When I first started out I had no idea how to go about finding an apprenticeship let alone become an apprentice. Having been a musician for several years, it was a different kind of mindset. But as it turns out, many woodworkers or crafts people are both. I have seen a lot of drummers become woodworkers, for example. I myself was lead guitar in an original rock band. I thought that was my calling and it was strong, but something else became stronger.
My then current girlfriend was the one who unexpectedly introduced me to fine woodworking through her family’s heirlooms, Her house was filled with period pieces dating back to the mid or late 1700s.
A Wagstaff tall case clock, an exquisite large walnut gate leg table. In the dining room was a Welsh dresser with impossibly huge rattail hinges. The living room had an outstanding secretary desk in walnut that had perfect proportions. It was a gallery of hand made furniture. Most, if not all, were of Delaware Valley origin. I became fascinated with the joinery, how things were made, why they were done that way and finally what was it that hypnotized me? I was a newcomer having a true eye opening epiphany, that I can’t explain in words and young in life. It is forever lodged in my heart.
I needed to do this: Learn how to build furniture. Whatever it would take to learn it. I was old enough to know it would be a dedication filled with perseverance and young enough to have the nerve to conquer it. I needed to learn it so I could always touch it. I wanted a truly elevated experience touched by music, art, film, craft and always try to blend the disciplines together in a meaningful, spiritual way. .
I did what any young man would do back then. Internet was non-existent and there certainly was no social media, so armed with only a rotary telephone, I went to the yellow pages and found a cabinet shop a mere 3 blocks from where I lived. I don’t believe I even called him but simply walked over. Judging by the ease of finding a cabinet shop, I thought there must be a cabinet shop every 10 blocks or so. When I walked over, I couldn’t find it at first. It was a non-descript building with no address attached but I did finally find my way in. It became my journey into a change of life.
His shop was on the second floor of a small commercial building next to the train tracks with a wooden set of stairs on the outside of the building. They were barely 48” wide with creaky treads, and a solid hand rail that was set with 16 lb common nails. Those led to a square landing in front of his shop entrance. Weathered gray siding was sprawled across the building and the stairway melted into it. I’ll never forget that image.
In theatre, it’s known as “an entrance.” It was a beginning that has continued for over 40 years.
The door was unlocked, and I could hear the whirring of a saw. I stepped into a narrow hallway, with dusty shelving, piled with books and scraps of wood that opened into a well-lit office. Which was almost just as dusty. The desk lamp was the old fluorescent type that an architect might use, as it could sway from side to side. The two button type. A bell sounded near the door that announced a visitor.
He came through a doorway with a slight bluster. He was about 40-45 years old, graying hair but a full head of it, and a small handlebar mustache which actually looked right. His voice was a bit Midwestern, mine was New England, and we seemed to have a similar sound compared to one another. That certainly helped. He extended his hand, “I’m Robert Allen Fellwock.” I shook it and shyly spoke. “I’m Brian Boland.”
I didn’t know his name until then because he hadn’t listed it in the phone book. I almost said “Sorry, what was that?” But didn’t. He went on “Some people call me RAF, but not you.” I said “…okay.”
I wished I had a name like that. It’s very Welsh that seemed historical. It rolled off the tongue and most importantly, it was unforgettable. It would be a name that to me was perfect.
It was a cabinetmakers name.
To be continued…