this and you can do that. He was just very engaged when I had an idea. So that was my task when I had kids – to encourage them to have fun in creativity.”
Hillevi, his daughter, enjoyed drawing, and Jögge encouraged that. And he did the same with his son, Herman.
“We had a wonderful period in our relationship when he was waiting to go to school and he and I had about 45 minutes in my workshop when the rest of the family was already in town,” Jögge says. “And he had a lot of ideas about what to do. And we made wooden ships and figures, whatever he fancied. Because he loved to fantasize and tell stories.”
One of the family’s favorite stories involves Herman when he was about 5 years old.
“I had a customer visiting my workshop and they were pretty upper mid class,” Jögge says. “And I knew that they were probably going to order something pretty expensive so I told my family, ‘I’m going to have a visit and you have to behave, kids.’”
The customers, a couple, came, looked at pictures and were interested in a chair, which Jögge was really happy about. They went back to the house where they found Herman standing in the entrance. The man asked him a question he heard often: “Are you going to be a slöjder, like your father?”
“And then my son, who is very talkable, looked them straight in the eye and said, ‘No. My father cuts in wood but I’m going to cut in flesh when I get old.’ And the guy looked at me like, ‘What kind of crazy kid is this?’ And I looked at my son as I had never heard of anything like this before!’ And then my son finished his sentence. ‘I’m going to be a surgeon when I grow up.’ And he is, he’s becoming a doctor.”
(The couple did, indeed, buy the chair.)
In many ways Jögge’s parenting style is similar to how he approaches his work. By encouraging a union of self-exploration of tradition and wild creativity, he makes room for good, beautiful and functional objects that are also filled with meaningful whimsy.
“My father was a trained furniture maker and that is much more precise and exact,” Jögge says. “But I was much more drawn to the older craft, to the axe, to the knife, to rougher surfaces. So when I decided to run my own business I knew I had to choose what path to take and I didn’t know where I was going.”
“I like colors. I like rough surfaces. I like carved surfaces. I like tradition. I like the way untrained peasants in the past had a special relationship to the material, how they picked the crooked and bent material in the woods and put it in the design so it was a special design, which I will say was the slöjd design of how things looked based on their traditional knowledge on how to use the knife and the axe and the materials and the joints that had worked for years and years and years. I wanted to go on that path. But I wasn’t sure if that was right,” he says.
When Jögge began pursing owning his own craft business full-time, he created thousands of designs and was sketching all the time. One afternoon he made a stool with a heart-like shaped seat, and three naturally bent legs, almost like they were dancing. He carved quotes and sayings on the top of it, such as “U better dance,” by Prince, and “Rock on!” He painted it bright red and the whole thing had a very traditional rock ‘n’ roll feel to it.
Jögge had the stool on the floor of his workshop when Hillevi came home from school that day. He was eyeing it critically, as usual, still unsure of his path. Hillevi had never seen anything like it.
“Who made this one?” she asked.
“At the time, I was really deep into thinking about my grandfather and the craft and my father and what the expression of traditional craft is,” Jögge says. “So I said to her – it just came out of me – ‘Oh, an old guy up in the mountains made this.’ And she asked me, ‘What’s his name?’ ‘Yeah, his name is Olle Olsson,’ which is a very common name in Sweden. ‘He’s a sour, grumpy old guy, Olle Olsson.’ And then she asked, ‘This Olle Olsson, what sort of animals does he have?’ Because we had a goat by then, and we had a rabbit and a cat but she wanted horses and everything else and we said no. ‘Olle Olsson, yeah, he has all of them. He has goats and sheep and horses and everything.’ And she loved naming things, so she asked me, ‘What kinds of names do they have?’ She was 9 years old by then so I finally had to tell her, ‘I’m just playing with you, I’m having fun.’ She just looked at me and said, ‘OK.’ And she ran to the house.”
Jögge continued working and about 40 minutes later Hillevi returned with drawings, “wonderful drawings,” Jögge says. Under them was a nickname, “Sur Olle,” “the Sour Olle.” She drew Olle’s girlfriend, who she named Agnes Södergran, and all of Olle’s animals, naming them too.
