Natural Rhythms

 

On my walk this morning, I met a neighbor shoveling out the entrance to her driveway .  As we visited, we were both appreciating the three feet of snow and the cold weather that’s going along with it.  She mentioned how “the pace of things” makes it hard for people to cope with the extra work of snow clearing, driveway sanding, and firewood hauling.

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Ever since that conversation, I’ve been appreciating the pace of our days this February.  We live on a road of a steepness and with ditches such that if it’s snowing, we stay home.  We rise and care for our animals, then make breakfast, then go to work–here at the kitchen table or up the hill at the shop.  After lunch we get out for a walk, a ski or a bout of sledding on the driveway.  Sometimes we’ll hitch up the horse and go out to break a trail or deliver some manure to a garden pile.  Between storms, we plow, shovel, bring another stack of wood into the shed, clean out the woodstove, air out the house, see friends, play outside as much as we can, stock up on gas for the generator, dig out the mailbox, go to the food co-op.  Then it snows again.  This is the natural rhythm of life in February.

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Visiting Jason at his shop on a snowy day, I am struck by another way in which our life is paced to a natural rhythm.  The rhythmic “whisp” of the handplane along an eight foot board, shaping a molding from a square edge, is a steady, whispered tempo.  The saw in the miter-box, which has taken the place of the chop saw, has a more mundane but steady up-and-down groan.  As Jason carries a board from one bench to the other, planing, sawing, then marking out a tenon, clamping it and sawing again, then taking up the chisel and mallet, I realize that he is cultivating a pace that is compatible with a beating heart.  His hands are quick and familiar with the tools, his grip is sure and efficient, but not rushed.  The furniture he is crafting is born to the rhythm of the saw, chisel, and plane, and will carry with it into his clients’ homes an echo of that rhythm.  Furniture that was made by the muscles and bones and heartbeat of a skilled person, and not so much by the precision of a loud motored machine or the incessant press of an electronic device, conveys that human tempo not only in its looks but in its being, in the presence it carries into the world. I wonder, if Jason made a table in February and then made one just like it in June, whether you could read the difference in the look or feel of the finished piece.  This is the true unique value of custom-made studio furniture, a beauty not just affecting the eye but the life of the user.   It is my hope that in this small and slow, one-at-a-time way, we can spread the blessings of the human pace of life on our hill, as a balancing measure to the rush and press of machine-or device-driven work that can dominate our lives.

Erica

Round Table

 

BWA party8I have long wondered what I could do to make this world a better place. I have always felt that my creations enrich the lives of those who come into contact with them, through beauty of design and materials. I have only recently realized that I my furniture can bring people together – which encourages a healthy community.

I have been a part of many vibrant communities. In all of them food brought us together. Even in college, we worked independently on our theses, but when we sat down to eat, we talked together about what we were learning. Farmers, of course, grow food, but weary farmers sit around a table and eat and talk and create friendships and beyond, bonds that are hard to explain with mere words.

I have started building round tables with chairs as shown above as a way to encourage this kind of community.  The photo was taken at a Brattleboro-West Arts holiday gathering.  (Thank you, Marta.)  After dinner, folks sat around talking.  Even at this small cherry table there are two different conversations happening.  Too bad I only brought two of my chairs.  Those plastic folding ones are horrible for one’s posture.

This is a gathering at Brattleboro’s new  gallery, Mitchel Giddings Fine Art.  Paintings in the background are by Steve Lloyd, sitting second from left.

 

Holiday Sale & Hand-Craft Fair

Come choose from a variety of hand-crafted, locally made gifts of woodenware, hand-wrought iron, and carvings. Items for sale include garden tools, candle sticks, bowls, plates, spoons and more.

See live demonstrations of woodworking, blacksmithing, and European chip carving. Learn about hand-hewing timbers and traditional timber framing techniques, and visit with people who use their hands to create beauty.

Exhibitors include:Jason E Breen, Woodworker; Chad Mathrani, Timber framer, Vermont Natural Homes; Erik Newquist, Blacksmith; Mike Weitzner, European chip carver and stone mason.

All ages welcome.

Rain/sleet/snow date Sunday December 7

Something I Can Hold On To

Blacksmith Erik Nequist  asked me this summer to turn handles for his hand-crafted garden tools.  After consulting on the design and a few prototypes, he asked for thirty for his first run of tools.  Some are shown below.    I like how the wood and metal compliment each other, both visually and texturally.  That texture is something not found in mass produced pieces.

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For this small production run I was happy to be involved.  There is just enough variety in the finished shapes to keep it interesting for me.  After turning ten or so, I was able to turn one in about five or six minutes.   I then had to fit it into its socket with a pencil sharpener sort of tool I made special for the purpose.  Lastly, I oiled the hickory with boiled linseed oil.

