{ Category Archives: bioregion/vernacular }

Miss Clamdigger, Part 1

Lines drawings for Miss Clamdigger ( aka Sprite), designed by Atkin & Co

I invented a motto when I started out as an artist that continues to inform most everything I do or make: All vessels originate with an imagined voyage. The motto flows naturally from my lifelong obsession with wooden boats, whose deep history and continually evolving technology are foundational to my development as a craftsman, regardless of the material or context at hand. Continue Reading »

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Night Blues

NIGHT BLUES

My dad and I started going out for night blues when I was about twelve or thirteen. My mom packed us sandwiches and we’d stop at the liquor store for Slim Jims, ginger ale and beer. The boat left the dock from Atlantic City just after sunset. It was a party boat and our shipmates and crew were all men, mostly what my dad called ‘old salts’. There were older black gentlemen too, quietly leaning on the rails smoking Swisher Sweets, and rowdy young guys from South Philly getting loaded. I was the only kid.

You might get seasick if you stayed below while motoring out with the droning diesel fumes and a rising swell on the coal black sea. My dad called them rollers. We opted to stay out on deck and watched the crew prepare baitfish and chum to make a slick. With razor sharp fillet knives they sliced whole butterfish into chunks and tossed them into a motorized grinder, making a reddish oily pulp in a huge vat. I’m pretty sure my dad wanted to eat the chum himself. His mouth always watered around baitfish. He smoked a cigarette and sipped his can of beer while I watched schools of squid darting through the phosphors in the boat’s wake.

We’d watch the lights on shore slowly fade and disappear and the captain would cut the engine in the blackness. The fishermen prepared their lines in silence, baiting hooks with hunks of fresh bunker while the crew sprayed oily chum into a slick with long-handled ladles. All was silent save the ratcheting of reels and lapping of waves as the boat rocked and adjusted itself to the current, finding its drift. Sometimes you could see schools of bluefish flashing silver close to the surface, thumbs on reels waiting for the skipper’s signal to drop a line.

Then the baited hooks went down in a whir and the blues hit ferociously, almost immediately. We’d pull in one after the other, our arms like rubber by the end of a run. “Keep ‘er head up!”, my dad would shout. Bluefish in a feeding frenzy put up a tough fight and I prided myself on handling my own rod and landing my own fish. Soon the decks were covered with flopping blues, blood and fish scales. The night air turned cold and clear, our lungs filled with the salty sweetness of summertime Atlantic. I once hooked a very large bluefish that my dad entered into the boat’s pool. As we motored back to shore towards dawn the crew set up a scale on deck. My dad quietly slipped a six ounce lead sinker into my fish’s mouth and dropped it down the gullet. I didn’t agree with the idea but needed the money to buy a CB so went along. It didn’t matter, mine was still not the biggest fish on board.

Tagged:

The Cosmic Rhyme of Fives

sea star

Alone among a mussel cluster

a sea star glows in stillness,

vermillion

like a smile

like sunshine while

the sea grass sways.

 

Today

I stand in cold tide pools

because that

is where my bare white

feet make sense, alone among

the cosmic rhyme

of fives.

 

Tagged: , ,

Vernacular Scale

I realized on a recent trip to Virginia that what I still glean from experiencing the pre-industrial vernacular architecture of the Eastern Seaboard is a sense of appropriate scale. My definition of scale here incorporates relationships between people, between resources, and between the commerce, enterprise and production that connects them all.

Despite the obvious (and nefarious) social inequities comprising this sense of appropriate scale, is that it appears to be in balance with nature, self-sustaining, self-regulating, and thereby sustainable. Ironically, it is the very balance of relationships and resources that led eventually to a kind of prosperity, or surplus, that yielded conditions conducive to innovation, which became the undoing of said balance.

In many ways, I feel that the human psyche is still looking for the sense of scale exemplified by the basic tenets governing all pre-industrial vernacular architecture. This leads to misplaced nostalgia, or sentimentality, a romanticization of times past, and a cognitive dissonance with the present and future conditions. Given that this cycle appears to be a recurrent part of the human experience, I’ve tried through my work to develop an inner sense of scale that allows me to glean from the present and anticipate the future, using a deconstructed past as a template.

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Scuppernong Commons

scuppernong1

Wowhaus were Artplace Environmenal Artists-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Art and Innovation in Charlotte, North Carolina in late winter of 2015. While in residence we realized an ambitious public project called Scuppernong Commons. The project is sited within Brightwalk, a mixed-income, mixed-use residential development that is a model of sustainable revitalization and economic development for the City.