“And then I said to myself, I probably need a guy like that,” Jögge says. “I need someone to talk with. ‘Is this good or is this bad?’ An alter ego. So I started playing around with this guy. ‘What do you think about this stool?’ ‘No, it could be a little thinner there. The legs are splaying out too much, you have to tighten them.’ So in one way he was kind of telling me the truth but I was actually telling myself the truth. And what I realized afterwards was I was lifting off the pressure of being a very good, fine furniture maker. I was accepting that I had another path that I wanted to go, more rough, more material based, more traditional based. It became totally clear. That was the reason I needed this guy to help me. Today I think of it all as a way to approach a manner, an artistic vision that was unique and personal.”
“I used to describe the traditional wall as a very thick wall because in my world, I had so many influences there. And because it’s so thick, it can be hard to jump through. But surolle helped me saw a little hole in that big wall by telling me, ‘You just have to have fun. You have to follow your path. You have to do your own thing here. You can’t be afraid of not doing the right thing. You have to do what you think is right.’”
In 1998, Jögge started his own professional craft business.
“I needed a name for my businesses and it was totally clear it had to be surolle,” he says.
A Never-ending Exploration Today, Jögge’s business stands on many legs. He teaches classes. He gives lectures about craft and slöjd – what it is, the meaning of it. And then he has a show called “Rhythm and Slöjd.”
“It’s a storytelling performance about 45 minutes long where I make a shrink box live on stage from the very beginning, the trunk of a tree, until it works. During the time I’m making it I’m telling a lot of stories from the craft field. The first five minutes it’s kind of heavy rock music on stage. I then do everything in rhythm. I saw it off in rhythm. I shave it on the shaving horse in rhythm. I drill the hole in rhythm. I carve in rhythm. It is all done very precisely and exactly in rhythm. So that is special.”
Beginning in 2004, Jögge has performed this show more than 30 times, at schools and for adults, at Plymouth CRAFT and Spoonfest, in Sweden, the United States, Japan and Great Britain.
“But my favorite thing to do is make objects,” he says. “That’s the main reason I’m working.” He recently expanded his shop. And lately, he’s been enjoying working on public commissions for the Swedish Arts Council: theaters, Umeå Airport, Umeå University Library, a nature trail, the Church of Sweden, Västerbotten County Council, the Nordic Museum, schools and more.
“They pay pretty well and they’re a little bigger and so I kind of like that,” he says. “I would say right now I’m finally where I want to be.” His private commission waiting list is currently four to five deep. Clients simply ask for a cupboard, say, and he suggests designs, creates drawings and says how much it will cost. And clients almost always agree.
Jögge is carving the design on some chip-carving knives the whole time he talks. He’s partnered with Swedish knife maker Kay Embretsen, who makes his own Damascus steel. A local store is selling a kit that contains one of Jögge’s books, a chip-carving knife designed and made by Jögge in partnership with Kay, and basswood blanks.
The beginning of the pandemic was “a total disaster,” Jögge says, as all his classes and lectures were canceled. But, he had just signed a contract for a new book a few months prior.
“The book was my pandemic babe,” he says. “My wife was working from home and I was working from here, just writing the book and making all the objects. I finally had all that time to make an object and realize, ‘This is not good enough – you have to make a new one – this pattern could be even better – you have to rewrite this one more time.’ You know that thing, as a writer, you have to really give it some time? I was able to give it some time, and even some more time in between that.”
The book contains 16 projects and Jögge made six or seven objects for each project just so he could pick the best ones as featured examples.
“I’m so happy because if I had so much other work at the same time, I doubt the book would have been so good because I wouldn’t have been able to go so deeply into each of the tasks, so to say. You know how it is it – the older you get, you have to have the right feeling for the design, especially the objects you’ve never made before. It has to take some time before you can really decide, ‘Was this good enough?’ So I was happy for the isolation that it actually was. Socially, it was a disaster.”
Jögge’s hope for the future is simple: To still be able to do woodwork as a way to earn a living, “as long as my body tells me it can,” he says. “I had some problems with my hips and I’ve been having problems with my shoulders and elbows. So I have to exercise. I have to go to the gym and do my work there. That’s the only worry I have in the future is not being able to work.”
