Earlier this year, I was the fortunate recipient of a kick-ass Father’s Day gift from my wife, a weekend class with George Walker at Richard Grell’s Shop. When I signed up for it, I thought I’d definitely leave better off. What I didn’t anticipate was leaving with even more friendships within the craft. Firstly, I drove the hour or so with my new friend Brian. We’ve developed a budding friendship – one of those that you know is in it for the long haul.
Second, Richard Grell turned out to be a tremendous resource in both his time and generosity. I was also struck by his willingness to interject and hang out while the class was in session. Even though he’s in the midst of a gigantic order with an impending deadline (50 Windsor chairs by March!), he’d often leave his bench to enhance a topic or point George as making. Plus I got to sit in Richard’s chair all day long, proving wooden chairs are extremely comfortable when done right.
Then there’s George.
What I love about him is that he’s a machinist by trade but a scholar by nature. Maybe George’s research into the craftsmen of yesterday will help change the course of the tradesmen of tomorrow. This is a concept I wrestle with from time to time. In today’s world, there is a clear divide between college bound students and everyone else. Pursing the trades is not encouraged to students who get high marks in school. It’s normally presented as an alternative to college. This is unfortunate as it changes the balance between those who shower before work and those who shower afterward. I’m the former, my father was the latter. The world needs us both and one isn’t better than the other. Period.
And finally, just before we started on the first day, Steve Latta walks in the door. Yes, that Steve Latta. Now, Steve has designed and built more furniture than I’ve even seen in books and online. This is a testament to the craft. Steve sat like any other student (as best he could when his pieces were actually examples in George’s lesson), listening intently to what George was saying. Steve and I hit it off as well, and while building a project we had a wonderful conversation about the state of the craft and how to get younger people involved. I hope Steve teaches a class at Richard’s shop in the future: I’ll be one of the first to sign up.
So, what did I learn: more than I can summarize here. Some of the key takeaways are as follows:
- Symmetry doesn’t work vertically ( think file cabinets), it only works horizontally (east/west). This is not intuitive but it’s true.
- Laying out a grid is unpleasing so avoid it
- I finally understand Rhythm, Punctuation, and ornament, which were talked about at length in George’s book but was hard to grasp without the additional insight from the class
- You only see ornament up close, from far away you should only see the form. It enhances the design but shouldn’t overtake the design. The form pulls you in and ornament pulls you in deeper as you get closer.
If you can take a class from George, I highly recommend it. Check out his blog for his schedule. And let this be a lesson to anyone taking a woodworking class: you just don’t know who’ll show up or what friends you’ll make.