Tuesday, March 3, 2009

the March of spring/ Pacific Yew

Yesterday we had blizzard-like conditions here in the Hudson Valley. Snow, sleet, howling winds.. just not enough accumulative snow to qualify AS a blizzard. A couple days ago there were ample redwing blackbirds and grackles passing through my yard and trees. You could hear them everywhere. Each year in March I re-read a favorite book- Kenn Kaufman's KINGBIRD HIGHWAY.. to quote from the book cover... "Jack Kerouac meets Roger Tory Peterson- a very different and remarkable story of a young man on the road." Basically it's all about birding in North American, striving for a Big Year in the 70s. "The birder's equivalent of On the Road or Easy Rider" It's a wonderfully written book. If you're a birder, actually spell-binding.
I love this book. It takes me places I've already been, and also places I will never see... but as you read it, you feel you are there, and seeing the birds Kenn is seeing. Heck, I wish it were a movie, this book!!
Early in the book, Kenn describes his first identification of a Western Kingbird, which becomes his favorite bird for life. I too have favorite birds, and none of them are any kind of special, rare bird. I like Redwing Blackbirds... I love watching them doing their antics among swamp cattails. I like Song Sparrows a lot. A Song Sparrow singing along the road to Cruger's Island, near here, was the bird who hooked me on bird-watching. I love catbirds... they are everywhere... being busy and noisy and nosy and amusing, chattering away from dawn to dusk, never uncheerful unless they are scolding a cat, or squirrel, or Blue Jay.
Years ago, Carolina Wrens were rare around here. Now they are common, and very welcome, as their insistent voices are sometimes heard during the fall, even the winter, and early spring, before any other birds are putting in their "two cents" about the conduct of weather.
I worry about all of them when we have a March storm such as yersterday's. There are a couple of Chickadees that roost at night under my front porch eves, and I was glad to see them huddled up. My cat, Treelo, enjoys looking up at them through a living room window of this 18th-century house.
As for woodwork, it's almost too cold to work in my unheated barn under conditions such as we've been having, but I am working on a very interesting block of Pacific Yew. Now I am at the 120 grit stage, so it's beginning to reveal its glory. I'll make a more detailed report on it in a few days. I can't wait to count the annual rings.... they are very tight, and numerous. Large blocks of Pacific Yew are few and far between. I am very lucky to have one, and one that is completely seasoned and unlikely to split or check or blow up uselessly. I think it's going to be a gorgeous finished piece...
I might send it to Martha Stewart- I am sure she would appreciate it. But, I may never get another such block of wood, so I may just keep it. Selfishness won't get me very far, no doubt about that, but, I do love having an example of different species of wood.
Birds, and wood.... not all that far removed from one another.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

American Woodman

OK, I've been thinking about this issue for a long time, particularly since I went to a lecture at Bard College almost 10 years ago, given by Julia Butterfly Hill, the famous (some would say infamous) redwood tree-sitter. At the time I was not only using redwood, in spite of its toxicity, but I was using exotic hardwoods from Africa, South America, and Australia, some of which probably came from rain forests that would be better preserved, than cut down for pasture or woodworkers.
I could number out a list of all the top-ten drop-dead gorgeous bowls I have made from ill-gotten wood.... purpleheart, cocobolo, padauk, red mallee, coolibah, zebrawood, just getting started.... and lots of redwood... Was I truly evil? Look- it was easy to justify... doesn't art come first? Isn't using discarded sections of wood (as the wood I crave was exactly the wood that board-makers didn't want, the more complex, impossible-to-work, pieces) somehow a noble use of wood that, heck, the tree had already been cut down, right? Wasn't I preserving for all time the very special spirit of each complex section of an individual tree, its very soul, if you will? Shouldn't my work be applauded? Wasn't my higher use more justified than the lower uses- boards, for example?
Well, I kept on deceiving myself for a good long time and my work was praised by almost all who saw it, with little thought of where it came from and whether the "maker" was being ethical, or not. Gee, there I was on the Martha Stewart Show, with Padauk and zebrawood, and cocobolo, all no doubt somewhat questionable endangered species in a sense, and on the same Show was a fellow espousing preservation and displaying various animals and amphibians who were currently threatened?
He must have hated me.
I began to loath myself. The hypocrisy of it all !! What a crock !! YesYesYes, it's beautiful, it's gorgeous, it's wonderful, it's unique, it's indescribable, it's..... sometimes perfect.
But, it's evil to use exotic foreign woods. Sorry, you friends who supported my work and obtained my work, or sold me blocks of (name a great foreign hardwood- I bought it...).
So I couldn't do it any more. It's not that I suddenly made a decision to become "pure".... I also got tired of getting blocks of great wood that I paid good money for, and then have them check or split and become unusable because they had been badly seasoned or not seasoned at all. And heavy waxing really didn't crack it for me. Hey, isn't there an abundance of fabulous North American hardwoods? Didn't I start OUT with cherrycherrycherry and more cherry, and isn't cherrywood as gorgeous as any other wood in the world? Sure it is.
So is deeply-rayed and complex Western bigleaf maple.
But I admit to being a hypocrite and easy-outter... What really happened is my younger brother shipped me around 42 blocks of bigleaf maple... and at the same time, I had already tried most of the foreign woods, so my curiosity had been largely satisfied. It was easy to quit, and cold turkey, too.
That still leaves the redwood issue. I love Julia Butterfly Hill, even though I only heard her once.
How could anyone not admire to the Nth degree, someone who had devoted so much energy and time to a cause greater than herself? Why did I betray her? Would I continue to betray her in the name of my own art and self-interest? Would I draw a line in the deep soil surrounding the redwood forests and declare "I shall not use redwood..."? Even though redwood is really really toxic (to your lungs, your skin... there is no coincidence that it repells water, and insects, perhaps even fire...) I loved working with redwood.
This past year I bought a redwood burl section, part of which had been in a fire, from a dealer in Oregon. It is one of the most beautiful bowls I have ever made. Definitely a top-ten.
I am a despicable person. But I haven't gotten any more redwood blocks after that one. I did get some locust burl blocks from the same dealer, and they were spectacular, and they were real.
So, I had a brief redwood relapse. But I am pretty well determined to stick to more common North American woods from now on... maple, elm, cherry, heck.... the list is long enough to keep any woodworker gouging and sanding for a lifetime.
There is something basically wrong about shipping wood from other continents when wood from your own continent will do just as well. Not only wrong, but in this day and age (you know, global warming, carbon exchanges, green....) perhaps even evil. I am striving to do less wrong.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Martha Show in July

