In the October 1904 issue of “The Craftsman” magazine, Gustav Stickley looked back on three years of publishing and many more years as a furniture maker. The article is worth reading (as is most of “The Craftsman” here is a link to the online version courtesy of the University of Wisconsin). Gus talks about what led him to abandon the “reproductions” his company had been making and create his own line of furniture. It isn’t just about design, he makes the point that the things we surround ourselves with and the things we make influence us on several levels. Here is a brief quote:
It is acknowledged that form and color appeal to the senses with imperious force, which is the more compelling because of its very silence. Words are forgotten in their rapid succession; the impression of personal contact wears away; but a significance exists in the individuality of material things which is comparable with human character. We are brought into daily relations with people whom we feel to be honest, inspiring, depressing, or dangerous. Their influences upon us are inexplicable and subtle, but yet they direct and compel us toward good or evil. They give us pleasure or pain. It is the same with material things.
This article came to mind as I was thinking of some other anniversaries, personal and professional. Most of us feel some connection to 2001 and like many of you I’m truly surprised that 15 years have passed since then. Two things happened to me that year that changed my life significantly. The day before Father’s Day in 2001 my son (then age 9) and I were returning from a long day at Cub Scout camp. It was just after dark and as we left the twisty part of the road back to town I sped up and then saw an ominous black shape emerging from some bushes and heading across the road in our path. It turned out to be a Black Angus bull on his way to meet some girls.
There wasn’t much time to react. I cursed and realized that hitting the brakes wouldn’t do any good. Instinctively I turned the wheel hoping to miss him. That didn’t work but it did move the initial impact away from my son to my corner of the car. When the bull met the Subaru the front of the car knocked him off his feet and flipped him up in the air. It was quite a sight from the driver’s seat and time seemed to slow way, way down.
I remember thinking “Okay, I’m going to die” and then the bull landed. He gained some altitude on the way and came down on his back where the windshield meets the roof. That big dent is where he landed, just an inch or two in front of my face. Then he rolled down to the hood and kicked out the driver’s side window as he struggled to get off the hood of the car. Once on his feet, he gave me a stupid look for a couple of seconds, then trotted off to keep his date. There was a guy on a motorcycle behind us and he told the Highway Patrol officer “I didn’t see any brake lights, the ass end of the car just lifted about three feet off the ground and the car just stopped.”
My son and I were both all right, except for the glass that was everywhere. We both needed some stitches and I had surgery a couple of times over the next six months to remove glass that had been ground into my right hand when the bull met the windshield and the windshield met the steering wheel. I was picking glass out of my hand for about ten years. My wife was rather surprised when I called and explained why she needed to come and get us and more surprised when she saw the car. She was grateful we made it through alive and I am grateful to be around to tell the story. I decided that life is pretty short and unpredictable, too short to suffer fools. I decided to be grateful as often as possible; it’s a lot better to pick glass than to push up daisies.
Later that fall my first book “Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture” was published. Almost five years ago I wrote this blog post “Why I Wrote ‘Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture‘” about how that book came to be. I thought the book was a pretty good idea, and enough people agreed with me that it lead to several other books and a job with a woodworking magazine. One of the things I’m most proud of is that this book (and my other books) have stayed in print. I tried to make a book the same way I make furniture; solid material put together in a way that will last way beyond my short life.
I’ve been surprised that most people who work in the publishing industry don’t see their products that way. Most books published in the last 15 years are one shot deals; after an initial print run they are soon forgotten. Life is too short and too precious to work that way so I left the publishing industry but continue to write the kind of books I think are useful and worth keeping. The first book is still in print, combined with my second and fourth books as the “Great Book of Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture”.
(If you’re curious about the third book, CLICK HERE)
In a few weeks I’ll be digitally publishing a new book, teaching a week-long class on building a Stickley Bookcase and carving when I have the chance. Life may be short, but it’s pretty good. If you have helped support my efforts at any time over the years, you have my thanks.