stevenbunn Fri, 02/27/2015 - 12:28

Why Write?

I am sitting at the computer this morning working on a series of posts. Outside it is sunny and cold. Today is the only day this week when it hasn't snowed. The good news is that friday is donut day at the Town Landing, the cafe down at the foot of the hill next to the river. Fortified with hash and donuts I came home ready to work. The shop is a balmy 38 degrees. If I am really lucky and get the wood-stove cranking, the shop might reach above 50 degrees by the end of the day. Then again, it might not. So, I have convinced myself that I am achieving worthwhile work by writting in the blog today. I was motivated to work on these posts about crafting a wooden vise for a mini-bench, because of questions and comments sent in by Brian, from West Virginia. He asked about the vise pictured in one of my posts. By the time I finished writing a letter in reply to his questions, I had written enough material to form the draft of a magazine article. Which is good. The problem is finding someone interested in doing so. Frankly, if I sent these pages to FWW, they would reject them because "they've just printed something nearly identical in subject." One of the major reasons I added a blog to my website was that I wanted to reach out and have a conversation with other woodworkers. And, as much as I love to be paid, reaching past the editorial Berlin Wall to anyone who reads this post is more important.

The question remains, "Why write?" Part of my answer has to do with the state of craft in America. I work part-time at a local college as a cabinet-maker. It is great job. I was motivated to take it because the college provided health-care insurance and other benefits (paid vacation anyone?) that just don't exist for the self employed. Everyone I work with has a Masters degree or Ph.d. Me, I have a grotty BS in Forestry, and only thirty-three years experience as a woodworker. But what do I know? I'm  a serf because I lack an advanced degree. For me the problem comes down to I want to make things, not talk about things. Yes, if I had gone to graduate school and pursued a Masters degree in Fine Arts, I might be making more money, and would certainly have more credibilty in the academic world. But having a MFA with a concentration in Early American silver-ware is not the same thing as being able to make a silver spoon. I love antiques and collect a number of things from militaria, tools, painted dial faces for Tall-case clocks, to hand-thrown American stoneware. Too many things in fact. I can talk about stoneware all day with the local antiques dealers, But, I've never thrown a pot in my life. And back in the old days, I would have had to work for someone at least five years before I would be considered as qualied to call myself a potter. What does being a "Master" in today's world mean? And of course the question of Creditionalism versus Professionalism (read Competence) is in the news today.

What does being a Master craftsman mean in a world that has thrown the old guild system on the ash heap? Take three courses with Michael Dunbar and you are according to him, a Master Chair-maker. The standards of  Early American Life magazine's juried List of Traditional American Crafts-men, state that anyone listed is, in their estimation, a master of their craft. So by their standards, I can call myself a "Master Craftsman." I have had a number of apprentices over the years, built so many chairs I've lost count, taught chair-making classes, but am still squeemish about about the word Master. There is to much I don't know. To many things I still need or want to learn. I joke that I now put things on the to-do list for my fourth or fifth life time. As if that were only possible. Getting to the point of having articles accepted and published is about as good as it has gotten. It is not a degree, but it is recognition of having achieved a certain level of skill. Working alone in the shop I hold great conversations in my head. But even the dog shakes his head and says, "Stop, I've heard that one a hundred times!", when I start one of my stories. So the blog gives me a new outlet. Bear with me, and join the conversation if you want.