I began working with wood in a Jr Hi shop course. While fun and instructive the results were less than the “perfect” that I had learned was required for recognition and acceptance by the adult world of the mid twentieth century. Hi School offered no option for shop courses in the elite college prep tract, so I was limited to “self taught” exploration with a few small tools: a back saw and hand block plane were discovered in a trash pile. With a file, rasp and C clamp I cleaned and “sharpened” these treasures and fashioned some imperfect boxes, towel racks, and napkin holders.
Construction summer jobs were my tool training and skill improvement labs. When I graduated from High School my Grandmother gave me a quilt she had made. The orange and white Jacobs Ladder pattern was awesome. I found one square that was backwards and two pieces of different color. “That is to remind you that nothing has to be perfect and to accept the variations that add life to what you do”, Nana said as she cut the remnant scraps for her next grandchild quilt.
While in grad school I began making furniture with my small collection of tools and scrap wood. In the storage locker basement of the married students dorm I set up a collapsible workbench. It took almost a year to craft an end table with tapered legs, inlay diamond, mortise and tendon sides, dovetailed drawer, and 20 inch square loaned “flat” top with mitered breadboard edge. This Imperfect creation sits beside my bed today, and the heritage of other furniture are spread around family and friend’s homes.
A sculpture artist friend examined a colonial cherry hutch I made from odd lengths I found at a sawmill. “An artist can tell you how you included your mistakes into your design. A master crafts builder can tell how your technique errors have been concealed to the unobserving eye”. Three weeks later that piece was appraised by an antique appraised as “possible 1800 vintage in design, tool marking and irregular sizing of dovetails and trim molding tooling”.
So much for perfect! Every piece I finish includes the imperfect traces of mistakes lovingly caressed and comforted into acceptance as a parent unconditional acceptance of an errant child.