Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Top Ten (or Five, actually, or maybe Six...) Religion in Wood

RELIGION IN WOOD: A Book of Shaker Furniture by Edward Deming Andrews and Faith Andrews.

This isn't the best book about Shaker crafts, but it's the one I bought early in my woodworking career. It was recommended by a man I met who built Shaker-style furniture in a little shop. The man, and the book, were a deep inspiration to me.

"Fidelity to the demands of the workmanlike conscience was a fundamental act of worship."

"The Shaker cabinetmaker enabled wood to respond to the 'call' to become a chest, a table, a chair, a desk."

"The 'gift to be simple' was a creative force. The Shaker artificer found that the simplest things were not only the most useful, but also the most satisfying to his conscience." Like this child's folding bed:

Craft as a form of prayer. Avoiding the ornamental, the artificial. I adopted these ideas both in my carpentry and in my writing.

Here's a shoemaker's candle stand, made of cherry:

I love the Shaker idea that wood has a 'call.' I advanced the idea another step: Each board has an individual character, and it is our job to bring that character to its full potential. Perhaps it's a special twist of grain, an unusual knot, a vein of color. Often the main attribute of a piece of wood is simply its brute strength. That's useful, too - or else houses would never get built.

Likewise in storytelling I try to find the heart of each character, to bring out the full potential - without artifice - writing that is transparent, words that serve the story without calling attention to the writer. Writing as, perhaps, a form of prayer. To the Muse.

The Shaker simplicity is actually deceiving. If you look closely at a piece of Shaker work, or if you try to replicate it, you become aware of the many aesthetic choices they made. The curve of a chair arm, the lovely arch at the base of a trestle table, the soft red and brown stains applied to the wood, all are an application of style, of taste, that goes beyond the simple, the functional need.

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