|I'm heading off to Amana for Handworks in a few days and preparing like mad. A trip to Handworks reminds me once again that point of all of this iron-mongering is to enable people to make stuff. These days our basic furniture needs are met very economically by factories so if you are making furniture the reason is usually a personal challenge, a desire to work with one's hands, and a desire to push the envelope of what can be made with wood. Two recent exhibits bring the idea of pushing the envelope clearly in focus. This blog is about a carver pushing the envelope. |
A few months ago I was planning to take a Wednesday off to see the Roentgens exhibit at the met before it closed. As it happened I got an email from a Randy Beranek, who reads my blog, about a week long exhibit of work by carver David Esterly which was at the W. M. Brady Gallery on 80th Street down the block from the Met. I had seen pictures David's work many times in Woodcarving Magazine so naturally I jumped at the chance.
My friend Jeff Peachey and I were scheduled to have lunch that day at Mile End and he had just finished reading David's new book so he wanted to come too.
The exhibit was carefully and leisurely laid out in several rooms so that you can enjoy the pieces without distraction.
The pictures I have seen of David's work just don't do his work justice. The carvings are generally bigger than what I expected and all the carvings have a sense of hyper realism. It's not a real bouquet of flowers, it is a perfect bouquet of flowers. In his sculpture of vegetables, the arrangement of everything is perfect. Even imperfections like a caterpillar eating a leaf is done elegantly.
By coincidence the artist himself happened to be in the gallery when we visited, so chatted about this and that. I asked David if he worked from actual flowers, fruits, and if he mocked up the pieces before he actually carved them. He doesn't. He draws them in illustrator and once he is happy with his design he goes from the drawings directly to carving wood. Not being constrained by the reality of a mock-up, David has the freedom to do with carving what artist can do with drawings. He is freed from the physical constraints of how actual reality looks like.
His approach to realism is also very much grounded in the physical limitations of the detail limewood (which is what he primarily carves) can take and the sense of what detail we can see. The gallery hung the pieces at normal "gallery height" but most of David's work was borrowed for this exhibition from various private collections and many of the works are designed to mounted higher on a wall and viewed from below. In general the detail of a lot of the pieces are meant to be absorbed from a few feet away, not examined under a magnifying glass. There are a few carved carving tools mounted in a few pieces which have handles that are stippled to emulate ash. It's a very convincing look, and from a few feet away the tool handles all look like ash. The carved drapery of one piece has that fuzziness to it that you get on fabric. But the leaves are mostly plain with very few if any veins or texture to them. I think this is because from a few feet away you would not really seem them, and what you register is the leafiness of them and the delicacy of plain flower petals. Fabric and tools have the detailing of texture so we register it as fabric.
This approach to carving in itself is very interesting. One of the absolute benchmarks of modern sculpture is that it isn't realistic at all. And of course at first glance at Esterly's works it is realistic and can be easily dismissed by a lot of modern art critics as "craft" rather than "art". And then of course there is the school of criticism that dismisses this type of work as "decorative art". And of course in the modern world of art schools by and large craft isn't taught which immediately puts this sort of work as "outsider art" even if most of the time that term is used to describe more primitive works. It's pretty obvious and I think we can all agree that the level of carving skill needed to create these works is pretty high and I think lots of people get blinded by the level of craft and miss the art. You see my reaction and I think the reaction of just everyone who sees David's pieces for the first time is "OMG how amazing is that". it's the same feeling you get when you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or some finely engraved suit of armor at the MET. It's easy to be blindsided by the craft and miss the art. And of course we are only seeing the pieces for a few minutes in a gallery. David's work is almost all created for residences where the homeowners live day in and day out with the pieces. I think after living with these pieces for a little while, after the amazement about the craft of the pieces wears off, that the art will sink in and work will be enjoyed even more.
I'll write about the Met exhibit I saw later that day, "Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens", another time.
|In less than two weeks we are off to Amana Iowa and the 2013 Handworks Show. Thanks to Jameel for organizing the event and making it happen. For the first time in a long time we are doing a show and bringing inventory for cash and carry sales. We will have all the Gramercy Tools stuff with us, plus a lot of new things to offer. I'll be at the show and I am looking forward to seeing lots of old friends and making lots of new ones. Click here for details, See you there!|
In other news, over a year ago in the Work Magazine Reprint Project number 5, there was a plan for making an iron, or infill smoothing plane. Basically you were supposed to make a pattern, cast the plane and go from there. The article pointed out that a group of people could easily get together, make one set of patterns and get them cast by a local Foundry.
