What is it about wood?
When I was a very young boy at Grammar School (aka High School) in Wembley, North West London, one of the subjects taught was wood-working. I loved the feel of wood, still do, and the smell of a wood shaving fresh off the wood plane is still remembered. But, for whatever reason, wood and I never got on.
Later on, my first yacht was a pretty little East Coast gaff cutter, built in 1898, with a hull of pitch pine laid on grown oak frames. Her original name was Mimms but this had been changed to Esterel by the time she was purchased by me. Despite needing a lot of remedial work, the over-riding memory was how the hull ‘spoke’ when she was being sailed.
It’s almost as though wood doesn’t die when the tree is felled, it just passes into another phase depending on the use made of it.
So where’s this all leading?
In the issue of The Economist dated November 7th, 2009, there was an obituary about Alan Peters, furniture maker, who died on October 11th, 2009, aged 76. Like all obits. that appear in The Economist this was well published but something about this particular obituary really stuck in my mind. I tore out the page so it could be re-read over the coming weeks.
It’s still on my desk even 6 months later and it prompted me to write about Alan Peters on Learning from Dogs.
Here’s an extract of the obituary of Alan Peters as published in the The Times.
In contrast to many of today’s school-leavers, who look for instant success and celebrity, the furniture designer Alan Peters served seven years’ apprenticeship in the workshop of Edward Barnsley, which then operated without power tools. When interviewed last year Peters was still proud that he swept the workshop floor quicker and better than anyone else. His eagerness to share his passion and knowledge of furniture design and furniture making was a theme of his life.
And here’s another reflection from David Savage who studied under Alan Peters:
Damn, Damn, Damn, I am getting fed up writing obituries on dead furniture makers. Why can’t they just go on for ever.
I knew Alan quite well. He was a role model and a mentor when I really needed one. This would be way back in the late 1970s when there were very few people making modern furniture in a barn in Devon which is what I wanted to do. Even fewer making a living doing it. I had all the questions and Alan as far as I could see had all the answers. I spent a short time working with him. I was first in the workshop in the morning and last out in the evening. I’m sure he got fed up with my questions but he patiently answered. He gave and gave and gave. When I was set up he helped me get into the Devon Guild of Craftsmen and much later he would come to my workshop in Bideford to give Saturday seminars showing slides of his work and trips to Japan and Korea. He was an inspiration I know not just to me but to a generation of makers. I miss him.
Question: How many furniture makers does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Ten, one to change the bulb and nine to discuss at length how Alan would do it.
By Paul Handover