Nina is a physical therapist who teaches as a lecturer at a local university, so her expertise in this matter helps. Together they enjoy spending time with their grandchild, Lova, who is 3 years old.
“The thing that strikes me about having a grandchild – and having children – is that humans are always exploring,” Jögge says. “They want to know about the world. It’s so natural for them. She’s always thinking and raising questions, ‘Why is this?’ ‘Why is that?’ And that’s the fun part in craft – you always have to explore. And then you have to learn to control your body and the tool. And you have to know the material. And you have to find out how people did it in the early days, how they solved problems, and that’s a never-ending story. You can always find new and interesting ways of making things and exploring the world. And that’s what I’m doing. And, of course, it’s a discovery of yourself too, also in an artistic way. You’re exploring what skills you have and what you want to express but also what skills you don’t have and what you need to learn and in a way, what kind of beauty you want to show.”
The Language of Hands “If you find something you like, and it’s fun, and you’re good at it, then you should keep going on that track,” Jögge says. “That is what I see in good, old traditional craft.”
Jögge uses objects made by slöjders from the 1700s as an example. “They wanted to make objects that were nice to use and functional. And they had to be strong and decent. But they also had to have beautiful designs about them. So every time you work with them, everything from a spoon to whatever, you would say, ‘Oh, how nice! This is good work, this is something.’ And maybe you give thought to the one who made it. A way of passing love to the next generation is to make things that they can use for their children and think about the knowledge in the past that was used in the making, and that they had fun in the making and that they also wanted it to have quality. Because for them, it was about quality in the objects and quality in life. Those two things have to go together.”
This is why Jögge eschews production work.
“If you just make stools and you make thousands of them, after a while, it’s not love,” he says. “It’s just making money. So this is my path: To always put feeling in an object. Because when I feel, I’m satisfied. I don’t know if I’m satisfied all the time with the money I get from it,” he adds, laughing. “That’s the business part. That’s the surviving part. But for me, the main reason is that I want to hand it over and say, ‘Yeah. I’m really happy about this. It has strength. It has function. It has beauty. All the joints are perfectly done and the material choices are well done and it’s something that you can use for more than 100 years and it will be in your family as a treasured object and I’m happy. That’s my goal.”
When thinking about his life Jögge thinks a lot about driving forces: Why has it been so important for him to express himself by working wood traditionally? He recognizes that he’s drawn to its organic existence.
“People were living in a self-sufficient society where they really had to learn all the skills with the knife and the axe and the material they had. And they were trained to do that from 4 years old. So when they were in their 20s, they were professionals I would say, almost, everyone. And some of them wanted to express themselves really well. And they were really good. And you can tell by going to the archives in museums and looking at the stuff. Once in a while you will see something that a person did and it is really, really good.”
And Jögge isn’t just talking about wood here. He’s also heavily influenced by textiles, and the patterns in textiles, especially. When he sees work that someone has poured their heart into, he feels something.
“I can tell I have a friend there, a colleague there,” he says. “We are companions, we understand each other. I don’t know their names but we are still friends. It’s kind of a relief to think about that. A connection of sorts, to generations back. The language of hands.”
Jögge Sundqvist works with hand tools in the self-sufficient Scandinavian slöjd tradition, making stools, chairs, cupboards, knives, spoons and sculptures painted with oil color. “Not uncrafty” is his motto. He’s also a teacher, performer, musician and author of several books. An English translation of his book “Slöjd in Wood” is available from Lost Art Press, and an English translation of his latest book, “Karvsnitt,” is forthcoming. Jögge’s father, Wille Sundqvist (1925-2018), was a prominent figure in the green woodworking movement.
“There was never a word about how I was going to be the one to take care of the tradition,” Jögge says. “Never. My father, I think he just wanted to share the joy, how to form things in a beautiful way, how easy it is to use an axe and use a knife. He was a good teacher and he was very eager to teach. But sometimes, when I was younger, once in a while I’d say, ‘Stop! I want to try myself! Don’t tell me everything!’ He was a trained furniture maker from Carl Malmsten’s Verkstadsskola, so he had his ways. But despite that, he was encouraging.”
