Maker Mindset

THRIFT

Craft persists where thrift is a commodity, either through necessity or intention. Thrift can be the result of poverty, isolation, habit, ethics or the desire for self-sufficiency. The most generous examples of craft are the result of pure thrift because so much must be made with so little.

RESTRAINT

Good enough is good enough. Well chosen materials, proportions and compositions that express their functionality need no further embellishment. Exuberance is best expressed contextually, evident in where care and attention are focused programmatically. For example, Shaker laundry tables were made to be more durable, more permanent than dining tables.

RESOURCEFULNESS

Craft is tools making tools. Fluidity with materials and techniques allows for flexibility and invention. Craft traditions and their products evolve in small increments over time, usually resulting from the introduction of a new tool or material or set of skills borrowed from another practice. Invention is often the result of the desire or necessity for adapting to a changing circumstance or environment. It’s possible to accelerate this process by respecting limitations as opportunities for innovation.

FUNCTIONALITY

The function of craft in society has always been implied obliquely through the functionality of its products, many of which continue to function as intended despite the absence of the conditions that brought them into being. The most room for innovation in craft is in re-defining functionality.

Water

sandpattern.jpg

“The water which sees the air through broken veins of the high mountain summits is suddenly abandoned by the power which brought it there, and escaping from these forces resumes its natural course in liberty. Likewise the water that rises from the low roots of the vine to its lofty head falls through the cut branches upon the roots and mounts anew to the place whence it fell.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

sandpattern2.jpg

“Water is the driver of nature. Water, which is the vital humour of the terrestrial machine, moves by its own natural heat.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Bull Kelp Experiment 2

enekelp.jpg

Ene and I returned to Salmon Creek Beach on the last negative low tide and harvested another load of stray kelp for a new experiment. I found a larger piece of tapered, round driftwood to use as a form for a basket and calculated how many strands of kelp would be required to make a rudimentary weave.

scott-carrying.jpg

Back at the studio, I set up the driftwood form, looped the larger diameter strands of kelp around nails to make the basket’s ‘ribs’ and proceeded to weave the thinner strands in a spiral, beginning at the base where the ribs intersected.

basketform1.jpg

It occurred to me that the nails could be replaced with wooden pegs, and that the larger loops of kelp wrapped around them could be adapted to attach the basket’s handle when the form dries.

basket1.jpg

After about a week of dry weather in dappled shade with very little sea fog rolling in, the kelp basket had dried enough to hold its shape when removed from the form. This experiment used 8 pieces of 6-9 foot long kelp and took about 45 minutes to weave. A tighter basket would take at least twice the amount of kelp and a bit more care and time to shape. With a double-ended driftwood form mounted to a post and two people working in tandem, the process could be quite sociable, with two baskets made over an evening conversation.

Better yet, a sequence of driftwood forms could be assembled on the beach after a winter storm when the large bundles deposit on the shore. A group of friends could gather to make a kelp basket production party around a driftwood bonfire, which might also speed the drying and curing of the material.

Benziger Family Table

insectary3.jpg

I had the ocean on my mind as I drove from the Pacific Coast to visit my friend Colby Eierman at Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, one of a handful of certified biodynamic wineries in the region. Colby is in charge of the gardens and livestock at the winery and called to ask of my interest in making an outdoor table by one of the ponds on the 85 acre property.

It was already quite warm at 7 AM by the time I arrived and took a stroll through the Insectary to orient myself while I waited for Colby. The Insectary at Benziger (pictured above and below) is a kind of labyrinth on a prominent mound within the winery’s tiered growing valley, and offers views of the patterned rows of grapes, wild hills and open skies beyond. It is planted with an exotic range of herbs and flowering plants and is designed to attract beneficial insects as a strategy to eliminate harmful ones, a cornerstone of integrated pest management (IPM).

insectary1.jpg

It is difficult to know exactly why, but the land at Benziger expressed iteself clearly to me; everything was in order without being ‘orderly’ in an imposed way. The plants and birds seemed happy and the place infected me with a feeling of calm well-being as soon as I had time to walk around and take it in. Unfortunately, my time was tight so I was not able to take the full tour, despite Colby’s invitation upon his arrival. Instead, we proceeded directly to the site by the pond, and Colby explained how water is recycled on the farm (through a sequence of ponds and wetlands) and how the table would be used.

copiacart.jpg

The ‘Copia Cart’ I designed and made in 2004 to showcase Colby’s harvest. (Photo by Colby Eierman)

Ene and I had worked closely with Colby when he was head gardener at Copia and we were designing elements for their Children’s Garden and other exhibits, including a mobile produce cart for the museum (pictured above). We love working with Colby and appreciate his easy wit, intelligence and enthusiasm for growing food. So Colby and I were able to skip some steps at Benziger and focus on the program for the table. I was pleased to learn that the table would be for the people who live and work at Benziger, and that it would function as a place to gather, as a kind of muse in the landscape, and as a place to ponder the pond and relax to the sound of gently flowing water.

colby.jpg

Colby by the pond , near the site for the proposed table

My immediate thought was to connect the table to the ocean metaphorically, perhaps by using driftwood or by evoking the seaside tangle of flotsam in its structure. Regardless, I would design the table to be a surprise to encounter from any angle of approach. We agreed that I would work up some ideas and present them to the Benziger family, and I feel honored at the opportunity to apply my Deep Craft principles in such an extraordinary, biodynamic setting. I have been collecting driftwood incidentally on my excursions to the coast, and will now begin to look at my collection with fresh eyes.

