E N Curtis

Woodworker. Artist. Teacher. Chucklehead.

Teaching vs. Making

There was a choice I made about two and a half years ago to chase this dream of making furniture. It started off as an interest, and has developed into a full-blown obsession. The kind of life-consuming obsession that you felt for that girl in 7th grade when you were sure that nothing else in the world mattered in any significant way. I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas for a design. I think about ways to execute a piece while sitting on the beach or walking through the woods. And I love every minute of it.

Taking some time to assist here at CFC, however, and getting to do a little teaching with Peter Korn and Ian Kirk this week and last has allowed me to watch people completely new to woodworking come to new levels of appreciation for craftspeople, and new levels of interest in the craft. Some folks came in with no woodworking experience, and didn't know a chisel from a spokeshave. They are now cutting beautiful dovetails as we work through our bench project. Others came in with some knowledge but no experience, and they are working their way through various stages of dovetails, hand-cut mortise and tenons, and shaping on their benches—and they should be tremendously pleased with their new found abilities. To learn any "hand-craft" in a couple of weeks is no easy task, and on top of that they've sat through lectures and demonstrations every day, so you have an appreciation for how much time they've all put in. 

The reason I mention all of this is not because it holds any greater significance to the cosmos; it won't cure aids, feed the hungry, or stop war. But if my goal as a human is to give something to the world—something to make the world even slightly better, or slightly more beautiful—then helping people to learn the craft is just as good a cause as making something myself. If I can help people to find what fulfills them and their creative impulses, what makes them happier, then I submit that is indeed making the world a slightly better place. It's not much, but it's something.

In the meanwhile, I've continued to play with a new design for a hanging cabinet. I'm trying to step outside my normal work—that is to say, more traditional design—and find my own voice. It will take some years to accomplish this, but I have to start somewhere. So with this piece, I started with a very traditional shaker style cabinet, and from there tried to think about it from a different perspective. In this case, a "mad-hatter" perspective. Again, this is simply a first prototype used only to get a better idea of the piece in physical reality. But I have been pulled away from this process the last two weeks as some commissions have come in that I've needed to design and discuss in the small bits of spare time I've had apart from assisting. When I work on these pieces, you'll get to follow along and see the steps.