As I witness my new studio going up, there’s a mixture of emotions.
Gratitude, for sure; I’ve got some really skilled guys hard at work on my behalf. The weather, by and large, has cooperated. I’m grateful such a space is being built mere yards from my home, rather than halfway across town. Working with lead designer and structural engineer John Hockman, of Prospect Builders, the t’s have been crossed and the i’s dotted both in terms of the customization of the space’s design, materials, and capacities as well as gone by the code book, checking off inspection after inspection by the regional building and utilities departments.
There’s excitement; a chomping at the bit to get cracking in the new space, which, if all goes as planned, should be just about ready for putting a bow on before Christmas, though some of the details will have to wait, such as attaching reclaimed wood to the OSB sheets that themselves will underlay the trusses, lightly stained white like the building on Hossain Amjadi’s Sonoma-based property I toured a few weeks ago:
There’s very definitely a part of me that wonders how I ever got so lucky. Not just regarding the studio – no, the feeling far, far surpasses the purview of this art-centric blog.
Certainly I’ve paid my dues in the 400 sf. detached garage-cum-workshop-cum-studio just feet from the new build, and yes, a part of me agrees with the South Korean artist Byeong Doo Moon, who, two days ago, while standing within the new space with me while framers hammered overhead, asked me what would happen with the old space. I responded that it was being rejuvenated; converted to one of two new dwelling units we’re currently having built which should pay the Ent Credit Center back for the funds they loaned us to build the studio. Speaking through Su Cho, his Springs-based art assistant and interpreter, his response was a bit wistful on my behalf, saying something like, “It’s too bad it can’t remain a studio space – so many important things have been created within it.”
Moon has a spiritual depth about him that gets it. For me, if it’s possible for holiness to inhabit a space, it inhabits that one. Out of that quaint, little, underpowered, nondescript building at the rear of our next door rental’s back yard, in the middle of flyover country, I must have clocked 10,000 hours of making things well over 10,000 hours ago.
Within the kerosene heater-warmed space, I witnessed hundreds of rainstorms and watched heavy white snowflakes collect on the blossoms of the two cherry trees that used to sit just outside the casement windows I installed. I raised my hands in gratefulness many times to be able to use them – my hands – to produce enough of an income to keep food on the table for many years prior to my working at the Colorado College, and then again after I resigned in ’16 to make a go of it as a full-time artist.
Thanks in part to the space, my wife, Nan, was able to fulfill her desire to focus on raising our five kids, now 28, 26, 24, 19, and 16, without dividing her already chock-a-block full days with earning a second income. (More recently, Nan has augmented our income with her private dyslexia tutoring practice, which is also home-based. In the nearly thirty years we’ve lived on the Near North End block of Colorado Springs, just off the Colorado College campus, our furthest commute was Nan’s three-block walk to Tejon St., back when she worked for the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation and I was a Mr. Mom for seven years, only using the workshop out behind our house to work, occasionally, on a wood strip canoe.)
Last Saturday, Manitou Springs-based artist Floyd Tunson paid me a visit and, good friend that he is, was genuinely happy on my behalf.
He was there back in 1990, just days after Nan and I had begun renting the house, a year prior to purchasing it from a Colorado College professor. Tunson been shown the two-car garage, and told what I hoped to do to make it a workshop. (Anyone who has visited Tunson’s expansive loft apartment and studio know just how sweet of a setup he himself has – I clearly recall, back when I was a student of his in high school, how deeply I coveted the space, which, then and now, like Doug Casebeer’s Anderson Ranch studio, exudes such a heavily artistic presence).
Seeing Tunson shake his head as he viewed the bones of my new studio, I might’ve quoted Shakespeare’s “turnabout is fair play”. But I didn’t. Until now;)
Yes, I’m grateful. Glad that, though I’m at an age now when some of my peers are just beginning to talk excitedly about retirement, I’m feeling just the opposite – as I’ve said in recent posts, like I’m just on the cusp; at the threshold; the starting gate, and feeling up for the challenge. Like I’m waking up in a tent under the shadow of Mt Everest, having made all the preparations for climbing the mountain in the States, flown to Nepal, and made the weeks-long trek from Kathmandu to base camp.
And while it’s not an emotion, I’ll add that it’s taken a fair bit of patience to get here.
Owning three circa 1920’s homes, with something nearly always needing attention within or without them, is a good way to either develop or lose one’s patience. Somehow, however, despite my spending well over a month this year painstakingly prepping, priming, and painting one of our two current rentals on the block, I didn’t have the typical corresponding agitation and frustration at not being able to work at my mainstay. That’s not like me. Despite the home’s near universal need for rehabilitation after eleven continuous years of housing college students, I felt, well, perhaps not happy to be spending all day scraping paint off the ceiling, paint chips sticking to my exposed, sweaty skin, but like what I was doing was right, and that felt good. It felt like, albeit only on a three-step ladder, I’d reached a higher plane.
Don’t want to jinx it, but it felt a bit like patience.
Speaking of planes and patience, have you heard the story about the American who thought Japan would be the best place to learn the craft of woodworking, only to learn he had something else more important to learn first?
