Walking by Woods on a Summer Evening

In 2008, while walking around with my dog on the Mendocino coast, I came upon a school of fine woodworking, an annex of College of the Redwoods, a community college in Fort Bragg. The school originated as a private workshop founded by James Krenov, a Danish immigrant master craftsman, who died during the year I was in Fort Bragg. Every Friday evening, the students and teachers drank beer around a bonfire in which they burned the week’s collection of mistakes, mockups and trims and occasionally, I’d be walking by and drink a beer with them. Students come to this school from many places in the world to master the crafts of shaping and joining fine, wooden furniture. All of their work must meet the highest standards of perfect manufacture and fine finish. To the students and their teachers, I was just an interesting local guy out walking his dog, taking pictures of everything. Looking at my pictures, I saw that the “mistakes” they were burning were often beautifully figured wood from exotic and domestic species. One Friday, I came by earlier in the day to salvage some wood from their scrap bin to make a guitar stand. Everything I’d seen for the purpose seemed uninspired. Within a month, I’d made four exquisite pieces from castaways that I’d saved from the fire: two guitar stands, a footrest and a small piece of display art, not exactly a sculpture. When I showed it to them, my work had an effect on students and teachers…it has been lasting. They became more respectful of the material they are privileged to work and better about wasting it. They also began to see value in nature, things that they had previously taken for granted. They were also emboldened to explore the potential of whimsy in their own designs. Then, one day, Krenov and I were gone.

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