It has been summer hot here in the Hudson Valley and yesterday I was doing some woodwork, sanding a nice small piece of western bigleaf maple, and took a break for awhile. I tuned in to the Martha Show, which comes on at 1 p.m. here, and there I was, on TV, sanding that S. American mahogany bowl that I made for the Martha segment. Imagine my surprise ! Especially as I had actually only seen the segment twice. Was it a dream? No, a re-run !
Then a phone call from Karen in Oak Park, Ill., came in, and then the emails started popping, and my quiet, sultry, too-hot-to-sand anyway July day and evening turned busy. And I had to help a friend paint some interior rooms of a house nearby, even in the heat.
I am trying this time to answer emails promptly. Last time, in January, when that Show originally aired, I wasn't handy with a new email system, and I didn't even NOTICE about 50 emails until a week or 2 had already passed. I felt badly about that... I think I should be prompt in replying to folks who took the time to contact me, for whatever reason. If Martha was generous and gracious enough to have this average guy (me) on the Show, even if I do make unaverage bowls, I think I should make every effort to respond in kind to her viewers. Don't you? And, I really do appreciate the nice things most folks have to say about my work.
Being on the Martha Show was a high point in my life, no doubt. Everyone, before, during, and after, was very nice, and totally professional, and I enjoyed the time with them. I wish I could have had a bit more time just chatting with Martha, we have some common interests, but during a morning of shooting a live TV show, she obviously doesn't have a lot of time for idle chitchat. One of her original producers, Leslie McNeil, is a neighbor of mine here in Rhinebeck, and I never had a chance to mention it.
So thanks, Martha !! It was great to be on the re-run !! And thanks to everyone who saw it for the first time and got in touch with me. I am working on a whole series of very cool Western bigleaf maple bowls, from dozens of blocks that my woodworking brother, Sebastian Eggert, of Port Townsend, Washington, sent me a few months ago, and I am trying to make them reasonably priced and affordable to average folks like me, even in a tough economy.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Martha Stewart Show !

Well, I was ON the Martha Stewart Show yesterday, Jan. 17th. The segment they shot up here on Nov 2nd, of me making a mahogany bowl, using all the tools, and talking about some finished pieces, was just fabulous. (Thanks Laurie, and Gary!!!) And on the live set, Martha had examples of all the tools, a rough zebrawood block, and 6 finished bowls, each a different wood. After they showed the taped segment, we were "live", Martha showing each bowl on the set table, and I was sitting right nearby, and we were chatting about each piece, quite naturally. It was very cool, and turned out great! I was thrilled to meet Martha just briefly before and after the segment, and she is very attractive, gracious, and poised.
Being on TV is a new experience for me, all the bustling around, getting make-up. They dont have any room for errors- it is done live and what you see and hear is what you get.
On-set were 6 bowls= cocobolo, s. american mahogany (the same one I had done for the upstate shoot), African padauk, African zebrawood, red elm, and western bigleaf maple. The bowls looked great on the mostly white marble table.
Everyone on the Martha team was very friendly and complimentary and made you feel at ease even though there is an electricity of anticipation and pressure of putting on a live TV show each day, with a continuing change of people coming on the show (like me), who are unknown and untested entities, ofcourse. I am pretty sure that Vaia, the smart and attractive young woman who was my guide, was probably holding her breath when it came time for me to reply to the question Martha was going to ask me after the taped segment.... I sure didn't want to screw it up, not on national TV !! And naturally I wanted to do a good job for Martha.
It went fine. I was lucky.
The bowls, and my work, speak pretty well for themselves just by being there. It's always been about my work, for me, not about ME. But once invited, boy, you better show up, and hopefully do a good job. Friends tell me I aced it. I felt fine about it, and very relieved when it was over. So, what's next?
Thank you, Martha!! And thanks to Vaia, and Elie, and Joey, and everyone at the Show. It was a wonderful experience and all of you are just GREAT !!! kip

