Who are we? We are our stories.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Winter Solstice

I was going to post this earlier, but I got distracted. I was distracted on the day I went over to Lanesboro too. I was there solo to work on the cottage floors. By the time I got to Lanesboro it was dark, which comes early. Duh, it WAS the solstice.

Looking down on Lanesboro from halfway down the west rim. Clear night.

The first stop was the bar of the Old Village Hall for a pint of  Rush River IPA. It took an hour or two the finish the beer. Well, maybe it was  two beers. Chef Mike thought I looked hungry. I told him I couldn't always afford his fare ... so he gave me some freebie samples. Not much, but enough to get through the second beer. Then John, who owns the joint, gave me a Laphroaig single-malt Scotch which he deemed undrinkable. I actually quite liked it.

Minnesota: I awoke the next morning to snow. When I went out to shovel, our neighbor across the street hailed me. Jack and I rested on our shovels, discussing our mail boxes, rating the skills of the snowplow driver. We gave him rather poor grades for accuracy, but excellent for speed. Later when I went down off the hill I noticed he had also taken out at least two street signs.

Jack had already eaten his breakfast so I went to the Pastry Shoppe alone to eat, taking the small table in the hall nook.

The tables ALL wobble and rock. Old floors, old tables. We are not there for the ambiance. Fortunately I had a couple of copies of the Fillmore County News and the Bluff Country Reader which I had earlier liberated from my dead mailbox. 

Food, coffee and news.

Slip describing above. Code words for amazing food. With a roll to go, less than $10. I wasn't going to buy the roll, but Maria said, "15 seconds in the microwave and it's heaven in your mouth." She forced it on me. She is very, very cute.

The new basement bathroom floor. I also put another coat of finish on the master bedroom hardwood. "Master" does sound a little grand for that little bedroom.
This is what caught me eye in The Reader that morning. Our dam is beautiful, it is a tourist draw and it furnishes hydroelectric power for the village. It may be green energy, but it is very expensive energy. The dam and the hydroelectric plant were built in 1868. Think about that, 1868. Where do you replacement parts for an 1868 hydroelectric plant? You either make it or have it custom made. And old parts fail. But we do love it.

The dam is a pinned gravity-arch structure, which is the only one in the world that is still being used. The stones are held in place by steel stone cramps attached to each other rather than mortar. These cramps are rusting and the Oneota Dolostone blocks are weathering causing leaks. Haug explained to the legislators that the dam had become a public safety issue. If the dam fails, he explained bluntly, "It has the potential to kill people downstream." Downstream is downtown Lanesboro. This statement was verified in 2010 by a DNR study of the dam. The restoration of the dam would cost roughly $2.2 million. All preliminary design and engineering surveys have been completed and $750,000 has already been awarded from the Minnesota Historical Society and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). However, using that money will be contingent on securing the remaining funds from the state, as the city does not have the financial means to fully fund the project. The project would add new concrete behind the old stone, effectively becoming a new dam. In order to preserve the historic value and appearance of the dam, new Oneota Dolostone would replace the current face of the dam. Sen. Jeremy Miller asked what would happen if the dam wasn't restored. Haug responded saying the dam would need to be removed. The dam generates almost 700,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which makes it the city's largest source for renewable energy. Removing the dam instead of restoring it would eliminate that energy source and also create problems downstream along the Root River. Approximately 5 million cubic yards of silt are held back by the dam. Downstream ecology and recreation would be impacted and would require funds for embankment stabilization and sediment mitigation.

Desperadoes Waiting For A Train

White Christmas

Note to Gabriel, who says he likes shoveling snow. My driveway is one car length long, five car widths wide, with the neighbor's garage on one side. This means that all the snow must be moved, one way or another, to one side. And don't forget the sidewalks. I'll furnish the shovel and hot chocolate.  ;-) 

Guy Clark Silent Night

This is from a documentary, Heartworn Highways - like reality television for certain Texas songwriters of a onetime Golden Age. Please note the extremely drunk and stoned Silent Night singer. He is Guy Clark, who was to go on to become just a marvelous songwriter. Side one of his LP Old No.1 is simply the best single side of songwriting I have ever heard. Oh, and the high school kid with hair in his eyes is Steve Earle. Man, it didn't take him long to fall in with evil companions.