Jögge grew up in Luleå, Sweden, where at that time his father was teaching kids in slöjd.
“In Sweden, slöjd is still something that every student has to learn,” Jögge says. “They have to learn how to use materials such as wood and textiles, and the techniques that go with it. Today I wouldn’t call it slöjd because I have another definition of it. But still, it’s a practical way to teach children how to use their hands.”
Otto Salomon (1849-1907), was an advocate of educational slöjd. “He wrote about how important it was for children to learn practical things, to read a drawing with measurements and stuff like that, especially farmer kids and working kids,” Jögge says. “They needed to have that knowledge to be able to be workers in the industrial revolution.”
Jögge has fond memories of his childhood in Luleå, following his father to the school’s workshops, helping him make things and making his own things.
“We had fun,” he says. “And he was eager to do his own things besides teaching and he helped us do our things too. And I loved that. For one thing, it gave me the confidence that everything could be made by hand.”
Around this time Malmsten, who founded two schools, arranged a workshop with teachers in Luleå where they were tasked to create children’s toys made out of wood.
“It was meant to be a fun workshop where they invented a lot of ideas around woodwork and children’s toys,” Jögge says. “Years ago I saw some slides when I’m 4 years old and I’m sitting on a crocodile on wheels and it has four pieces that are tied together with yarn so it can roll and sway on the ground a little. I’m sitting on it and it’s very roughly axed and carved with gouges and painted with oil colors and kind of sparkling – vivid colors – and I just loved that. And when I saw this picture, something inside me said, ‘Yeah. This must have been an early triggering point there.’ Because I am very attached to folk art and colors. I love powerful designs and rough carved surfaces. That’s why I am into slöjd much more than furniture work. I think it was somewhere there casting an eye over my shoulder – the inspiration started there for me.”
From the Back of a Dragon to a First Knife Jögge’s childhood was filled with art and slöjd. He remembers his father taking him to a film about Picasso at the age of 10. And he recognizes that the environments he lived in were special.
“My mother was very, very skilled in weaving, felting and nålbindning, which is an old knitting technique,” Jögge says.
His mother was also brilliant with color. Jögge remembers dining room tables filled with color samples and his mother eyeing them all day long, observing them in different light for days on end just to pick the perfect shade of red. It’s something Jögge has found himself doing, mixing and fixing paint for hours, trying to settle on the ideal shade.
“She and my father adapted the Carl Malmsten way of having a home, with handmade things, crafted things,” Jögge says. “The things were fancy and well done, but it wasn’t that we were rich or wealthy. But they were very well designed and carefully made. We lived in a workers’ block, very close to the iron and steel mill in Luleå, not very fancy at all. We had three rooms and a kitchen.”
Jögge and one of his two brothers shared a double-stacked bed in a room that also served as their father’s workshop.
“In their mind, a home should be something very comfortable, functional and cozy and crafted,” he says. “So my father made the shelves and the beds but it was my mother who was the one who had the overall look for making it a home. My father was very oriented in objects but my mother saw how everything should fit together, from the carpets to the windows.”
Wille Sundqvist, Jögge’s father, grew up in a small village outside Bjurholm, with eight siblings. Wille’s father was a farmer who made a special kind of chair from that part of the country and brooms with a natural bent curve and horsetails on the back. On the weekends Wille and his family went to town and sold chairs and brooms for extra income.
“And that is exactly the definition of handicraft in Swedish,” Jögge says. “Because we have the word ‘slöjd’ and then we have the word ‘hemslöjd,’ which is ‘home craft.’ And ‘Hemslöjden’ is the craft movement in Sweden.”
Hemslöjd, Jögge says, is basically a side business for farmers. “When the industrial revolution started you needed money,” he says. “If you were farming you were self-sufficient and you didn’t have any money so you had to make some things in the tradition that you knew. So they made spoons, brooms and baskets and chairs and all kinds of objects in different parts of Sweden and sold it in the cities and they’d buy a steel bucket, for example, because you couldn’t make one yourself but it was obviously much better than a wooden bucket.”