Beneficial End Use

fall-off2.jpg

My workshop produces no waste. When I make furniture I do my best to optimize the beneficial end use of the material that flows through my hands. I apply the same paradigm to wood scraps and shavings, and often derive as much pleasure from managing waste streams as from making functional objects. Deep Craft is all about stewardship of waste streams.

The woods I use are from horticultural salvage; primarily native trees harvested from windfall, street trees and orchard groves including monterey cypress, claro walnut, acacia, madrone, elm and bay laurel, cut and air-dried by local sawyers.

walnut-scraps.jpg

Dust and shavings from milling are composted, or used as fill if they contain toxins such as ‘juglone’ found in walnut. Small scraps become kindling for our woodstoves and fuel my wood-fired steambox for bending operations. Fruitwoods flavor foods cooked in our smoker or over the open coals of sweet embers.

compost-dust.jpg

Larger scraps and oddly-shaped cut-offs (pictured at the top) often serve as inspiration for new ideas or find their way into models and fixtures for new projects. If I lack storage space, I give scraps away to friends and love to track how they are used. Sometimes my wood is returned to me in a new form as a gift, which I always find inspiring in unexpected ways. I hope to use this site to initiate a ‘scrap exchange’ along these lines, and will create an archive and database for the free exchange of ‘waste’ for products so realized. Some of these will be featured as GOODS for sale on these pages in the coming months.

An important component of designing a new chair (the California Windsor) is how its manufacture integrates with the seasonal management of our property on several levels. I am beginning to study biodynamic farming techniques pioneered by Rudolf Steiner as a model for Deep Craft to serve as a potential extension of his agricultural insights.

MIX opens at Southern Exposure

soex.jpg

Over the past few weeks my focus has shifted to developing new projects for wowhaus, my public art and design collaboration with my wife, Ene Osteraas-Constable. Many of our projects have their origins as ‘social sculpture’, where we create structures and situations designed to bring people together in convivial exchange.

Yesterday we introduced MIX, our human-powered, urban compost tumbler at Southern Exposure, a community-based gallery in San Francisco, temporarily sited in a residential block in the Mission District. We’ve been working in collaboration with a group of artists to develop a curatorial component for the gallery’s tiny garden, and proposed to kick things off with a community ‘pot luck’ around the topics of compost, soil and urban gardening. We set up tables and chairs in the gallery, decorated with hand-embroidered tablecloths, and invited neighbors to bring a home-cooked dish to share as well as their kitchen scraps to feed the composter. Most people arrived with a salad or fruit, and we spent a lively afternoon hanging out, swapping stories, feeding the composter and discussing the garden’s potential.neighborscraps.jpg

Kristin Palm, a San Francisco-based writer who recently wrote a feature on Deep Craft for Metropolis magazine’s POV project, showed up with clippings of her own hair for the composter. Human hair is loaded with nitrogen, a key ingredient in making fertile soil.

kristinhair.jpg

With the help of my friend and neighbor Steve Shoulders, I designed and built the composter with ready-made materials culled from the waste stream, including a Spanish-made exer-cycle, an olive barrel, and a bicycle wheel donated by The Recyclery Bike Shop of Oakland. Pumping the handlebars pulls a ratcheted cable, which spins the wheel with barrel attached, mixing and aerating the contents for rapid and even decomposition.compost.jpg

Much of the discussion centered on how to optimize the pedal power potential. Our original plan was to spin a 12 V generator to charge a battery to power a laptop or equivalent, but we decided to allow the site and situation to determine the best use. This method of composting produces a liquid ‘tea’ that, when drained, is very nutritious for growing plants. A few of the garden-savvy participants suggested collecting the ‘tea’ drained from the decomposing matter, and using the pedal power to pump it to a mister which could be moved around the garden. Regardless of the thing powered, simply providing exercise for the gallery staff during a stessful restructuring and growth cycle is a worthy outcome of ‘pedal power’ for now.

cabbage.jpg

For the event, I made cole slaw from cabbage and carrots grown nearby. I sliced 3 heads of cabbage, chopped up 2 bunches of carrots, and mixed in a sauce made from 1/2 cup Vietnamese garlic/chili sauce (sambal oelek), 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 cup of olive oil, slowly whipped in.

The MIX composter will be installed in Southern Exposure’s garden for the entire summer, and the gallery’s community will determine how best to utilize the soil generated from neighborhood kitchen scraps. MIX is the latest in a series of wowhaus’ community-based interventions; others include Friesel, Tree Trust True, Life on Market Street, and the Ecology/Expedition Survey. Wowhaus public projects model community production strategies, a hallmark of Deep Craft.

Bull Kelp Experiment 1

nest1.jpg

It is High Spring on the Sonoma Coast and I’m finding my interest in woven structures is shared by birds, whose nests are literally dropping from trees with the afternoon winds from an unseasonably high barometric pressure.

kelp-dry1.jpg

My initial experiments with bull kelp were a success. Wrapped around a tapered round of driftwood, the material dried to a flexible hardness, keeping its shape but reducing in diameter by about 75%. The taper allows for easy removal of the shrunken, dried kelp form.

My concern now is how best to preserve the dried kelp form from its naturally intended decay. I have been experimenting with biodiesel as a non-toxic wood finish and have soaked my dried kelp form with the fuel as a potentially ideal solution. Biodiesel is produced locally here, and is available at several nearby pump stations for a fraction of the cost of comparable oils and varnishes.

woven1.jpg

Meanwhile, I’ve been documenting woven structures and studying the cultures that consistently produce functional objects from ‘knitted’ or ‘woven’ grasses.

hat.jpg

I’m not entirely confident kelp will find its way into the California Windsor I am developing, but it will certainly inform its design and may surface as a small basket for eggs or similarly harvested goods. Kelp is like wine to the compost.