The group of people was the WoodNet hand tool forum, and James Conrad took on the job of making the castings. The local foundry turned out to be in Connecticut, and after some trial and error my set of casting recently showed up. They are beautiful and worth the wait. James deserves a real pat on the back for not just producing nice clean castings, but also thin walled 19th century style castings that are exactly what the doctor ordered. The thin wall, which is hard to do, hard to keep flat, and hard to keep from warping makes for a lighter more elegant plane. In addition to the plane body James also produced a nice cast lever cap and a lever cap screw. There is some, but not a lot, of filing to do, but I think the hardest task will be drilling the pivots on the lever cap.
If you are interested in giving the project a whack, James has set up a company Sturnella Toolworks and is now taking orders for sets of casting at a very reasonable price (we have no connection with them except as a happy customer). Earlier in the year Ron Hock produced a set of single irons for the plane and I think he is planning to make a bunch more for the next group of kit builders.
I am really pleased as punch to see a positive result from the Work Magazine Reprint Project. It's been running for over a year and every week I learn something. The current issue starts off with an article by David Denning, but the article on bricklaying got my attention first. The sculpture article I know will interest a lot of people. The carving article on page 125 hits the spot for me. It's the next level up for carving for me and I will give it whack soon. I'm (slowly) building the screen secretary in issue 10, I've cracked a few tool puzzles that I have had during the year, and we are seeing more and more people find the magazine of use. Download a couple of copies, skim them, there is always at least one article of interest, no matter if your interests are in furniture, photography, machine work, printing, or cycling.
In a final bit of news Gramercy Tools are now stocked in the Nepenthes stores in Japan. If you recall during last winter we had a pop-up store in Manhattan at the flagship store for Nepenthes and they liked it so much they decided to offer our tools in Japan. We are totally honored by all the attention. The stores are located in Tokyo, Osaka, and Sapporo.
|Saturday was a beautiful day and we walked to the Ideas City Festival at and around Sara Delano Roosevelt Park. To be fair we mostly went in search of stuff to keep my son entertained, but there is always something for grownups. The key attraction for us is the crafts and building project for young people. And this year amid some cool stuff, drawing booths, an inflatable dome, truly awesome costumes, and a piece examining the limits of performance art, was one of the coolest construction projects I have seen since the mid 1960's.|
That's right. Burned in my brain from fifty years ago is a happening event in Central Park. At a time when people were fleeing to the suburbs the parks commissioner (Thomas Hoving) and mayor (John Lindsay) wanted to create events in Central Park to get people back connected to that giant public space. This was when closing the park to cars on weekends was just being tested.
So the park held a "happening" and all around Belvedere Castle groups of young and old people, hippies and princesses, gathered to build their own castles out of found materials. If you want to get young people to imagine what can be done with their own two hands, and how much fun it can be, maybe even, as in my case, burn an indelible image on my brain and help turn me into a maker, let kids make real stuff with real materials.
Back to Saturday. Sub Rosa, a NYC based advertising and promotion company decided to exhibit in the fair for no reason other than it is a good cause, a good idea, and fun. Their booth wasn't some big advert for their company, I doubt if many adults knew what they were about as a company, but it didn't matter. Their booth was a pile of bamboo, some sticks as long as 10 feet, a huge number of kids,
Adults and kids of all ages wandered in grabbed as much bamboo as they wanted, cable ties and built something. House skeletons, ladders, teepee poles, swings, or just more poles on poles. The rules were few, the imagination was massive. By the time we got there the structure was substantial and very very cool.
Blake Dain the organizer of the Bamboo city, said that in addition to doing something fun, they wanted to encourage experimentation with bamboo which in this country (not in Asia) is a very underutilized renewable resource. Sub Rosa originally thought adults would do more of the building, but it was the kids who really seized the day. The exhibit also show how much building is in our nature. We didn't have to tell these kids to build something, they had sticks and cable times, they easily figured out what to do on their own.
Long term what will be the result of this exhibit? Trust me, The more we let kids play with real tools and real materials in a free form way the more we will create makers and woodworkers in the future.
Congratulations Sub Rosa for an inspiring exhibition and a job really, really well done.
