Say amateur to most and the reaction expresses the opposite to how I feel in using the word. Often it’s suggestive of a sort of diminished ability, but negative connotation or not, justified or not, there is no reason to take over a positive to turn it into a negative. By positive I mean amateur to me means it’s often passion-driven and the enthusiasm is always infectious. I know not yet, but one day I could be heralded as one of the longest serving amateurs in the world. My fascination with wood started around 10 years old. My passion for it never wained and I would say I get more passionate about it as each year arrives.
Say amateur woodworking or woodworker to Paul Sellers and his heart leaps in hopeful expectation. Let’s try not to think amateurish, just amateur, you know, the one that works wood no matter the weather, not matter the lack. The one who’s out there paddling the canoe after breaking the ice to get to midstream. Amateur woodworkers work wood whether they have hand tools or not and whether they have just the right wood or not. Dare I say they’ll work wood with their fingernails if need be. Somehow just the passion they have alone pulls all of the ingredients into their sphere.Whereas amateurish may well be the result of ineptness, amateur and amateurs seem always to push toward new limits. They know that somewhere just ahead of defeat lies their success. How many times in my own life have I reached the point where I have said to myself I don’t know how to do this or I don’t think I can do that and suddenly I did it. Often times I have done the impossible because I didn’t know I couldn’t.
One definition describes amateur as ‘a non-specialist layman’ whereas my experience often turns up workmanship of exemplary skill in the work of the amateur. Such amateurs I’ve known, especially during or throughout my life living in the USA, are in no way at some secondary level when it comes to creative ability. I recall judging at furniture making shows where amateur work sat right alongside the best professionals and there was no difference in ability levels through hundreds if pieces.
So! Say hobbyist to me and my heart may sag just a little. Technically there is nothing wrong with using the word, as is the case with amateur, it’s just that it speaks of pastime rather than mastery. Very far from the reality in many people’s lives and far short of what any person can achieve with a few hours practice each week. You see, in my mind, when you decide woodworking is for you, and it’s a made up mind, you actually arrive at your destination to be. that is you have already become a woodworker. Now of course I accept that you may not yet be as talented or apt just yet. That is of little if any consequence. Becoming a woodworker has nothing at all to do with skill level. Becoming a skilled woodworker is different. We work to that end, don’t we?
When you start working with wood you are a woodworker. Being, existing in, working wood has no standard of achievement. An amateur woodworker exceeds any other type in terms of owning the entitlement to call yourself a woodworker. I have no more right to the title than anyone else. Becoming an amateur is an all-inclusive experience and you become immersed in a society that defies exclusivity. You, the woodworker, need no qualification. I love that fact alone! Also, the only time I needed to prove my qualification as a crafting artisan was when I applied for my US immigration status. But my qualification was nothing to do with college graduation. They never asked me for that, it all revolved around my indentured apprenticeship that simply said I apprenticed.
There is no one, no body, no organisation and no dictionary definition to qualify you. Once You decide woodworking is to become part of your life, and you read about it, buy in some old or and new hand tools, follow some basic instruction, just a little instruction, not too much, not college woodworking or or some university course on woodworking or furniture making, just real woodworking, you, the woodworker, are a fully qualified woodworking enthusiast. What I have enjoyed in working with woodworkers like Hannah is watching them grow. Seeing her face challenging work, her willingness to learn, her willingness to experiment, her willingness to take chances and now, watching her working and her willingness to defy the status quo in designing her pieces. Well, you can;’t bottle it and you can’t buy it and you can’t sell it.
I have seen this with different people in times past, those I have trained, like Hannah, to become. Most of the ones I have worked with have been those who first pursued their university degrees, full of hope in a future that then needed bolstering by more of the reality academia seems at least to me less inclined or perhaps able to nurture. Some, not all, found disappointment in their personal search for development, growth, maturity and wholeness. Finding such people to mentor has been my goal for three decades. I can only take one apprentice periodically. Hannah has become a truly competent woodworker and her working becomes more exemplary week on week. Today my outreach is more broadly strategic. But it’s no less possible for people five and ten thousand miles away. I’ve seen what you have been doing and it’s amazing. My advice is to love your amateur status. Us the term with pride. You hold the future of woodworking in your hands. It can only be preserved and cultivated as a culture by those who are passionate about it and that will be about 90% amateur led and powered.
Go on, join us. Be an amateur!