I built this round walnut table for a young family over the summer and into the fall. The base is mortise and tenon. I hoped for it to carry some of the feeling of the vaulted interior of a timber framed barn. The wood for the base came from gun stock maker in Wichita who gave me some timber from his stock before he passed away. The wood for the top was harvested from my friend’s land near Fall River, Kansas.
Go On, Shepherd is a new wood engraving available for sale in my online store Baumwerkshop. As a shepherd, often I find myself in this position, kneeling on the ground tending an animal. It is a humble position, yet, to be nearer to the earth by half or more is significant. Don’t forget that you are dust. Great comfort that is. When I learn of the soil I am learning about God, creator and king of the Universe. It is good to be humble, kneeling on His earth.
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Matthew 18:12-14 NKJV
“I am a steward because I am not here for very long”, I heard a farmer say once. The land remains and was here before. The sheep flocks – the good ones, are like an organism or a nation, and they persist, reflecting the decisions of the shepherds over them. My flock carries the intention of many shepherds before me and it will reflect mine after I am gone. The sheep too will remain. Any ownership I have is really only stewardship for One who is greater, and it is good to take care of life for Him and with Him. This too is comforting.
These are some of the thoughts I have, kneeling on the earth with lambs.
The cup has been waiting for a plate for years. This summer the opportunity came to carve one, and to send them both together to their new home with my friend Robbie Pruitt.
The Spiritual Mechanics of Labor and Rest is a relief print edition carved and printed by hand from a block of linoleum. It is available for pre-order in the Baumwerk Shop. It will be an edition of 100 prints. Numbers 1-75 will be black ink on white paper, while numbers 76-100 will be sepia ink on cream paper. There will be a separate listing for each color option. The black and white prints will be ready for shipping sooner on March 23rd, while the sepia and cream prints will be available a few weeks later.
The Spiritual Mechanics… began as a way of building a repository or archive for many of the symbols that help me to understand my place and function in the world and the Kingdom of Heaven. It is, after a fashion, an info-graphic which serves a developing theology around the ancient kinship of labor to worship.
At the heart is a worldview which sees an holistic unity between what is spiritual and what is natural. These are crude words and a crude image which is looking towards something that is deep and nuanced in its beauty and inherent goodness within the mind of God. My hope is that in here is an echo of God saying of the earth and creation, “It is good”. Also the echo of the Words of the Creator resident in every atom and particle. May it be an echo of John the Baptist saying “change your hearts and minds, because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” May it be an echo of Jesus saying “it is finished” on the cross. Heaven is coming to earth and our labor here is not in vain.
The Spiritual Mechanics of Labor and Rest is also a prayer and an offering. It is the noise my heart makes towards God, offering the smallest and most mundane moments of my days as He simultaneously offers them to me. It both seeks to say and asks if it’s really true that labor spent shoveling dirt in a garden , roofing a house, or cutting a stone before God can be as significant a spiritual lever as the most noble words of the priest in the cathedral, or the pastor behind a pulpit, or the hands of a healer in a tent.
I have more openly exposed my heart in this image than in my previous work, where it is shielded by narrative. In following posts I will seek to lay out the symbolism and stories behind the details depicted here, but it should be understood that I have sought to use images like these because for me the words are fundamentally insufficient to describe what it is that I see and seek.
I also hope that you will consider purchasing this print. Many of you know my ambivalence towards the marketing. However, I believe I am called to engage the “marketplace” with my work in a way that settles with my conscience and ethics. Here is a link to pre-order The Spiritual Mechanics of Labor and Rest.
Below is a gallery of images of a pair of cabinets built for the bathroom of a couple in Wichita. They are constructed from native (specifically South Eastern Kansas) black walnut, solid and veneered, and white oak. The exterior surfaces were “ebonized” using a process which employs the chemical reaction of an iron solution with tannins in the wood, rendering it black. The design of cranes and bamboo were carved into the surface revealing again the natural color of the walnut in the incised lines. I hired Taylor Johnson to build the casework itself. Using traditional methods, the interior framework is a solid skeleton held together with dovetail and mortise and tenon joints. Taylor fabricated plywood with extra thick shop-made walnut veneer to be able to handle carving without passing through to the inner layers. His focus and skill allowed me to give attention to the design challenges and the artwork and carving and exterior finishing the cabinets. My gratitude goes out to Taylor for his tenacity and dedication to excellence, and also to Steve Hebert, who generously gave his time and energy to brilliantly photograph the cabinets in situ.
