Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Madcap Manifesto – The Evolution of a Madcap Woodwright.

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Throughout my career as a professional cabinetmaker and woodwright, there has always been something of an unspoken understanding in the profession. Professional woodworkers are to be flannel clad, bearded, curmudgeons, with saw dust in their hair and a very serious “air” about them. Think Norm Abrams crossed with William F. Buckley, and you are pretty close to the normal perception of the professional woodworker. This holds true especially in recent years it seems.

When I decided (was “encouraged” by the love of my life) to open the tiny shop and to once again work wood professionally, I committed to myself that come hell or high water, I was NOT going to be the overly serious, cantankerous cranky pants that so many of my brothers and sisters seem to be these days.

Enter The Madcap Woodwright.

An unusual name for a business, I know. Many folks have commented to me that it may not be such a hot idea to name my fledgling business this way. The argument being that folks might not take me seriously, and that I may be looked at as less professional than I really am, and so on.

All perfectly valid points if you approach from a traditional point of view. I…..do not.

mad·cap

ˈmadˌkap/

adjective

1.

amusingly eccentric.

“a surreal, madcap novel”

synonyms:zanyeccentricunconventional

“a madcap comedy”

Because I find that modern woodworking is or has developed something of an …..attitude, I feel that it is high time someone who loves the craft takes a risk and tries to let the joy woodworking offers stand front and center.

Far too many of my cohorts take the art of woodworking far too seriously. Not the tooling, not the need for precision, not the care with which we carry the craft forward, more so that they take themselves far too seriously.

I am much more interested in showing people how much I love and adore working wood, rather than how much I think I should be loved and adored for working wood. This is the ugly little skeleton that can be found in many, many modern woodworker’s closets. Somewhere along the way, they stopped loving working wood for its own sake, and started down the path of entitlement.

“I have done this for years and years, I have written books on the subject. I give speeches and presentations……I DESERVE to be viewed as a deity”!!!!

Naturally, there are many professional woodworkers who DO NOT subscribe to this mindset. They may have written books or give presentations, but still it shows that they are in love with the fine art of woodworking. I find that far too many woodworkers, (a generation ahead of me, a generation or more behind me, and my own generation for that matter)seem to feel that they are due a respect and level of admiration because they take their craft so….seriously.

This is one of the reasons I felt compelled to depart from the norm. I am, by nature, unconventional. Rather than hide this personality anomaly,  I choose to embrace and project it out into the world. An unconventional and, dare I say, madcap notion to say the least.

Therefore, The Madcap Woodwright is dedicated to expressing creativity, craftsmanship, attention to detail in all the work that is produced from the Tiny Shop. Old world techniques, traditional woodworking, hand crafted pieces are all the primary objectives. The difference is, to the extent that I am able, I wish to share this more intimately with those who would do business with me. I wish to attract those patrons who enjoy a good cup of coffee, and a nice leisurely chat about design and joinery techniques.

I am less interested in “on demand” deadlines. I am not at all interested in “production level” woodworking. Anything that interrupts the synchronicity between woodwright-patron-design-execution, is to be avoided. I may never make a gazillion dollars, or  see any of my work on the cover of “Fine Woodworking” , but im just fine with that as long as I have had the chance to draw someone into my love of my craft. I am just fine with that as long as I have had the opportunity to spend some time with someone new, share a cup of Joe, listen to a little Sam Cooke out in the Tiny Shop, and talk design ideas. I am more than fine with that if, when all is said and done, a patron and I stand ankle deep in fresh wood shavings running our hands over a newly completed piece, both of us smiling.

Call me a madcap, but that sure seems infinitely more rewarding than self promotion, and book sales. Sure, it is always nice to be appreciated for what you do or have done. Yes, It is wonderful to be paid well for doing something that you enjoy.  Absolutely I would love to be known for a very high level of craftsmanship. But I feel that in order to bring the level of honesty and integrity to my work that I insist on, it needs to be done with joy, abandon, and a sense of humor. Without these things, I feel that a woodwright risks a loss of “soul”.

Perhaps it is foolhardy to approach business this way. Perhaps it is more sensible to leave “work with soul” to amateurs and hobbyists, but I am convinced that there is very little about working wood as a trade, that is sensible. That is of course, unless you really and truly love what you do, and really and truly want to pass that love on to others. In that case, there is no more sensible thing to do but, be…..a Madcap Woodwright.

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It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Madcap…..Manifesto

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As 2015 hurtles toward its inevitable demise and the dawn of 2016 rapidly approaches, I find that the long absent muse is finally upon me once again.

I have had some time now to sort through some of the topics I want to set down here in The Madcap Woodwright Blog/The Madcap Manifesto.

One of the topics that most occupy my thoughts is the notion that there may yet be a movement of the general population toward the appreciation of handcrafted goods, and thus, the support of local craftsman.

With many communities embracing the “buy local, support local” philosophy, it seems that in so doing, communities are discovering the rich variety of goods and services that are available once the decision is made to seek local vendors.