A few years ago we made a special run of temporary tattoos featuring the famous woodworking mantra of "Measure Twice - Cut Once". This is an extremely useful bit of advice to follow for anyone who has measured once and cut at least twice. We included the tattoo in orders, and had a stack for customers and in general we had a lot of fun. At the time a certain gentleman by the name of Corn asked if we minded if he adapted the design for a real tattoo. We were totally chuffed and obviously gave an enthusiastic "by all means." Corn stopped by our shop last week to pick up some tools and we got a good look at the result. Wow - it came out great!!!
. The artist who did that tattoo was none other than Duke Riley over at East River Tattoo. Duke by-the-way is the artist who built and sailed a replica of the Revolutionary War submarine "The Turtle" in New York Harbor.
Here is the original temporary tattoo.
In other news: I would be a less than a competent iron monger if I did not mention that we are now stocking Geier leather work gloves. These are the gloves we use ourselves in the workshop where we make Gramercy Tools, and we just love the fit, the quality, and the general comfortable feel of the gloves. It also gives us a chance to support another US manufacturer. The gloves are nice enough to be worn outside the shop, and are better made than most of the dress gloves available at department stores.
|I walk by 513 Grand Street fairly often, it's on the way to my cousin's house, and what struck me is that in a city full of older buildings, the style of 513 Grand marks it as one of the oldest. |
By today's standards it's a very small house and dates from a time when Manhattan was a very low rise city, full of similar small townhouses that functioned as a home, a business, or both. According to city records it was built between 1827 and 1828, and is one of the few remaining Federalist buildings left in the city. This is the time period when New York was growing, prospering, and furniture makers like Duncan Phyfe were busy defining a New York furniture style. Furniture can be packed up and collect, buildings cannot and on investigation the history of the building is both really interesting, but not at all unusual.
You see what makes this building stand out in my mind is that it's so darn typical. It only survived because at no time did anyone feel like tearing it down. Lower Manhattan has lots of buildings like it and during each building boom they wear a "Kick Me" sign and then they are gone. As far as anybody knows, Neither Washington, Jefferson, or Lincoln ever slept there. All it is is a sort of building that a moderately successful person of early 19th century NY could strive for, which makes it interesting to me at least. After many ups and downs over the years, and conversion to and from a storefront, today the building is a private residence.
In 2007 the building was up for landmark consideration and consequently a long report was prepared detailing the history of the building and its owners. The report touches on the transition of lower Manhattan from a new English city with farms, to merchant houses, early 19th century New York, records of slavery, and freedom from slavery, as the city and nation grew and matured. It's worth reading click here: 513_Grand_St_house.pdf.
If you have the urge to take a virtual walk around the area, you can see lots of older buildings in the area here is a goggle street view which you can roam around it. (Kossar's - which has great bialys is up the block, and if you follow Grand Street west to the Bowery (go right when you are facing the building) you will come to a great series of Chinese food stores which are always mobbed and also some of my wife's favorite food shopping. On your right you will also pass Seward Park HS - where my dad went to school with Bernie Schwartz - later better known as Tony Curtis. Google took the pictures early in the day, when the streets are pretty empty, but go full screen and you get a great tour, later in the day the streets are impassable.
View Larger Map
If you do visit New York, and you are interested in visiting a townhouse of very slightly later vintage, but more upscale, for a more affluent family, be sure to visit The Merchant's House Museum which was built it 1832 and is still complete, with original furniture.
|This is one of my shortest blog entries ever. For the next week and a half we are offering free shipping in the continental USA on orders of $50.00 or more and discounted shipping everywhere else. There are the usual restrictions and if you click on the link above the menu you can get the fine print. Free returns of course are still available as always.|
Also very important! I should have mentioned this earlier in the week:
NYC Woodworkers Guild April Meeting:
Japanese Woodworking Tools For The Western Workshop
Guest Speaker: Wilbur Pan
Japanese tools are useful to have for woodworking, but knowledge on how to use them has often
been cloaked in terms of mysticism and exoticness. This talk will provide an overview of
Japanese saws, chisels, and planes in plain English: how they work, how they are made, and
how they can be used for any woodworking project, Asian or otherwise. Check your Zen at the
Monday April 22nd 7-9pm
Makeville Studios 119 8th St Brooklyn, NY 11215
All are welcome!!
This is going to be great! Wilbur really knows his stuff. for more information: email@example.com
Wilbur Pan is a woodworker from New Jersey, and has been interested in Japanese tools ever
since discovering the joys of hand tool woodworking. He has published articles on Japanese tools
in Popular Woodworking Magazine, and is responsible for giant Cypress (http://giantcypress.net),
the best Japanese woodworking tool blog in existence./