Unscripted Jim Krenov

A little background is in order before you read this.   You must remember this occurred sometime in late 1991.  But it is not from memory, these are Jim’s words direct from a cassette tape I still have.  It has not been edited.  If there are errors it is because of my transcription skills.  All that has been left out was some the reading of letters that Jim shared, I left these out because they were the words of others, not his.   I also left out some things that were class related and had nothing to do with the discussion.   But I did remove a lot of “ya knows”  because we are all guilty of that one.   And yes we had his permission to tape this…

You will get to here my favorite quote from Jim as well, it involves making a statement and a toothbrush…

On a Monday after I had started school at the College of the Redwoods we all took a field trip to the local gallery and a shop discussion ensued once we returned to the shop.  As many of you know the school exists because of Jim Krenov and on this day while not one of his teaching days he was in the shop and this came out of it.  It was his response to what was being talked about.  Making a living and such things.  I don’t even remember the exact discussion but in general it was about making a living at woodwork etc.

There is nothing revolutionary discussed, just Jim responding to what we had been talking about.  But I do think it is worth sharing.  While I am sure he would have edited this if it was on paper I still think it is worth reading un-editedJim has had a positive effect on my life but in a very different  way than you might think.

Jim talking….

If somebody  asks, what practical reason is there to being a craftsmen?  It is difficult to give them an answer because being a craftsmen may not be practical, primarily it may be that you want to be a craftsmen.  Maybe that you want for that to be a part of your life.  So you know, the answers are different for different people

I just want us to return to relaxing in here and feeling that whatever you want to get out of this place we will help you get it but we are not primarily a school that turns out people with a guarantee that they are going to make it out there in the gallery world or whatever it is.

At this stage when we are just trying to learn the alphabet it is more important that you concentrate on that alphabet. And that you remember,

Skills are the things that are going to give you the freedom to make things that you imagine , you know that you get out of books or out of your mind, or from somewhere you get an idea and that provides you with energy, and that gives you revelations along the way That is a wonderful way to be a craftsmen.

Jim quotes from , Bernard Leach, a very well known potter

“My observation over 50 years is that the young continually find themselves in a free for all market place fray.  Why do they come to an old potter like me unless they have the hope that I hold a secret which they might learn.  I have no precious secret, only a humble observation, namely, that if the desire for the good pot, and the vocation is strong enough and pure enough you can get there.  Any sacrifice is worthwhile including life itself.  If you habitually make a lot of similar pots by hand, which you still feel are worthwhile but not of your personal design, an expansion of the real you at the expense of the lesser ego is bound to take place.

You get out side the boundary of your own skin, your amputating mind, you make friends with clay stone ash and fire,  dispassionately but lovingly, all the efforts you make you assess form , pattern texture and one must come to the criteria of real values.  Many will remain content at the level of form interpreters, a few may have the power to explore further  and  become a contributing composer.  Let it not be forgotten that as the great Japanese critic Dr Yanagi has written  “At the round table of beauty there is no top no bottom”

Back to Jim…

So you know, the imagery you get the ideas you get in everything, in all these other things, nothing  is for sure.  There is no unanimous opinion of beauty,  although cities museums ancient ruins remind us of the fact that, you know, some things just leave you speechless  which is the best that they can do.  When there is nothing to say, maybe that’s it.  There are those things that transcend time, trends and all the rest of it.  Ya know, Their there and their wonderful but were living in a time when there is so much discussion about art and is this art and all these other things and craftsmen  ya know, 19 years old put out these brochures  about the reasons why my work has such an impact on contemporary American craft is etc etc etc.  He or she is 19 or 20 years old and this is their first show in a gallery or whatever .  and its not for me to comment but at any rate those things aree happening ya know.  But we have great books with wonderful things in them and we have books with so so things and we have books that the best you can say is that it gives you an example of what not to do.

That way too,  that’s learning in part  But coming back to where you were on Monday…

Browse as much as you want, look as much as you want, we’ve got a whole library of work that has  been done here, books  of things that have never been done here um all of these things that you can gather into your mind, but try to just keep coming back to yourself to what it is that you’d like to do , don’t try to cram it with all of the exercises that we  will have gone through by then, dovetailing  doweling mortise and tenon  they don’t all have to be there

If you come up with just a simple thing  that doesn’t have drawers in it, don’t let that worry you.  Don’t crowd a drawer in there if it doesn’t belong there Just come up with something you feel good about.  And then start looking for wood, start imagining it…   the same object in different colors…

A lot of the things that we do are moods and the important thing is to allow yourself to get into a mood about something that you’d like to do and imagine it light imagine it dark, look around at different woods that we have and just paint it in your mind because the way that you use those colors, and shades and things can add or detract from a piece that in itself is good but the…  the way that the colors and the rhythyms  of the wood are spoiled  or detract from it.  In some cases you have something that is extremely simple and  yet the wonderful way that the wood works with that simplicity is just adding to it, making it interesting.  Simple things are not uninteresting.  The world is full of very simple objects that are totally fascinating, ya know an ordinary cup or pot can  be indifferent  but it can also be amazing in its glaze and subtleties of the way that it is done, ya know.  The most famous tea bowl in Japan, is an anonymous Korean bowl.  Nobody will ever know who made it.  It’s made by some peasant in Korea, for some reason, asthetic  or well I suppose basically asthetic, the Japanese have sort of  designated it as a sacred object and it is, well,  its not considered superior  to anything else but they say if you want to see a truly marvelous teabowl, then there it is. And we don’t even know  who made it, it’s just a peasant bowl.