Sure, the local urban gardens, and craft breweries are good, highly visible examples of ways that communities can support locally produced goods. Once communities move beyond these traditional examples though, is when the fun really begins.

Blacksmiths, glass blowers, upholsterers, artists, welders, designers,writers, photographers, and on, and on, and on. Some of these folks have been here all along, some only recently eschewing their suit and tie career for the life of the artist/craftsman. Scratch the surface further, really dive in and explore the wealth of talent that is available, and you will quickly find that the ease and the convenience of the current, “Amazonion” model of consumption provides a much more limited and “soulless” menu of products.

While I am as big a fan of the Amazonian shopping model as the next person, I will say that it becomes far more interesting and rewarding once I look to my local colleagues for products I am interested in buying.

It is my sense that others, non-craftspeople in particular, are also actively discovering this recently. Folks who you might expect to do ALL their shopping online are becoming patrons of local producers. It’s hip. It’s new. Its happening!!! It is what those who are truly “in the know” , do.

All this attention then encourages the artisan’s work. It provides the confidence that we need to continue to expand our portfolios. It provides the income we need to refine our production tooling and to put food on our tables. It also provides the emotional and psychological reinforcement that we (well “I” at least) need to continue on the non traditional career path with the reassurance we need to be bold.

So, while I want to encourage the “Buy Local-Support Local” model, I also feel that the artisan community should look at the very real responsibility we have in the continuum.

First, as I mentioned in my preface, a particular mindset lends itself very well to the person who chooses to be a craftsperson as a means of providing income.
The mindset of “less is more” or, a focus on “editing” our life and our views on our own consumption is, in my view, crucial to the success of the artisan.

As a professional Woodwright, I doubt very much that I will ever be a millionaire. I doubt very much that I will drive brand new cars, or live in a home that has three rooms for every person living in it. I doubt very much that the things that so many people view as outward indicators of success, will ever again appear on my radar. Frankly, I am just fine with that.

Here is why.

Once I discovered that the collection of “stuff” (large homes, flashy cars, big T.V.s, New, New, New. More, More, More) was actually an appalling trap, I found that my life changed drastically for the better. It became much more simple. Once I realized the value of simplicity and the freedom that editing down my life/lifestyle provided me, I discovered that it also provided me with the time and the peace of mind I needed to focus on my craft. This freedom makes it possible to be a Madcap Woodwright professionally, rather than as someone who simply putters in their own tiny shop.

This freedom that I discovered and am exploring, has also provided me with insight into notions like contentment, satisfaction, gratitude, fulfilment, and peace of mind. Further, these notions translate themselves into my work. My outlook and approach to the manipulation and crafting of wood, seems to me at least, to be far more satisfying and rewarding since I know that whatever renumeration I collect for the work, will be enough to satisfy my needs.

This is perhaps, one of the most important discoveries I have made in my adult life. I feel that the genuine satisfaction of a job well done, the fair compensation for that product, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the mortgage will be paid, the lights will be on, and that there will be food on the table, are all a cycle of true happiness. It is a cycle that can, with care, and the responsible development of the business itself, repeat itself over and over. This true happiness expands into other areas as well. There is no longer a drive to consume things that are not needed. This makes me happy. There is now a much clearer view of what is needed, rather than what I am TOLD is needed.

As I mentioned in the preface earlier, I think that there is a large and varied population of people who share this view. Don’t get me wrong, We all enjoy some luxury in our lives. No one is espousing a monastic existence as the key to happiness and  fulfillment. What I am espousing though, is for people in general, and artisans/potential artisans in particular, to evaluate just exactly what is important in life. What is it exactly that makes us happy.

If an artisan or aspiring artisan can own the satisfaction of this cycle, there are rewards available. Being willing to trade credit ratings, accumulation of wealth, and the pursuit of more and more, for the peace that comes from doing a thing that satisfies the soul as a means of making a living, provides, for me at least, a deep, deep satisfaction and feeling of “rightness” that simply can not duplicated if I were still chasing what has become known as the “American Dream”.

It is my hope that, if we who have elected to pursue artistic expression and the continuation of archaic trades as a means of making a living can succeed in setting an example of a population who can find a real and lasting satisfaction working honestly and simply, that our patrons will not only enjoy our wares, but will also see in us what real peace and fulfillment are supposed to look like.

Not to belabor this bunny trail too much further, I feel that it is absolutely key that the modern artisan strive to find their own personal “ground zero” . That being a recognition of those things that are needs to be met, and those things that satisfy the soul. Once these two areas are identified, embraced, and folded into everyday life as a new norm, we are then free to express ourselves boldly and fearlessly. These expressions can’t help but find an audience. They are too honest and too visceral to be ignored outright. Everything else, keeping up with the Jonses, the demands from those who drive excessive consumption, all the noise and the “managing” of all our “stuff”, suddenly begin to loose their attractiveness, as well as their place of importance in our lives. Even more freedom follows. More creativity and more time to enjoy the ride suddenly become available. Frankly, enjoying the ride, rather than worrying about where the ride was taking me, sounds much more satisfying.

More rambling is in the offing. Stay tuned.

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