Lessons from the life of a wood-worker

James Krenov (NY Times photo)

James Krenov died recently.

No, you don’t remember him.  It would be quite surprising if you’d ever heard of him, unless you are one of the dwindling number of genuine ‘cabinet makers’ in the world today.  I hadn’t heard of him either – but his obituary in the New York Times this week makes me wish I had known him.

“Through his school and his furniture, Mr. Krenov inspired a generation of furniture makers with a high regard for both materials and craftsmanship and design with an aesthetic informed by organic, subtle details,” the Web site FineWoodworking.com said…

Behind the shaping and the teaching, said David Welter, the shop technician for the woodworking program, was Mr. Krenov’s credo “that the work had life in it.”

“It wasn’t about showing off technique as much as about having a personality in the work,” Mr. Welter said in a telephone interview last week. “He worked with material rather than on material; it wasn’t a matter of conquering the wood. He had just a killer instinct for wood combination, the colors and textures, melding them to make works with an elegant simplicity.”

He “worked with material rather than on material.”  That is the sign of a craftsman.  And the sign of someone who is “in sync” with the pieces of God’s creation with which he is working (see “Three Cheers for Luddism” and “When You See My Farm…” and “What’s in a Calling?“).

Let us know our wood as we do our hands, and work with it in common respect and harmony,” he wrote in “The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking.”

Wendell Berry would approve.