But the way it is, um, it’s a little bit explained in Yanagi  [The Unknown Craftsmen, Soetsu Yanagi].  In other words let the wood play a role, and even if its Alder, we have had one or two things made in alder, that were just  lovely.  Alder is a fairly anonymous wood.  It doesn’t really say all that much.  You know the flat grain in Alder has it’s rythym, the vertical grain, its either straight or curved, you can work with that, it’s just like a drawing that’s done with a very light touch, pencil and no colors, just  a drawing it’s nice.  So right now we are concerned with skills, lets not worry about design as a topic

He then quotes a line from a letter from David Ecke “The best of design includes the quality of doing”

That the doing is in the design, that’s what we are really about is to get people to make the process of building things so intimate that that process will be in finished object.  By that I mean there will be a touch, there will be an air about it and you will come in there and you will come in there and you will say this looks like something that  so and so would do and somebody else will say yeah, he did it and you‘d say I thought so.

That’s nice and there are craftsmen who work that way and you go somewhere to a show or someones home or wherever  That looks like one of so and so’s pieces , yep it is

So That’s the thing we are trying to do, right now it’s fumbly,  it’s frustrating in the sense that it does take 3 or 4 days to make a round bottom plane and we are concerned with the nitty gritty of doing that and getting the darned thing to work properly and  later on that will lead us to wanting to do  a coopered something or a panel and getting away from a flat shapes   Knowing that we can do it and knowing it will feel good to someone later on when we show someone the piece, that it will be a nice experience for everybody.

So we will just settle back into ya know the learning,  which really we always are aware is partly, a combination of frustration and satisfaction because it takes someone a month and a half and were like saying well nothing is happening, like I came here to make furniture.  Ya know, But there are a reassuring number of you here that have not made all that much furniture.  And let that be an encouragement rather than a discouragement, a worry, because every year we work with people who come in here who have done little or nothing.

Being a community college, we don’t recruit a bunch of super duper stars, we work with people who feel happy and want to be here and really, um, the sum total of all this is there are some people who do not ask themselves, ya know, is this the way the market  wind is blowing, will I be able to sell this, is this what people are making, is this the current idiom.

When I was in some of the schools back east, they drove me up the wall with this business,  Does it make a statement?  I said sure it does but the damn statement  isn’t worth making.  Ya know, Gee miny…  A toothbrush can make  statement.  It was like that, they were bugging each other that way but that is not making a statement.  I don’t know,  so anyhow lets not worry about that part of it and  just get into the thing that were in and see what happens.  And I think that there’s a reassurance in some of the things  that other people, other than I,  have experienced  and expressed so that you don’t get the feeling that, you know,  the wisdom comes from some particular source.  We are aware of the world and crafts and we have interesting articles from English magazines .

We have other things that you will enjoy and  you know, will add to your perspective so that you won’t feel  that we are in this tunnel.  Or that things are narrowing, you know.   that we are not aware of what’s going on. We  are, but beyond a certain point it becomes a distraction it can take you away from what you are doing or should be doing.  And you are worrying about other things at the expense of the time you should be feeling good about what you are doing and concentrating on learning.

So for what it’s worth I wanted to share these little thoughts with you and kind of come back to home base, I don’t know.  I probably missed some things, let just, let me look and see here if I missed something…

In this first project think of the kind of work that at that time you most want to dobecause you’ve got as I have said a choice you can lf you really feel that at that time want to get physical about things, then choose a thing like a wood that can  be planed, maybe coopering or something, mainly physical or if you want to do something intricate something that involves a lot of mental strain, concentration, minute detail so on, that’s a different kind of experience. So just tune in on that which you most feel like doing at that particular time.  And then just try to imagine something and you can help from books, then go to the wood, different kinds of wood and try to imagine how it will be.

On the practical side I am one of the sources of lending things over there and I’ve got some tools and things out here someplace  and I have even forgotten who borrowed them or where I have left them and it would be nice if someday they came back to me because there is a law of diminishing returns that’s been working for the last 5 or 6 years and I am a little poorer than I was and I don’t mind being poor it’s just that when people come and want to borrow things from me and I say geez I don’t have it anymore, I don’t own it anymore and it’s embarrassing I cant lend it to them so ya know just by way of a reminder it is easy to forge, you and I and all the rest of us have got loads and loads of objects around and its easy for something to go astray.

I am a little bit apologetic as I have taken the morning from you, I don’t know if any of this is digestible or not But I hope that at least some of it is.  You can read what other people have expressed and said and maybe it would help you a little bit

As I have travelled and go to different places and countries, I become a little bit aware of how differently people approach living with their craft and really the good side has been that thanks to people like leech and others  I have discovered that certain common denominators apply to any craft or maybe even almost any field of human endeavor ya know where you are trying to be an honest person trying to live a good life. Live in a sense of harmony and not hysterics,  They both start with an h but that’s about it.

So that’s reassuring you discover that your own experiences coincide or at least parallel other peoples experiences and that’s very beneficial.  Then you become aware of the validity of those things.

Amazingly enough at the end of this discussion Jim actually apologized for taking up our morning.  Not one of us felt any apology was needed….