When Jögge was 10 the family moved to Vilhelmina, and his father began working as a craft consultant.
“He was one of three craft consultants in Sweden working for hard materials, wood and metal,” Jögge says. “Before that they had craft consultants for textile work but never before for harder material. So he was kind of a pioneer there, working for the whole county, trying to help mainly farmers who also had a hemslöjd as a side income.”
The craft movement flourished in Sweden in the 1970s and ’80s. As a craft consultant, paid by the government, Wille helped thousands of small farmers get loans from the state, create business plans, design workshops and create sophisticated drawings of everything, from candle holders to cups to butter knives.
Ten-year-old Jögge loved the move to Vilhelmina. “We came from an apartment to a house,” he says. It was 1969 and the town they moved to had about 4,000 people, so everybody knew everybody. As a teenager, Jögge started playing instruments, including the guitar, and he started a band. His life revolved around rock ‘n’ roll and friends.
Jögge’s father was patient. And when Jögge was 15 years old, he asked his father, “Can you show me how to make a knife?”
His father was quietly thrilled.
Wille taught Jögge the importance of finding a good blade, testing several blades out on reindeer antler. The knife was made in parts from reindeer antler and masur, a type of birch, so there’s a special pattern to it. His father showed him how to inlay the silver and sew the sheath.
“It’s great,” Jögge says, holding it while talking. “I use it very, very much. It’s still a favorite.”
The Old Ways of Doing Things
Jögge moved to Umeå in 1978 where he had his own apartment and started to work for the railroad, at Umeå Central Station.
“I started at the tracks,” Jögge says. “When you’re taking apart a train, someone has to stand in between the cars. When the train was disjointed, the cars were pushed off to another train set. When they came in at a speed of up to 20 mph, you had put on the hook when it bumped into the trainset, to put the train together. It’s a very dangerous job. You have to be quick, and you can die if you come between the bumpers.”
Jögge also had a small workshop in a big wardrobe, 3 meters x 2 meters (about 10′ x 6′). Instead of using it for clothes, he built a workbench where he made knives and did some commission work too. In 1982, a friend convinced him to take two years and attend Vindeln, a folk school that specialized in slöjd.
“That totally changed my whole perspective, because we were a group of students who were all dedicated to work in the traditional way,” Jögge says. “We were finding the old ways of doing things by riving wood, splitting wood, following the fiber, using tradition as a woodworking tool. At the time, a lot of people trained in woodworking more like a fine arts craft. But we were dedicated to the old traditional craft, from the 1700s to the 1800s. We had a lot of discussions defining things: Who are we? Why are we doing these things? We had all-night discussions, even arguments. That was the sense of time, and formative to who I am. Beth Moen was in the class above me, and Ramon Persson was another heavy influence. And we were trained in design too – painting, freehand drawing, technical drawing and so on.
“As I look upon it now, I found a way of exploring the tradition from a personal point of view, not my father’s point of view. Because I knew how to make a spoon. I knew how to make a knife. That was pretty common for me. But all of a sudden I had people in my age who were dedicated to what they did and I was able to form my own world which wasn’t my father’s world so I finally had my own choices to make.
“I remember I had been there for a week and I called my dad and I said, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you, I’m at this school.’ And he said, ‘Wow!’ And he was free-minded by that time. He said, ‘When you’re 18, go out in the world and do whatever you want to do. I care about you but you should feel free to do whatever you want to do. You have to form your own life.’”
By this time Jögge’s parents had divorced, and his mother had moved to Vindeln as well. Jögge lived in her house during the week, and they invited classmates for weekends at his mother’s house, where they had “many wonderful parties and laughs.” His mother was very social and loved young people, Jögge says.
While attending Vindeln Jögge continued to work for the railroad on the weekends, and once done with school he went back to the railroad full-time. Later he worked as a train dispatcher with an office at the station and a platform outside where he’d waved to the train drivers, indicating if it was OK to go or not. In 1985, he asked to work half-time. By then he had his workshop, was playing in a popular rock ‘n’ roll band and owned a record company, Jakaranda Records, recording local bands and putting out records for them.