This photo is from a small show he did this past weekend in Brattleboro.  On December 6 he will have a display at my studio and demonstrate his blacksmithing.  I am hosting a small Hand-Craft Fair that day from 10 -4.  I will have turned bowls and plates and other small pieces.  My neighbors Chad Mathrani, house-wright and Mike Weitzner, chip carver, will also be on hand demonstrating their crafts.

More information  to come.

Statehouse Show

 

Last week I brought my son Jonas and a Jete table up to Montpelier.  The Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers was invited to the statehouse to put together a show of our work for the late summer and foliage season.  Here are a couple views.IMG_7891IMG_7892

 

 

This is in the “Card Room” on the way to the cafeteria.

 

 

 

Besides setting up the room, which several Guild members helped with along with the curators, we all had time to see the statehouse.  I had never been inside before, only out on the lawn, usually in the rain, with a sign, or enjoying music.  Jonas and I both felt welcomed and at home in “the people’s house,” as they call it.  I’m not sure what impressed him most.  Paintings of the Civil War, the painted glass skylights in the same room, and the fantastic architectural carving all caught his attention.  Probably most anticipated was the gold dome.  It did not disappoint.

state house stepsThat’s Jonas on the steps.

 

 

St Mary Magdalene

 

At long last the new chapel at St Micheal’s Episcopal is complete.  The icon was blessed and hung today.  I have blogged about some of the furniture I built for the space, but the jewel of the whole project is the icon.

icoin open

This was painted by Zachary Roesemann, an icon painter here in West Brattleboro and a member of St Mike’s. I built the frame or case.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with Zach on this project.  It posed many challenges for me, especially hand carving the swan neck moldings.  Mitering the top corners was also quite tricky, as evidenced by my ruining two of the swan necks and needing to re-carve.

As with the rest of the chapel, this is a gift from Helen Daly, whose vision and insight led us to the creation of a space for contemplation and meditation.  A space that is welcoming without the weight of the more frequently seen Gothic architecture and styling.  Of course, this case would fit into that style, but for St. Mary Magdalene, the subject, and panels on the outside of the side panels.  Here it is closed.

icon closedThis is the same curly white birch used for the altar and other furniture.   Totally outrageous figure to the grain and really helps soften what would otherwise be a dark and dreary piece.  I should point out a couple of details.

The finial cross is carved to match the cross upon the Cathedral of Peterborough.  No significance there, just a handsome cross.  Each point terminates with a stylized fleur-de-lis .

icon crossAlso, the latch or hasp was created by Brattleboro blacksmith Eric Newquist.

icon haspGreat fun to work with these other artists and church members to create this piece.  The blessing dedication was a beautiful yet simple affair with incense and prayer as one might imagine.  This all in the week of the Feast of St Mary, which happened last Tuesday.

 

The Long Winter

lumber up the drivewayIt has been a long winter!  Here’s a photo of our horse hauling 100 bdft of walnut lumber up our steep driveway.   A two-wheel drive pick-up couldn’t make it up the hill, even with all that weight in the back.  Luckily we have this option from the 19th century.  This was in January, when there was not much snow – just enough to make the driving tricky.   The cold has eaten most of my firewood.  Today it was in the teens!  If I don’t keep the fire going all weekend, Mondays are quite cold at the bench.   We have started Maple sugaring, but only just barely.  Usually we are finishing by now.

So all this lumber is for a repeat customer who would like more bookshelves!  Don’t we all need more shelves.  Other work this winter is also for repeat customers.  I am just finishing a storage for recording equipment for Trinity Wall St in Manhattan.  After the bookshelves I will build dividing screens in the frame and panel style that I matched last year for St Paul’s Chapel also in Manhattan.  Here’s a picture of the sound booth I did for them.

painted sound boothI’ll write a post on this later with better photos, especially showing the roll top desk inside.

I enjoy the varied work.  It takes longer, as the design always needs to be worked out and perhaps new techniques learned, but it keeps my brain engaged.  A vital strategy for surviving the long winters.

New Work for New Chapel

IMG_6302Here is a shot of the new chapel at the St Michael’s Episcopal Church, here in Brattleboro.  These three pieces – altar, side table or credence, and lecturn – I built this spring.  This is curly white birch, some of which is from a log I bought from a sawyer several years ago.  There is also a Roubo bookstand of the same stock on the shelf of the credence in the background.

Also of note, the two bowls on the altar are by West Brattleboro potter and friend Walter Slowinski.  He made  a communion set which I built a fitted box for of the same wood.  The arched door and one matching it were built by another friend, and old college buddy, Bill Congleton.

Here’s another piece with a more plebeian task, storing meditation pillows.

