The year was 1974. There was already a buzz regarding the upcoming Bi-Centennial in 1976. My father, who was an author and artist, just published a book on the history of the Liberty Bell titled: “Ring In The Jubilee” and was enjoying a timely success. Philadelphia was at the hub of the celebration and things were ramping up. There may have been a synchronicity to my being here at this moment.
* * * *
Robert ushered me into the shop space. All five of my senses were instantly, completely engaged. First was the strong aroma of walnut permeating throughout the entire shop with tiny dust particles drifting through the air, highlighted by shafts of strong sunlight. I knew, that if I wanted to, I could open my mouth so they would land on my tongue, and swallow them whole like snowflakes.
In the background, I heard classical music emanating from an unknown source set at just the right volume. I was drawn to the banks of windows that lined the three sides of the work room. The windows were tall, clean, unbroken; an older sash style. The light was expansive, everything was well lit. Since we were on the second floor, I imagined myself in a house on stilts, looking out into the sea waters of an unknown beach at smoothly rolling surf that was begging for a rod and reel. My imagination and all of my senses were in overdrive.
When I finally did look below, the site was merely dull asphalt, a dumpster and a few beat-up old Chevys… but I didn’t see that. I saw a woodworker’s paradise all around me and I was in the middle of it.
This was a wood shop. Looking back, I believe it was in the neighborhood of 3,000 square feet of space and fully equipped. Two jointers, both Rockwell, one long bed and one short bed for small parts, a Craftsman table saw, Powermatic planer, two Delta shapers, a Delta bench sander and a strip sander. There was a pair of scroll saws, Walker-Turners, I believe, recently in use, sitting ready in a dedicated corner. The tables were tilted in opposite directions. A band saw, radial arm saw, clamp racks, router tables, jigs and piles of molded walnut parts organized on small trays. Off to the side was a lathe room and tooling closet. There was a handmade dust collection system with a Plexiglas door. You could clearly see when it would need to be emptied. Layers of dust in a variety of colors filled the box. I was reminded of the Painted Desert. Sedimentary-like deposits of work were compressed in that catch-all. A series of carpeted benches lined the center of the shop.
There was a rhythmic organization to the parts as a whole. I had no idea what exactly what was being made here, only the sense that there was a lot of hand work involved. I knew I wanted to be here. I had hit pay dirt.
We found ourselves over where the two scroll saws were parked and he asked “What can you tell me about this machine?” Even though I hadn’t used one, I answered the best I could. The first Fine Woodworking magazine was still over a year off and there was a dearth of technical periodicals. There was definitely not much information available at the library. I recognized the saws though and I did know they were for cutting fine fretwork. Little did I know I would get very familiar with both of these machines
Suddenly, to my distress, I thought, “Am I sounding like that guy that I now dread as an employer, who is romantically in love with the idea of woodworking, and not the doing of it.” I quickly brushed that thought aside and knew instinctively that it was not the case. I wondered: had he been reading my mind? Robert gave me a wry smile
“I want to show you something.” I hadn’t noticed it before, but over on the bench was a small walnut piece, obviously antique, but well taken care of and in good repair. He picked it up and handed it to me. “Careful.” He said. It was a combination of delicate wood frames, glass inserts, a mirror back and a door with blind hinges.
At the time, I didn’t know its provenance or importance, and the sense of touch completed my five senses. As I gathered it in my hands, my reaction was that of holding a touchstone. It was delicate, yet potent. I felt the history of it, I imagined the maker, I thought of what this piece may have seen or heard throughout its life. A change came over me. I could feel that change coursing through my hands.
To be continued.