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.

Woodworking, Writing

Gone to Pieces

Whether it’s words or wood, it comes down to putting the pieces together in an artful and lasting way. For the first, I believe I know what I’m doing. These days I am getting schooled in the second.

WORDS: It still amazes me that I can put one word in back of the other to build a sentence, then a paragraph, and finally, a story. Add characters, setting, and a conflict in a nice arc, and voila! I have a novel. Of course, it’s not as easy as that.

WOOD: Those who follow this blog are aware my husband, Hank, and I recently bought a bungalow on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls in Western Massachusetts. It was built in 1900 — not very old to my friends inhank working 2 the United Kingdom — but old enough that it needs work given how many people have lived in it for 117 years.

We’ve started the demo. Let me rephrase that. Hank’s started the demo. I haul away the stuff that’s useless to create a neat pile outside for when a roll-off container arrives. I hand tools and do a lot of cleaning. The other day, I covered the good floors with cardboard sheeting to protect them. I handle the paperwork.

And I watch what Hank does with 2-by-4’s and plywood as the house’s interior gets rehabbed. (Actually, being married to a woodworker, I have acquired a knowledge of carpentry through osmosis  and often include a carpenter in my novels.) But as the project progresses, I am seeing firsthand IMG_4454how it all works. I am also learning new terms such as sistering, jack and king studs, and top plates. Eventually the pieces — along with nails, screws, and Hank’s skills — will come together as our new home.

By the way, Hank and I have an arrangement. I don’t touch his power tools and he does the same for my computer. It works for me. I like my fingers intact.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Lastly, one other form of piecework. Besides keeping tabs via social media about what is happening in the world and with those close to me, it’s a way of spreading info about my books. Thanks to Crooked Cat Books, my mystery, Chasing the Case, will be published in May or June.

I am already on FB, Twitter etc. but I’m upping the game in advance of the mystery’s launch. My goal is to have 500 likes by the end of December on my Facebook Author page: Facebook @JoanLivingstonAuthor. I have 150 to go.

My other goal is to have 1,000 Twitter followers: I’ve made great progress, 701, as of this writing.

Thank you to all who are likers and/or followers. If you aren’t one, I hope you will soon be. I promise not to be a pest.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Hank hard at work in what will be the kitchen.