The discovery of the life within the wood and the relationships they form is exciting to uncover. The early decisions are heavy. Every other act in the process is a response to these chalk marks as they try to hear and echo this walnut tree’s voice.
Underpinning Art with Discipline
The romance of the craft is backed up by countless hours of “mundane” work- the discipline that builds skill, and makes up the real life of labor. Days are spent creeping up on this scribed relationship and the foundational joinery. It’s a blessing to work, and to rest in the presence, at the same while striving towards the goal. Don’t mistake me, I’ve only had enough meager success at it to know it’s possible.
Technology – Joinery
One side of the natural edge was curving away on bottom edge so I had to cut a shallow rebate in order to have a solid joint as well as cleanly scribed edge. This edge was reinforced with dominoes. The opposing edge curved towards the bottom edge and could be cut square. For it I made a floating contoured spline from Baltic birch. Assembled dry all is tight and solid.
Visualize and Establish Form
Finding a way to visualize the elements in a design is an engaging challenge. Krenov spoke of “composing”, and I’ve adopted his method and language -clamping up and mocking up relationships as the process moves forward. I don’t recall if he used tape, but I recently switched from using blue tape to white tape to mask off shapes- the difference is remarkable.
Labor – Engaging Harvest
The last bit of joinery for the individual trestles is the horizontal rail completing the “H” form, which will eventually carry the longer rail that will join the two trestles together.
I’m grateful for this job, this material, this process. I heard a song that had a line which proclaimed “I am the record of His grace”.
The first glazing layers on Thomas Touching the Side of Christ
After years of working on the underpainting, this autumn has seen the first color appear on my painting of Christ and Thomas with all of the disciples gathered in a room together. I am taking a lot of cues for the colors in this painting from Rogier Van Der Weyden’s famous Descent from the Cross in Madrid’s Prado museum.
It is a clunky and halting phase of the process, trying to use the appropriate colors, and the right medium, and the right balance of medium to paint ratio. I’ve had to rub out hours of work at a time, when I’ve come back the next morning to realize the color isn’t working.
It is tempting to render the layer to a finished state, even though I know there will be subsequent layers. It is foolish to carry detail too far just yet, and it is difficult to leave certain problems alone until a more appropriate time. I caught myself over-rendering the blue of Nicodemus’ robe and had to stop myself midway through.
Glazing takes advantage of the semi-transparent nature of many pigments when mixed with linseed oil as a binder. By building up multiple thin layers of paint, it is possible to achieve unique and special color and luminosity in a picture, especially in the correct light.
This painting is a huge learning experience. They didn’t teach this sort of thing in art school while I was there, so I am having to work through a lot of discovery and failure, even while taking advantage of the many written treatises on painting throughout the centuries.
Marketing my work has always been precarious territory for me. At a fundamental level, I am much more interested in making my work than trying to sell it. Philosophically and morally, I struggle with the slippery slope of salesmanship and authenticity. Authenticity as a word has already been pretty much trashed by our cultural trend towards filtered-authenticity in order to generate likes and sell products. I am certainly guilty of it, myself. Likes are addictive. But it all leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. It is hard to not feel like marketing breeds a certain level of dishonesty that we have decided to be ok with as a society.
Usually my work is both deeply personal and (I hope) deeply spiritual. I struggle often with the feeling that I am prostituting both myself and the things of God when I set out to peddle these visual representations in the marketplace. I don’t really have a satisfying resolution for this uncomfortable feeling, except for the opposing weight of the reactions of “my” audience, expressing a desire to share in these things.
I do want to sell my work and provide an income for my family and finance future projects. It is a part of life and a part of growing, of being fruitful. It is part of work, which is a divine invitation.
I have a calling to make art and what I hope are beautiful objects, and useful pieces of furniture. I have a calling to make that work accessible to the culture I am a part of. I want to try to do that in as straightforward a way as I know how. This new web store is an effort to do that.
You can get to the store by going to https://baumwerkshop.com, or you can select the menu of this sight and click on “Purchase Work“. I really do hope that you will visit and let me know what you think. I also really hope that you might purchase something, if you see something you like. There should be some exciting new things showing up there in the coming weeks.
Thank you, for supporting me and following along on this journey. God is good.
Is labor a sacrament? The invitation of the Eighth Day? A sacred collaboration with the living God? I can’t help but to note that the call to labor in the garden came before the curse of toil. I am certain that labor is about more than just earning my bread. There is something deeper there, not just for the artist, but for the ditch digger and the roofer, the farmer and the nurse. “Whatever you think, it’s more than that…” ISB.