Traditional Craft & Rock ‘n’Roll
Jögge’s first band was Rockvattnä, named after a village outside of Vilhelmina, which roughly translates to “rocking water.” When Jögge moved to Umeå, he formed another band called Favoritorkestern and later Kapten Nemo.
“We were more of a serious Swedish pop band, heavily influenced by the Beatles, the Who, bands like that, but lyrics in Swedish. Very ’80s like. We were playing all the time. Stockholm too.”
The band had two leads. Jögge played guitar and sang, and they had a bass player who also sang. Both Jögge and the bass player wrote all the songs. They made a maxi single with four songs and a long-playing record. They were on the radio. For two to three years, around 1986 and 1987, they were the biggest band in Umeå.
“It was real fun,” Jögge says. “We had a good time there. In 1992 I finally released a solo record, Människa.”
He continued his traditional craft work, and the combination of rock ‘n’ roll and traditional craft fulfilled him.
“Doing traditional craft on one hand was lovely because the rock ‘n’ roll world is a very on-the-surface world,” he says. “It’s fun! But when I got fed up with the superficial rock ‘n’ roll world I could do craft and make things that lasted forever. But also, playing a gig that exists for a moment in time is exciting, the power and energy which comes out of it. So I had this kind of dialectic relationship with the fluidity of craft and rock ‘n’ roll. And I liked that combination, the interaction between modern life and tradition. I think I am that type of person who wants contrast and a little conflict in order to have balance in my life.”
Although Jögge no longer plays, he’s still, as he says, “totally addicted to good music.” He has more than 5,000 songs on his Spotify playlist, and he always plays music while working.
The rhythm of the music must match the rhythm of his work. When that equivalency occurs, he feels more power while throwing an axe, he says, and experiences more feeling while doing it.
“But when I carved patterns on knives, I tried to play rock ‘n’ roll but it didn’t work,” he says. “So I tried to look for more repetitive music which gave me some kind of fluency while working. And I found Steve Reich. He’s arty, modern, non-vocal, very repetitive. I found music with small patterns, like Philip Glass. And actually, it was Laurie Anderson who brought me there, talking about these people, Talking Heads was very repetitive but still a kind of ambiance. And I did much better working with that kind of music for patterns and chip carving. So a very profound insight was when I realized it must be a connection between music and body and working.”
In 1994, Jögge set up a big multimedia rock concert called Rockhuvud. He acted as producer, project manager, composer and musician. The performance featured a rock ‘n’ roll band, Komeda, and two craftspeople, Beth Moen and Tryggve Persson, live on stage. They toured throughout Sweden, 40 concerts in all.
“All the musicians and the craftspeople worked in rhythm, instructed by a choreographer, through this whole concert,” Jögge says. “So it has been a real thread in my work – the body, the rhythm, and the work. It’s hard to explain, but the performance was a way of expressing the power of slöjd, both the physical character of the work and the beauty of the shapes and colors.”
Here he quotes the beat poet Jack Kerouac: “Because I am Beat, I believe in Beatitude and that God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son to it.”
“I think it has to do with something about flow,” he says. “One of my favorite moments in the workshop is working pretty hard and sweating all over – when form comes naturally and you don’t even think about it. It just comes there, from the tool, from the material, from your skill. It’s a rhythm, a kind of instinct that is created in that moment. And after that you just look at it and say, ‘What have I done?’ I talked with Del Stubbs about this, about the dancing of the hands. Sometimes you can just look at your hands, and they just work themselves. You don’t even think about it. They just work.
“This is still something that’s true to me. I believe real craft comes from a deeper interaction with your mind and body, obviously with a long knowledge of tradition, materials and technical skill with the tools. When all parts connect and work together, real slöjd comes from my hands.”
Jögge says he realizes now the importance of having one leg in traditional craft and one leg in rock ‘n’ roll, and that both legs contribute to his body functioning in a way that allows the magic of Surolle. (And that’s a story still to come, in part two.)
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.”