IMG_6303IMG_6305This one was a lot of fun.  The left and center doors are hinged together as bi-fold doors.  I don’t work in oak often, especially for case pieces, but this has me wanting to do more.  The design is rather spare, but the doors offered a good opportunity for the symbolic three crosses framing the door panels.

There will be an opening ceremony/celebration for all the new work at the Church, including the Mary Magdalen Chapel this weekend.  The Bishop will bless the altar!  Thanks must go to Zachary and Clark who know my work and hired me to do the custom furniture.  They were tapped by Helen Daly whose generous donation funded the addition and its furnishings.  Sadly, she passed away just as I was invited into the process.  May her gift bring the same peace she brought to the world in her life.  Sincere appreciation goes to her and her family.

 

 

New Carvings

mapleI’ve been wanting to do more carving in my work, so when an order came for a small box with a maple tree carved on the top, I built a couple extra.  Here’s a maple tree carved into a maple box.  The carving only took about twenty minutes working freehand.  I spend a lot of time looking at maple trees in the winter, so I could do this without much trouble.  I’ll need to look carefully at some cherry trees next winter.  This box and another with some nice figure in the top and an apple tree carving are available at the Ann Coleman Gallery in Wilmington, Vermont.

I had so much fun, I want to build boxes of different woods with carvings of the tree species on the top.  Cherry, birch, elm, walnut, butternut, oak, pine – I’ve got a lot of work to do.  I better get going!

 

What goes into a piece of furniture?

hauling mapleThis is the second step in building my furniture – hauling the logs to my mill.  The first step is cutting the tree.  This is a nice maple that died in our sugar bush.  Cutting it made room for some others to grow in and perhaps remove any contagions from the forest.  While I try to leave plenty of standing deadwood for the flying squirrels, this is too big and  nice to let rot.  Building something useful with it also keeps a lifetime of carbon sequestered in  the wood, rather than slowly releasing it back into the atmosphere.

But now what?  I need to decide how to cut it into boards.  What thickness?  Squared edge or live-edge?  If there is figure in the grain, I must decide what angle to cut it to maximize the figure.  Quarter-sawing yields narrower boards, but it will be more stable through the seasons.

I do not seek out FSC or other certified lumber, although I support the idea of careful forestry and resource management.  The fact is, I don’t need to buy much lumber.  I generally use what I harvest from my own land (usually dead trees) or neighboring properties.  I need to go a little farther for some species.  Maple, hickory, beech, hornbeam and apple grow well on our land.  Neighbors have cherry, oak and birch.   Occasionally I find an unusual log, like the mulberry I have waiting to be milled into lumber for a small table and perhaps chair.  This log and the sumac I used for the “Green Cabinet” came from my neighbor Doug.

Sometimes a customer has a log or tree that needed to come down (before, during or after a storm.)  I will mill to my own specifications to get what I need to make the piece(s) they desire.

milling pine 1Here is what I see as I set up the cut on the mill.  One face of this pine log has been cut and a board or two taken off.  Then I rotated it and am preparing to cut the next face.   The saw blade is barely visible about 2″ down from the top of the log.  In this case I’m making a timber for a building frame.  If I want pine lumber, I usually saw through-and-through – I don’t rotate the log, just cut boards.  This gives me boards that are wider on one end than the other.  This would be annoying if I was laying a floor or sheathing a roof, but I’m not.  I use three or four foot long pieces most of the time, so that board that tapers from 18″ down to 14″  could give me the side for a 16″ high chest, with the remaining 14″ board for moldings or feet, perhaps a bottom board.  If I cut everything square, I’d have a 14″ wide board – no blanket chest! So I can get maximum efficiency if I know what I’m doing with that piece of wood.  The design starts at the mill.

Next I’ll stack all the lumber with stickers – small, square pine pieces – separating the layers.  They will dry for at least a year, depending on the thickness.  Then I’ll bring them into the shop in the month before I need them.  The time in the shop helps to dry them further in hopes they will reach equilibrium with the moisture content in the room.  If I don’t do this they warp as I work with them, or should I say, “as I work against them.”

I do not kiln dry my lumber.  It does not need it.  Air dried lumber may be  more prone to twist and cruck while drying, but once it is done it can be worked without fear of it changing its shape.  I also find that air dried lumber has better color and working properties.  It slices before the sharp edge of the chisel.  Kiln dried lumber, especially cherry, tends to crack and splinter or turn to dust.  What is easier to cut, butter at room temperature or a very old, dry baguette?

All this goes into furniture making.  Mostly it happens by someone other than the maker.  I try to do it all, and enjoy the work.  I like getting out of the shop to work on my land.  My family works with me.  Jonas already helps where he can.  Margaret is learning to lead the horse and soon they can both start driving.
Here’s some of the unthought of steps in building with wood.  I’ll write more in time.