Part architectural intervention, part social sculpture, Scuppernong Commons reintroduces the scuppernong grape to the urban fabric, and invites new traditions around the grape’s harvest, preparation and stewardship. Native to the Southeast, the scuppernong has been in cultivation since the 16th century and has been a common staple in homemade jams and jellies, juices, pies and wine.

scuppernong5

Scuppernong Commons consists of a walk-through arbor with overhead trellis, and poured concrete hardscape to support seasonal celebrations. In anticipation of a craft-based, community-engaged fabrication process, we designed a structural system that features a single repeating element, while allowing for randomness and variability. Twelve columns support the trellis and make an artificial allée. Each column is composed of 14 dry-stacked, pigmented concrete rings that were hand-packed with the help of volunteers from the community. The rust-red tone and claylike texture of the stacked columns evokes the region’s red clay soils.

As Charlotte continues to grow and prosper as a major hub of the New South, Scuppernong Commons is intended as a durable, loving tribute to the City’s humble origins, emblemized by the versatility and resiliency of its native fruit.

scuppernong6

scuppernong2

scuppernong3

scuppernong4

scuppernong7

 

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Makkeweks, Ifukube, and the Return of the Ray

makkeweks progress5

I’ve flipped the creature and continue to rough out its topsides with my homemade saw

Carving is like controlled erosion. A shape emerges in response to the real and imagined forces that dictate how and where material is added and removed. My primary job as I sculpt the Makkeweks sea monster is to manage these forces, which, along with the sea monster itself, are largely my invention. My primary tools are various hand saws and abrasives, some of which I have designed and made specifically for carving and cutting compressed cork.

akira_ifukube

Akira Ifukube, 1914-2006, composer of Godzilla soundtracks

Another essential tool is maintaining the appropriate state of mind to keep focus on the monster. I manage this two ways, one is cultural and the other natural. I have immersed myself in monster culture and listen to music composed by Akira Ifukube for the Godzilla movies between 1954-1975 while I carve. The son of a Shinto priest, Ifukube was originally trained in forestry and specialized in researching the elasticity of wood. His career in music followed exposure to radiation that left him physically incapable of the rigors of fieldwork. Somehow I can hear his experience with wood in his music. I feel a deep kinship with Ifukube, which I attribute to the love we must share for wood, music and monsters.

I also find inspiration in studying natural forms during our daily walks on the beach. It’s always thrilling to see pelicans dive, sea lions frolick in the surf, and the occasional breaching whale. I want the Makkeweks sculpture to convey the raw thrill of such encounters in the wild. The Makkeweks monster is a composite of native marine fauna, so I learn something new every day. I was recently extremely encouraged to hear of a bat ray sighting in Lake Merritt. I had anticipated this before the Lake was restored to a tidal estuary, and the possibility informed our conception of Makkeweks, whose name originates with an Ohlone sea monster myth.

makkeweks progress6

To learn more about the development of Wowhaus’ Makkeweks Project, click here.

 

 

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Arborigin

arborigin cover

Arborigin is a collaborative project that brings together artists, designers and artisans to produce fine products from a single elm tree salvaged from Chicago’s urban forest. We invite those interested to submit a proposal to use some of our inventory of cured lumber and hope to bring the finished products together for a pop up store in Chicago in 2014. In simple commerce we aim to incubate ideas for ongoing partnership.

Arborigin is akin to the farm-to-table movement in food. The project asks us to consider what kinds of products a single tree might yield when the means of production, distribution and sales are highly localized. What stories and values become embedded in everyday objects when we know exactly what they were made from and who made them? Arborigin asks us to think differently about trees, about things and how they are made and used, about the relationships that connect us to place. 

The Arborigin Team seeks proposals that model an approach to designing and making that celebrates the inherent attributes of wood from a single tree. We hope to produce products that are multiples; affordable, repeatable objects, that are both useful and artful. Proposals will be solicited by invitation and through an open RFP. Proposals can be for either: 

• Fine Art: sculpture, painting, conceptual work

• One-off/prototypes

• Design/ Craft:  preferably small multiples of everyday objects such as furnishings, housewares, toys and games, instruments, or other functional objects.

To learn more about Arborigin and register to participate, please click here (www.arborigin.com).

To read about the development of the Arborigin Project, please click here and scroll down.

Tagged: , , , , ,