Archive | September, 2013

Barn

23 Sep

Cressing Temple Barns in Essex are a group of stunning 13th century cruck barns originally established by the Knights Templar.

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I had the pleasure of demonstrating here over a busy weekend at the invitation of Joy Allen one of the organisers of the European Woodworking show.
What better place to celebrate the pleasure of working in wood than in this temple to old English craftsmanship.

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All the magnificent oak timbers of these old barns have been felled and hewn by hand using axes. Pegged and braced with hand chiselled oak tenons holding the entire structure aloft nestled in the heart of Essex. I couldn’t find a straight beam in any of the roof spaces, and yet herein lies the medieval carpenter’s true skills. Curved limbs, huge ‘S’ shaped bracers, gigantic supporting columns only a handful of axe strokes from a mature tree stand in asymmetric harmony – for over 700 years – because these people could see the forms they needed to create a 3-dimensional wooden lattice within each living, breathing tree.

Likewise, visitors to the European Woodworking Show, hosted by Classic Hand Tools came with similar intent – either to find a fine new tool, learn a new technique, or just rub shoulders with other modern day carpenters, professional and part-time.
My daughter and I demonstrated letter carving on Saturday to several interested people new to carving. A gentleman called Andrew Turner knocked this out for his daughter

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a rather fine effort.
We humans often forget the principal reason for standing up was to use our hands. The Knights Templar, skilled in battle and construction were limited only by the materials available in their era. Oak and axes, ash and spear, earth and plowshare. Knight or peasant, we all need to be able to carve out a legacy.

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Bed

17 Sep

Tradition

The ancient Egyptians discovered the benefits of sleeping on a raised pallet of earth to get a good night’s sleep away from the cockroaches, scorpions, ants and other nasty creepy crawlies which frequented their dwellings. Tutankahmun had a bed made of ebony and gold. Poor Egyptians had to make do with a pile of palm leaves shoved into the corner of a mud-brick hovel.

Wealthy Romans liked to entertain from their beds, eating, drinking, making conversation, running their households etc.. Beds have been around since Neolithic times and nowadays it is the place we go to rest, regenerate and sleep.

I have just finished building the head and footboards for a king sized double bed. I built the base of the bed from oak and sweet chestnut taken from managed woodlands in Sheffield (the base is not shown). The carved sides are made from local ash (a dragon on the right and a swan on the left) and the head boards from Hyedua – a African hard wood resembling rose wood. The sides of the head board incorporate a poem by Andrew Amaning – written to celebrate the marriage of the couple to whom the bed belongs.

Andrew’s poem is called:  I’m Coming Home

I’m coming home…To your arms that hold me up when I’m weak.

To the heart that I love with every beat.

I’m coming home.

I’m coming home…To the love we make just holding hands

To sleeping on your chest when I’m a vulnerable man.

I’m coming home.

I’m coming home…To fun ‘n’ games and sickly sweet embarrassing nick names

To the one who likes me both cultured and untamed

I’m coming home.

I’m coming home…To my love, my happiness, my peace, my piece of me, my husband, my wife, my life.

I’m home, I’m home.

Bed is home. Home should be sweet. Which is why I have knocked this little fellow up for the European Woodworking Show this weekend, in case there are any new born babies in need of a safe, gently rocking, haven.

cot2 figured ash with larch base

I love making cradles, and I love what kids and parents turn them into as they grow out of them. Planters, toy boxes, magic carpets, or just move them on to the next new sprog.

This one is in San Francisco:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA cherry with coloured carving

This one went to Barnsley…

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200 blue mahoe

This one many years ago for a very posh baby…

Ash Cot ash with drop down sides and turned rosewood fittings

This one for a niece

Cot elm and maple elm and sycamore

And this one a bit of fun for a friend

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA figured apple wood

‘Comme on faict son lict, on le treuve’ (As one makes one’s bed, so one finds it)….. the French 1590 origin of the phrase “Make your own bed and lie in it”

Two Towers

9 Sep

Twelve years ago to this very day I was sat in a psychiatric ward pumped full of Haloperidol having spent several weeks becoming more and more psychotic and driving my poor wife, Clare to despair. She said the hardest thing she had ever had to do in her life was call the doctor and have me sectioned. It turned out to be a life saving decision.

Most of the following I have reconstructed from secondary sources – my mind was on vacation at the time if you take my meaning.

