{ Category Archives: material provenance }

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 »

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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.

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Reconsidering Shellac

lac beetle

Shellac is a natural by-product of the lac beetle’s secretions.

Like so many craftsy kids who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, I had my own rock polisher, a wood-burning set, access to my dad’s tools, collections of yarn and twine, old National Geographics, mucelage, rubber cement and shellac, and a basement, attic and garage for a studio. Whether I was making fake antique signs or a decoupage vase, I always seemed to have an open can of shellac, and learned to associate it’s candy amber gloss with other craft icons of the era such as tie dye, macrame, stamped leather, etc. It’s peculiar how such ancient techniques were consistently defamed by their appropriation into middle class America in the 1960’s and 70’s.

I haven’t changed much since then, and I live in a place that is almost entirely and un-self-consciously unreconstructed since about circa 1978, so maybe it’s fitting I should be reconsidering shellac. But there’s more to it. As a wood finish, shellac meets my requirements on several key levels:

1. Shellac is a non-toxic by-product of secretions by the lac beetle (lacifer lacca), whose flakes are easily dissolved in denatured alcohol, another bio-degradable agent, so it uses no harmful chemicals or petroleum products.

2. Shellac can be applied at almost any reasonable temperature or humidity level, so is particularly well-suited to our typically cool, damp conditions; and it dries fast, reducing time for application of multiple coats.

3. Shellac penetrates the wood and seals it while protecting from darkening through exposure to light. Also, by using de-waxed flakes that have been processed to make a clear resin, it’s possible to attain a very pale finish on wood.

4. Shellac is easily repaired, and its surface can be rendered virtually flat either through the use of polishing abrasives or integral ‘flattening agents’.

Shellac has been used in some form since ancient times as a wood finish, gaining wide-spread popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries in the form of a technique called ‘French Polish’, but was rendered practically obsolete during the Industrial Revolution with the introduction of varnishes and oil-based resins. I’ve spent the majority of my wood-working career trying to match my approach to wood with an appropriate finishing technique, having most recently convinced myself that wood is best left raw, gaining a patina through exposure to the elements over time. My recent rediscovery of shellac has me thinking otherwise, and I’ve begun using it exclusively for all of my interior projects. Who knows, maybe I’ll break out the rock polisher next.

lac beetle2

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Bull Kelp Harvest

kelp leg1

Each winter since we’ve lived on the Sonoma Coast and made a daily practice of walking the beaches, I become mildly obsessed with the bull kelp that washes ashore in great heaps after storms. I’ve tried weaving the kelp into seat blanks, drying it as an iodine-rich jerky, and brewing it for a savory stock. My experiments have not been utter failures, and the waste product makes for nutritious compost, but I have yet to find its ideal use.

This year, I harvested several large heads of the kelp, selecting the freshest and most well-formed. I’m considering casting these in bronze as a table leg for a new design commission, and have carefully cleaned and wrapped them for freezing until I’m ready to make the molds.

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Deep Craft video

I’m proud to post the final episode of Kirsten Dirksen’s three part documentary she filmed in one day this past winter when she was visiting from Barcelona, home base for her company, faircompanies.com. This is my favorite one and I think it does a wonderful job of presenting the core of my Deep Craft philosophy. I especially appreciate her featuring my Deep Deck so prominently, which I’m poised to launch this summer at Storefront Lab in San Francisco through a three week pop-up store project I’m calling Deep Craft Atelier (more about this soon).

To watch the video on Kirsten’s site, read her commentary and link to her other video productions featuring “community and access to tools on sustainable culture”, please click here.

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Goat Barn for the Edible Schoolyard

goat barn sketch

I designed my 118 SF  barn to accommodate three Oberhaslis goats in comfort.

I’ve been having a lot of fun designing a tiny barn to house three Oberhaslis goats for the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley. The project is just a schematic concept thus far, but will not require much more design if I get the proportions about right. I love to design little buildings, the more utilitarian the better, especially when in support of urban agriculture. It’s been about 14 years since I designed and built the Tool Barn for the Edible Schoolyard, so I’m happy to have a chance to add a companion structure to the program. If the goat barn project is funded, I’ll most likely build it myself from trees felled and milled on our property over the summer. For now, the concept flows easily from my sharpened pencil on graph paper at 1/4″= 1′-0″ scale, my favorite way to begin any project.
goat1

The nototriously quiet Oberhaslis goat will need to be milked twice a day.

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Ulmus Americana 3-22-12

deep deck 3-22-12

My boards measure 44″L x 9.5″W, cupped and cambered, with a slightly lifted pintail.

I recently finished another small batch of my Deep Deck longboards in American Elm. The design has taken about three years of prototyping to perfect, and is proving popular with a wide range of riders, from street cruisers to downhill carvers. I source only sustainably milled, air-dried wood from local horticultural salvage, and stamp the latin name of the species on the underside of each deck, along with the date the deck comes off the bench. Since I’m currently the sole supplier and each deck is essentially made to order, I’ve been keeping track of who owns each one. I plan to follow up with an interactive database that allows people to upload images, share info and connect with other Deep Deck riders and collectors.

ulmus americana

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