art, Woodworking

When Art Is Made From Wood

Being the humble person he is, Hank wouldn’t call himself an artist. So I will. And his medium of choice is wood.


Hank in his shop

For so many years, my huband used wood while working on other people’s homes and businesses as a finish carpenter. He has done the same for us and our family, plus building furniture including, chairs, stools, dining room tables, frames, and dansus. He built the desk on which I am writing this post.

At some point, Hank started making boxes from leftover wood, giving them as gifts to oh-so-many people. Consider yourself fortunate if you have one. I’ve managed to hold onto a few I won’t let him give away.

And now the boxes he creates are on display in a gallery in our village. He calls them art boxes, and I believe that is an apt description.

Hank call me in to his shop to show me what he’s working on, explaining how he cut the wood and glued the pieces together in a process called book match to create a grain with interesting patterns. I will see a box in its many stages, including the shaping and carving that give it character. No two boxes are ever alike.

White Cedar Box No. 1 copy

White Cedar Box 1

Hank uses a variety of local, exotic, and recycled wood such as chestnut, fir, and cedar. Here’s what went into White Cedar Box No. 1 — Laminated white cedar lid, mortised cherry handle, purple heart bottom, sapele and purple heart feathers. This box has a Zuni influence.

Lids, handles, and knobs are hand-shaped as well as some boxes, employing joinery, aniline dyes, and a variety of finishes.

Hank’s a bit of a perfectionist, but then you have to be to build cabinetry and stairs properly. But he is also inspired by the beauty and serenity in the imperfection of simple things like wood —  wabi-sabi. Other inspirations are the Indigenous pottery of Taos, New Mexico, where he once lived and sold his art boxes and furniture, Japanese pottery and architecture, Art Deco, and Southwestern geometric designs.

Pagoda Blue HLivingston copy

Blue Pagoda Box

Hanks sold boxes through galleries in Taos and Albuquerque, and since a couple of weeks ago, they’ve been for sale at Salmon Falls Gallery in Shelburne Falls, the village in Western Massachusetts where we live. The owner is Josh Simpson, a well-known glass artist.

Last week, the first box sold — the Blue Pagoda Box. Certainly, this acknowledgement of Hank’s talent was a reason to celebrate.

Want to see them for yourself? Here’s the link to four of his boxes on Salmon Falls’ website. Four more are in the works in his studio workshop, including one he calls the Red Pencil Box with mortise and tenon joints, a walnut cover with a hand-carved knob and red aniline dye on the box. It’s a work of art.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the Local Pine Box.  It has an incense cedar lid, mortised purple heart handle, white cedar bottom, sapele and pine feathers and clipped corners with mesa step detail. The pine is from Hall Tavern Farm in Charlemont.

art, Taos

Another Creative Place in Taos

Taos has four art museums that are free Sundays to the people who live here. Lucky us. Last Sunday, with a bit of free time on my hands, I went to the Ernest L. Blumenschein Home and Museum.

Blumenschein, or “Blumy” as he was called, was one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists a hundred years ago. He and fellow artist Bert G. Phillips stumbled upon Taos during a painting expedition when the wheel on their wagon broke. Blumenschein, who lost the toss, made the twenty-mile trek to town to get the wheel fixed. And that was the start of an intense period of art in Taos.

blumenschein portrait

Blumenschein’s portrait on a sign outside the museum.

I hadn’t been to the Blumenschein museum in a while. But the events surrounding the anniversary — and interviews for stories I did with the artists’ descendants — inspired me to take another look. From those who knew him, Blumy was very sure of himself and his talents. He was competitive in whatever he did. (The museum has trophies he won playing tennis.) And he was a wonderful artist who captured the landscape and Native people of his time.

Blumenschein’s wife Mary and their daughter Helen were also artists. The museum, where they lived is filled with their furniture, belongings and their paintings and those of their colleagues. (Sorry, photos weren’t allowed.)

The museum’s current exhibit is: “The Founder’s Daughter, Prints by Helen G. Blumenschein and Friends.”

Helen gave the homestead and its furnishings to the Taos Historic Museums in 1966. Like the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, where two members of the Taos Society of Artists — I.E. Couse and Joseph Sharp — lived and worked, the Blumenschein museum gives visitors a feel for the time.


Entrance to the museum

The Blumenscheins acquired the home in pieces from 1924 to 1931. It has adobe walls, vigas (log beams) and latilla (aspen pole) ceilings.

My favorite room was the studio with its large windows that capture natural light and high ceilings. A tall, wooden easel is marked with paint dropped from a brush. Here Blumy painted — yet another creative soul who found his way to Taos.

PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the exterior of the museum on Ledoux Street, the oldest in Taos. And here is a link to a story I did for The Taos News on the descendants:

art, family, Writing

Outside the Box

On my latest cleaning kick, I went beneath the bed in my office for boxes, and well, boxes of paper. Two contained school papers from when my kids, now young adults, were kids.

Going through the papers I marveled at my children’s creativity. Then, I decided they should have them.

So I spent hours sorting the papers into six piles. I discarded anything that was badly damaged, was boring (like a list of spelling words) or had no name. The one exception is the piece of art at the top of this post. Unfortunately, the child did not sign it but it is too good to toss. So I am keeping it unless someone claims it.

Most of the papers were from elementary school, some from middle school, several from before. It appears we didn’t hang onto anything from high school.

Without prejudice, I’d say we have a family of artists and writers.

africa by Ezra

A watercolor by Ezra

One son, at a very early age, showed the promise of the artist he has become as an adult with unusual perspectives and skill. Another, who is a heavy equipment operator by day and a musician the rest of the time, drew vehicles with attention to detail and dimension. A third son, who is an aspiring comedian, wrote a book in first grade about Jefber the Hero Bunny who starts a comedy show.

Among the three girls, I found thoughtful essays and creative writing. Their teachers thought so, too.

One daughter wrote this beginning for a short story:”I can remember reading in a newspaper how people can be swept away by huge waves. I must have been eight or so, and thinking maybe  problems could be taken out to sea like people.”

Here’s something from another: “One day when the sun was shining, my brother Nate was working at Ernie’s house. Then some people came to the house. They had left something behind. It was a shoebox and on it said, “SHOOT THIS CAT !” When they told me this I was horrified. So they opened the box and saw the cat. So we took it home. We were going to name it Lucky but we decided on Roxann.”

I called one daughter to say she should take up painting after seeing her artwork.

There were several instances I laughed so hard at what a child drew or wrote they brought tears to my eyes. (For instance, I copied one child’s invitation to baseball player Bo Jackson, then in his prime, to attend his birthday party.) I came from my office to show Hank and he laughed too.

By the way, the box had papers my mother held onto for me. It looks like I IMG_1154was a good speller, took dictation well, and had nearly perfect handwriting. But I discarded most for recycling except for that fun folder — Medeiros was my first last name — you see on this post.

I am also holding onto the cards the kids made professing their love for their father and me on special holidays and birthdays.

The school papers are now in large padded envelopes ready to be mailed. I hope our kids enjoy them as much as I did.

OTHER PAPERS: So what did the other boxes contain? Drafts of manuscripts at various stages. After I reached what I felt was a critical stage, I printed the draft and marked it with red pen. (I do have the versions stored on discs and thumb drives, and an email account dedicated to them.) In the end, I decided to keep the first and final drafts of each. Now I’m down to a manageable two boxes and feeling lighter for it.