Late on Sunday the 8th of September they finally carted me off in an ambulance in handcuffs after I had driven everyone to distraction. I’d spent the whole of the weekend wandering about butt naked wearing a fedora hat and talking utter bollocks. During the summer months I hadn’t slept for 3 months, spent ludicrous amounts of money, driven my motorcycle at warp speeds and capped it all off with a week of utter lunacy, in a new job. As a teacher – poor children, poor parents, bastard governors – why did it take so long for them to realise I was cuckoo? Where was their duty of care? They knew about my depression….

When I arrived at the hospital, dressed only in a bath robe I fell to my knees and proclaimed “Take me Jesus, I’m yours!”. After I spat out the pills they gave me with a sly grin to Clare, one of the nurses jabbed me in the backside with a hypodermic laced with liquid straight jacket and I went down like a sack of spuds.

The effect of the haloperidol was to put me in a state of catatonic immobility, and it was in this condition that I sat in the locked ward TV lounge every day, with a pyromaniac, an OCD knitter and a self proclaimed psychopath for company as the horrific events of 9/11 and the terrible tragedy unfolded – the Twin Towers in New York collapsed.

I had appealed my section and was awaiting a review on the 11th of the ninth month. I did not comprehend what was going on, staring dumbly at the TV screen, so wrapped up was I in the chemically induced fog and shattered mental state I had reached. Yet on that day I talked to a Social Worker about my appeal. What was left of my mind was still clinging to the arrogant certainty of my ‘rightness’. The Social Worker pierced through my sorry state with this argument:

“If you win your appeal then you can leave. If you don’t win, then they can keep you here indefinitely. Do you think it fair to continue to subject your wife, Clare, to your destructive behaviour?”

That was the watershed. Just as the Twin Towers with those oh, so many lives came crashing down, so too my ego unravelled.

The social worker was right of course, what right did I have to subject anyone to my psychosis? Straight away, I spoke to my case worker, a nurse, and asked him if I could withdraw my appeal.

The next day they took me off the ‘section and I was free to chose to stay and get better.

Outside the hospital my wife had to cope with the fall out of my crazy behaviour, all on her own apart from the wonderful support of my dad. I stayed in the psychiatric hospital for 6 weeks and I received a diagnosis of Bipolar type 2 disorder. I prefer the more accurate ‘manic depression’ to be honest. Apparently the years and years of depression I experienced, followed by a spectacular manic episode constituted a classic set of indicators for the diagnosis.

Twelve years later I am running Henk’s Woodwork. The grain keeps me sane…

It was with these twin towers I began my recovery. So it is to Clare and my Dad, my twin towers, and my subsequent new friends that I dedicate my work and my life. My health and my continuing good humour and mindfulness results from the memory of the human tragedy of 9/11.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Harmony

4 Sep

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Ancient Chinese tradition sets great store by the mythical figures of Fu, Lu and Shou – the three wise men representing harmony (good fortune), wealth (prosperity) and good health (longevity). This soapstone figure belonging to my grandmother I believe represents the scroll bearing scholar Fu – he stands about 8 inches high and in her flat always sat beside a large bottle of Dutch Gin, a box of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes, a bowl of dice and the telephone on a moth eaten Persian rug laid over an antique walnut card table.

Normally the wise men as figurines are meant to form a triptych to work properly within the precepts of Feng Shui, but I reckon this old totem was powerful enough to work on his own. My grandmother, Hartje de Boer lived a long, rich and happy life.

I have used him here to scale a new table I built for a young tattoo artist – Ellen Morris who has designed something for me in the spirit of ‘a fair exchange is no robbery’. Here is her design

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A table for a frog:

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The coffee table is about 4.5 feet long and has a Zebrano top fixed to an oak trestle. I found the top board in a saw mill in Yorkshire and I thought it would look good in Ellen’s shop – the wood looks as though it has been tattooed.

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Zebra wood comes from Nigeria – my birth place. It is a threatened species – this piece was certified by the Rainforest Alliance as part of a programme to promote harmonious sustainable timber harvesting. The oak is from Forestry Commission sustainable sources. Finished in Danish oil and bee’s wax, the table is my own design. Frogs too are in decline globally – they are particularly sensitive to environmental degradation.

Harmony in design and life cannot be achieved by the veneration of a soapstone figurine, but Fu reminds us of the the need to strive for it. In this age of austerity barter and exchange may carry greater potency than financial transaction. Tables lift us from the ground and raise our spirits, and who can resist a frog?