I was holding one of only two in existence.

Robert had been loaned one of the 18th century wall hung walnut lantern cabinets to be measured and reproduced in limited run quantities. The matching pair of lanterns hung on opposing walls in one of the stairwells of Independence Hall. And he had 50% of them in his shop. That’s what the new parts were for on the trays, the measured drawings, the profile tracings. It now made sense. I hadn’t been to the Hall in a few years, actually it was back when my dad was working on the Pass and Stowe book, but now there was a more elevated purpose. I made a mental note: “go to Independence Hall tomorrow.”  

Sponsored by the National Park Service and working through a company by the name of Bicentennial Seal, Robert was commissioned as the only maker of at least half a dozen unique colonial items and probably more like ten. Most items were made of walnut; a few were built in mahogany. All of them were utility in nature and had their own unique personality. There was a variety of dovetailed boxes, mirrors, sconces, tray etc. that made up the approved line up in their catalogue. Other colonial pieces were available in brass, pewter and tin. And probably others as well that I don’t remember. 

The lantern was diminutive, fairly simple but the purpose and utility made it great. Perfectly proportioned and designed to give light with only one lit beeswax candle to see your way. The journey from that primitive lantern to modern LED lighting today is compelling.

In my previous post, I stated that I wondered what they may have heard. I still do. Decades of conversations in the Hall that ran from the mundane to the very real debate on the birth of our nation. And here, in my hands was a receiver of what was spoken. The absolute synchronicity in my heart and mind was overflowing.

I was impressed by its light weight as I ran my fingers over the small beaded frames. I felt the remnants of hand tooling that had been partially and gently swept away with abrasives, still leaving traces of tooling marks. The scrolled top and bottom pieces still had fret saw marks in the corners and even though the pieces had been lightly refinished over the years, care was taken by the restorers to leave behind all that was necessary. It’s what I do empirically myself today. 

Sensing years of the respect for period pieces is an indescribable experience. For myself, I journey through the wormholes of societal changes, politics, war, fashion, civil rights, business. These are the historical markers that handmade objects would have absorbed through osmosis. And also made to represent what would be happening at the time. It was all here in that one lantern. I had become an empath through time, by way of my hands. And I suddenly realized…

This was not just about woodworking. This was a thorough, holistic truth. Later, it would be my way of life.

A few moments of silence had passed and I gently handed it back to him. He carefully placed it on the bench. I literally felt the whispers of my pulled apart emotions dispersing quietly into the shop space and landing nowhere, but everywhere. My mind and body could touch anything here and it would always be a gentle caress, always a light, but also a firm touch. I was ready to learn the skillset as I had been properly introduced through a simple history lesson. I almost felt as if I had been baptized. 

“Let’s talk turkey.” Robert said. 

We sat down in his office and he said, and I know I’m paraphrasing here:

“Okay, you don’t really know anything directly about building fine furniture, let alone the whole concept of precision, but I like you… you’re smart, educated, been around a few things and you have a variety of interests. That I do like. Tell you what…if you really want to learn this, and stick it out, I’ll train you….

I’ll start you out at $1.60 an hour.” 

I didn’t flinch. I didn’t hesitate, but simply said: “When do I start?”

To be continued