Monday, November 19, 2007


I love cocobolo. Just finished a small bowl with ever-so-slight curving. It sanded up beautifully and is smooth as glass at 320 grit. It oils up very nicely and doesn't "spot" going into the grain the way s. american mahogany seems to so that you have to keep drying, and drying, and rubbing, and even then can be a little spotty.
The past month has been busy. A film crew from the Martha Stewart Show was here all day on Friday Nov. 2nd, shooting the entire process of making a sculptural bowl, from taking a block off the stack, to chain-sawing the edges, and every step in between until 320 grit and signing then oiling the piece. Luckily my assistant Natasha got back from a job in NYCity in time for lunch with the crew, and she was able to get into the action and did most of the sanding on the mahogany piece we were working on.
The producer, Laurie Hepburn, I think has 3 or 4 Emmys to her credit, as does the cameraman, Gary Nardilla. The next day I googled Gary, and saw he'd done shoots of Madonna, and also Mariel Hemingway, WOW !! He did many very close-in shots of the tools blasting sawdust all over the place. Also, many "beauty shots" of finished work. I felt I did poorly, when talking about my work and so on, but Laurie assured me it went OK and would be fine through the magic of editing. I don't know when the segment will show. People have told me it's a real big deal to be featured on the Martha Show, and they've asked ominously, "Are you ready?"
I should really get to work and stack up some inventory in case people start calling me out of the blue. I can only make so many bowls in a year, so..... I still haven't gotten a digital camera or any photos up anywhere. But I did just register a domain name... http://www.kipeggert.com/ which should be "up" in 2 days, and I think I can put a brief description of what I do on the site, and an email address as well... kipeggert@yahoo.com Small but necessary steps, like sanding.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

spalted red elm with wormholes

What a terrific piece of wood I've been working on. It came from my Raleigh, N.C. wood dealer awhile back, NC Wood, Gary Davis. He's on ebay. He has a lot of great wood and is very reliable to deal with. It started out a large block, and I shaped it the usual way...
I had thought I'd do another cocobolo, but cocobolo is difficult to work with, and although the red elm is 3x as large, it'll be easier. Much easier. I remember elm from growing up. We sometimes burned elm in our house of many fireplaces. It was the wood that is nearly impossible to split. The flip side of that difficulty is that it seems stable and not likely to crack and split randomly on its own.
I took 4 bowls to my Rhinebeck Farmer Market this Sunday (where i sell cheese) but technically, NOT bowls. There was a lot of interest in them, as the fall craft fair was at the fairgrounds, and a lot of people going to the craft fair, stopped by the farmer market. I doubt there were any wood bowls at the craft fair as interesting as mine, as I've been to it and seen only "turned" pieces. It is obvious to anyone that my work is NOT turned.
The purpleheart and cocobolo bowls caught a lot of eyes and remarks, as well as the pair of western bigleaf maple bowls that came to me in triangles out of the same large block.
I can't wait to get a digital camera and load some photos on this blog site. Maybe by the time I finish this red elm piece, by the end of the weekend. The spalting and worm-holes are very cool. More about spalting on a later date. As they say on TV, "stay tuned."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

canarywood bowl

It was almost too hot to work today, like, 90 degrees and muggy. But I wanted to finish up this canarywood piece, and that meant, 120grit, then 180, 240, and 320. Back and forth to my barn/shop/studio... Woodworkers have shops, artists have studios, I am (shrug) kind of in-between. I never call myself an "artist" though. Canarywood is very easy to work with- not too hard, not too soft, quite smoooooth, sometimes has a great figure if it has had any wormhole action (which this one had none....) Martha Stewart has one of my canarywood bowls in her kitchen. (a feather in my cap and a nice bowl in her kitchen)
I LOVE the Martha people. They all sound so enthusiastic and perky and friendly.
So a day of sanding, done. And the bowl, signed, dated, and a 1st coat of Behlen's Salad Bowl clear finish, done. Maybe i'll do a cocobolo piece next. I have a lot of wood blocks to choose from. And that is a good thing.