Now, when we Americans use the term “best”, we often mean fastest. In general, we are an impatient lot. When we want something, we want it now – today, not two days from now, Amazon! And so, to begin the story, to scratch his romantic woodworking itch, the young twenty-something bought a one-way plane ticket to the Land of the Rising Sun. Once there, he searched for and found a master woodworker willing to take him on as an apprentice.
I can imagine his thoughts as he made his way to the workshop that first day. “Finally,” he must’ve thought, “I’ll get to start working with wood! I wonder what tool I’ll be learning to use first – perhaps a hand plane? A chisel?”
But his first year there, the only wood he was allowed to touch was the handle of a broom. For one calendar year, his sole job?
Sweep and make tea.
And thusly, 365 days swept by.
The second year’s agenda expanded, if only slightly:
Sweep the floor, make the tea, and learn to properly sharpen the tools.
It was seven hundred and thirty one days into his apprenticeship before he was allowed to touch the wood.
Why so long?
Well, to answer that question, I’d like to interject a personal note regarding work environments.
There are three of them I’ve identified as being personally, romantically disposed toward.
In the film The Killing Fields, which I watched last night with my son, Peter, there’s a scene where New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg, played by Sam Waterston, races through the Times’ jam packed, hectic, mid 1970’s newsroom.
For some reason, a newsroom makes the cut as one of my three favorite work environments, though the newsrooms of today are, I’m sure, quite different than they were circa the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate era.
The other two shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who knows me: art studios and wood shops.
Wood shops. Ah, the smell of cedar or walnut laced perhaps with a whiff of coffee in the morning. It’s tough to beat. The other day, prior to taking Max Bennett to lunch, I snapped a few photos of the 3D Arts Building’s wood, metals, and outdoor workspaces, which I supervised for a decade. Such a cool environment. A pity it’s coming down soon.
Occasionally, when I worked in the building, I would give new woodworking students a brief introduction to wood types, telling them that, in general, there are two main ones: hardwoods and softwoods. Hardwoods come from leaf bearing, or deciduous trees, and softwoods from cone bearing, or coniferous trees. Most hardwoods are just that, relatively hard, in comparison with softwoods, and, of course, vise versa.
Hence, oftentimes softwoods are employed for construction purposes, such as, for my new studio, the 2″ x 6″ framing currently visible which will eventually be stuffed with insulation and sandwiched between sheets of 5/8″ OSB and, on the exterior, Tyvek and standing seam roofing, and on the interior, 5/8″ drywall. Hardwoods, with their typically denser cell structure, have better dent resistance, and are more often turned into furniture and flooring.
When asked how one can tell whether a particular piece of wood is a hardwood or a softwood, I said it comes easier with time and experience, but that the grain of the wood is a good clue: In general, hardwoods have narrower, tighter grain, and softwoods have wider, more porous grain.
And it makes me wonder…
I wonder what kind of grain I’m made of. Would I have had the young American woodworker’s patience? I enjoy sweeping, but even so, it’s more likely, looking back at my typical M.O. in my earlier years, that after a few months or even weeks of that, I’d have taken the teapot off the flame, shaken the wood dust off my feet, and, perhaps with a, “Sayonara, sadistic sensei!”, headed haughtily home, because that’s where one goes when the going gets hard.
With time and experience I’ve gotten a fuller picture of what I believe the master woodworker was up to with his crafty two year home ec. prereq.
It can be difficult, even for me, to tell what type of wood I’m looking at.
I think the sensei similarly wanted to test the young man’s mettle:
Was he hardwood or was he a softwood?
Did he have the patience required…
to develop the patience required…
to be the caliber of woodworker he dreamed to be?
Sometimes, the way art is taught these days, students are given the sense that anything goes… so long as it doesn’t smack of skill. Of the development of hand-eye coordination. Of a conformity to reality. Of ability. Perhaps that’s one reason I lean toward a woodworker’s disposition, where it’s less reliant on the shifting sands of theory and more about the solid truth that your work either passes muster or doesn’t.
Mustering romance is easy. It takes no time at all.
Mustering patience isn’t possible – not in the short term, anyway.
I don’t want to discount romance, without which, as in marriage, the accumulation, as of wood dust, of time and error and forgiveness that create patience, which in turn creates not just the work, but the woodworker, wouldn’t even be entered into.
Speaking of romantic notions, I have a notion I’d like to go to Japan someday. I’ve never been. Perhaps it’s just a romantic thought, but I think there’s something else behind it, and want to explore that direction some more in my work.
But in the mean time, I’ll content myself with borrowing the use of my friend Geoffrey’s gorgeous shop and looking forward to the day, no doubt seconded by Geoffrey, when I can reenter my own fully functioning workspace.
Patience. I think that’s what the master woodworker would say he was attempting to graft onto his young sapling of a softwood apprentice.
Geoffrey, Andy will be in his new space soon enough. Byeong, you’ll be in America soon enough. My neighbors, the hammering and sawing will end soon enough. Patience.
Or, I don’t know, maybe he was simply tired of sweeping.