Fast forward a lifetime, last year Clark's lifelong soulmate Susanna died. He one time said every song he every wrote was either to her, about her  ... or apologizing to her. He does seem to be a broken man. I understand he has chosen to decline treatment for his cancer diagnosis and he's just gonna ride that horse to the end.

Rather than waiting for him to die and then putting out a tribute CD his friends have put it out a double CD, This One's For Him, so he can appreciate it now.

So here's to Guy Clark. I've enjoyed his life's work. And Merry Christmas.

Blue Christmas

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cool Beer Cooler

The beer refrigerator under the bench in the Growlery was a black plastic box that sucked energy out of the tiny space. I tried painting it Growlery Gray (I had the paint). It helped a little, but I still sensed an energy drain. I thought maybe sticking a bicycle poster on the box would help, one of those beautiful Mucha Art Nouveau advertising posters. I was scrolling through a couple of hundred Mucha reproductions on ebay when I caught an aberration, a Mucha print with a completely different feel. It was entitled 1908 Dakota Warrior. Now Alphonse Mucha was a Czech and I doubt he had ever seen a Dakota Warrior. It didn't look like any Native American I have ever seen, but it seemed respectful and I kinda like the colors. It was a Dakota, which has a family connection, and it was cheap. (And I had the orange paint.)  I'm feeling quite an energy net gain from this one. I may have to install an energy dampener.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Community Sing-Along At the 'Boro

Just got back from Lanesboro. Lorna and her sister Linda were on the annual B & B cookie tour. They sampled the snacks and good cheer at 6 or 7 of the local B & Bs, while I sanded the hardwood floors of the bedroom.

Lorna just e-mailed Robin and locked in our tickets for the upcoming Holiday Sing-Along, a small town community Christmas Sing-Along. Some good music, some ahhh ... fun music. Here's some from a past sing. What a great little town.

A good reason to attend this year? Peter Ostroushko's coming down from Nordeast Minneapolis. The word "soul" is thrown around a lot to describe music and musicians. So, here's mine: Peter Ostroushko is one soulful son-of-a-mandolin player. Here's Peter bringing Nordeast to Genova, Italy.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Growlery Pics

Taken with a camera rather than a phone.  :-)

Frank Wright Spoonmaker

Vertical spoon on the Growlery shelf.
I've known Frank for 15 or 20 years. I don't wish to embarrass him, but he might be one of the most intelligent people I have ever known. Our frequent conversations are always a fun, rolling ride, jumping from subject to subject. Frank is quitting making spoons at 8:52 this evening. Locking the door on the past. Moving on. I cannot image Frank not creating things, but he says that going to the shop every day has become a drag. His work has become relatively expensive over the years. He doesn't measure anything and he's gotten pretty fast at it, guessing he has made 40,000+ kitchen utensils over the years, yet he cannot keep up with demand and feels pushed. 

Frank has moved on before. He was a veterinarian at the Detroit Zoo, the Brookfield Zoo and the Minnesota Zoo. In 1988 he got tired of the institutional politics, came to a spoon in the road, made a sharp left turn, and quit his job as the head veterinarian at the Minnesota Zoo. He said he thinks they were probably going to fire him anyway because, "I was getting to be kind of a pain in the ass."  The last straw may have been when the zoo wanted to ship a Beluga Whale to another zoo, which required a veterinarian's signature on the shipping permits. Frank declined to sign it because, "It wasn't in the best interest of the animal."  Frank was only interested in the health of the animals, not zoo visitors and politics.

