Fitting tribute

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Two articles in the December 2009 Popular Woodworking magazine are a must read. Ron Hock and John Economaki wrote of the passing of two woodworking legends, James Krenov and Sam Maloof. So much has been written already about this great loss to our craft, but Ron and John both shared insights that made me stop, reread, and rethink. I’m sure Sam and Jim would be pleased at the thought that they are continuing to give us pause and open up new horizons of creativity. Both articles shared personal insights that Ron and John shared as close friends with Maloof and Krenov, that alone is worth reading. But both also shared some nuggets on how we might approach this craft that made me sit up and listen. John recalled how Sam coached him on smoothing the contours of a chair seat using the sensitivity in his fingers to achieve a surface that actually went beyond smooth and accentuated the underlying form. I must admit I have an almost instinctive wariness of surfaces that are too smooth. Probably comes from overexposure to large amounts of Formica and linoleum growing up in the sixties. But John wasn’t talking about some machine made cloned surface. Rather a surface created by hands that are trying to unlock the flowing lines of the form, and achieving something greater than the sum of its parts. Makes me want to rethink this and explore it. Ron shared something of Krenov’s approach that at first blush might seem opposed to Sam’s smooth surfaces, intentionally leaving our fingerprints in our work. Carving a small pull on a cabinet so that it feels wonderful to the touch but at the same time provides a connection point between artisan and all in the future who touch it. As a boy I used to walk freshly plowed fields looking for arrowheads. It was always thrilling to find those shiny pieces of flint but there was something very earthy and mysterious holding it in my hands and knowing it was fashioned with skill and purpose. It’s easy to make light of leaving fingerprints on our work. Making furniture by hand has the potential to leave far too many fingerprints. But again Krenov makes me think about leaving a fingerprint with thought and intention. Something that invites and continues to hold a bit of earthiness and mystery. Ron also wrote briefly about the difference between art and craft. Craft requires functionality while art only requires aesthetics. He made the point that “Craft is at its most memorable when it blends aesthetics with the physical, utilitarian demands of the object being crafted”. A wonderful summation of what James Krenov and Sam Maloof brought to thousands of woodworkers. Thanks John and Ron for sharing your thoughts on both these great men.

George Walker

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About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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