Today was extremely busy at the Hand Tool School in Penrhyn Castle and I was able to share my Creative Workspace with dozens of people interested in hand tool woodworking and woodworking classes and seriously considering learning the traditional skills we use in our everyday work.
When I turned from totally designing furniture pieces and making furniture to combine it with teaching my fellow enthusiasts I saw the significance from teaching a working craftsman’s perspective. So much that I take for granted on specific issues of sharpening saws, chisels, planes, spokeshaves and scrapers have real value for others and I didn’t want them to be forgotten. The best way to preserve my working knowledge then wasn’t to keep it hidden in my work, but to pass it on to others through hands-on workshops and training. I designed and wrote an apprenticing strategy that really worked wonderfully and a new apprenticeship to meet today’s demands began all those years ago. What was then only a possibility has become a reality for thousands worldwide who would never have had the opportunity to master woodworking skills and pursue a real training program. Following our program began to produce good fruit because it was so readily available and people quickly realised that, yes, they too could really learn from master artisans that teach from their background as working craftsmen or women.
From tiny acorns mighty oak trees grow
It’s really a unique concept to have visitors come into the workshop and see you working on a cabinet or table you are making for a customer. My first taste of this began in Reagan Wells, Texas when I first opened my workshop doors to the public. Tourists were my main source of income and it was there that I sold my very first commissions.
It was there that I made thousands of birdhouses and feeders and began selling them to the public and there that I received my first wholesale order for 500 mesquite birdhouses from a company called Duncraft. That was my first US Creative Workspace. I loved the wildness of it. Harvesting mesquite on the back of a flatbed truck from 6,000 acre Long Horn Cattle ranches on your own was really something for someone raised in Greater Manchester, but that’s what I did. It was also where our son Joseph was born.
Living 30 miles from the nearest town. From there I moved northwards to Kerrville Texas and started another business, but continued in the same vein of making furniture and birdhouses. Birds always fascinated me and it was my way of making sure there were enough nesting sites around Texas.
Three years ago I judged the Texas Furniture Makers show in Kerrville Texas, alongside Asa Christiana, editor of Fine Woodworking, Mike Sauder who owns all of the Woodcraft stores in Texas and Michael Fortune a well-known Canadian designer. The work was really to the highest standards, especially with those who were gifted in new design work.
Moving onwards and upwards yet again we moved to Fredericksburg and settled on a few small acres where once again we made new friends and made furniture.
We had a lovely five bedroomed home there, together with a large workshop and studio. All along the way I trained new apprentices and spread the good news about the real issues of life as a working artisan. I loved my new work there and started teaching for the Texas Arts and Crafts Foundation at Schreiner University Campus.
It’s an amazing story for me and my family. Truly amazing. We still have friends and relationships with people who helped us in the early days of our living in the USA. I loved the seer grass and the sense of upland sierra with mountain lions lurking along the red granite river bottom canyons.