But back to spoons, following is from a insert that Frank included with each purchase.
2013 is my 22nd and final year of retail spoon making.  My shop will close permanently on December 5, 2013 at 8:52PM, the moment I turn 65.  I’d like to thank my many spoon customers and spoon shop fans for their patronage, good will and good humor.  If you have spoons in need of rejuvenation, bring or mail them in for a free overhaul.  
Rhubarb cultivation and promotion is slowly, inexorably, taking over my life.  That and home/shop repairs and painting will keep me quite busy for the next couple of years. 
I was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1948 and my woodworking apprenticeship spanned the 1950’s.  My neighbor, Mr. Hamill, a foreman at the General Motors patternmaking shop, kept me supplied with beautiful odd-shaped blocks of rock maple. They flowed endlessly from the massive band saws of his artisans who built solid wood mockups of the cars of the future.  Like a little elf I searched my pile of blocks to find the mirror image forms.  I topped them with thin boards and well pounded nails to create my idiosyncratic line of footstools.  My aunt Ida used one of these in her kitchen for 50+ years.

Finding the beauty and utility within the discarded served me well then as it does today.  These blocks were for me what the Froebel Blocks were to my colorful namesake, Frank Lloyd Wright, who reminisced fondly regarding their influence on his work.  I too had toy blocks to play with, my favorite being Lincoln Logs, invented by FLW’s son John Lloyd Wright.   After a few decades of production, he sold them to Playskool who continues to make them today.

Today though is about spoons, chopsticks and other utensils, my livelihood since 1992.  The spoons stood immediately.  I had been working on a series of tabletop sculptures whose verticality leapt into the first spoons I roughed out from firewood on the band saw.  Had I started making spoons 3 months earlier there is every reason to believe none would be standing today.  Just as biological genes move and recombine within organisms this design ‘meme’ of verticality moved from experimental sculpture to functional spoon.  The wonderful visual and word play made possible by standing spoons has become my signature.   If I were a bad headline writer (which I guess I am) I’d say “Signature Sesquipedalian Spoons Stood Serendipitously”.

My personal antennae for what I call ‘verticality in quotidian objects’ have become acute.  I enjoy tracking this in food presentation, in objects such as the Philippe Starck standing flyswatter, the Koziol standing pasta server and new instances every year. It is hard to imagine a world without standing wood spoons. 

I gather the wood I use for my spoons and utensils from mostly local native and ornamental species.   Odd logs and blocks of wood arrive occasionally from afar thanks to friends and customers with a good eye for bits of comely wood in need of a second career.  I rarely use lumber since lovely wood from yard, orchard, roadside and surrounding forest is enough.  I have a modest supply of exotic woods for chopsticks and other small items, much of it deeply discounted ‘scrap’ from wood dealers acquired during my art fair travel days.  I don’t think I’ve purchased a piece of lumber in ten years.

All of my work from design to completion is free hand.  There is no mechanical duplication involved.  I have no ‘elves’ in my employ.  I use hand-held and bench mounted power tools extensively-- Band saws, die grinders, drill presses, all manner of personally designed sanding, finishing, and polishing equipment.  I love power tools and have since college summers working in steel mills and auto plants.  They stand between me and carpal tunnel syndrome.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Jim Huppert and his ‘abrasive nerds’ at 3M here in Minnesota for their generous assistance to a struggling spoon-maker in 1992.  Their expertise transformed menial effort to meaningful work.  Without them I don’t know how I could have designed and made such attractive and useful utensils.   Even my frugal family and friends can afford to use and enjoy them.    
My work is finished with edible walnut oil and beeswax.  Those clever little green rings on my pairs of chopsticks are pure latex rubber bands you can get for a penny apiece at your friendly farm store.  They otherwise are used to neuter various animals as well as dock the tails of lambs.  They are the last remnant of my veterinary career prior to spoon making. If you have these chopsticks you may notice under the ring there is a light blemish.  This occurs with some woods.  It is because the ring shields the wood from the darkening exposure of light and air.  Also the oil in the wood is attracted to rubber.  Despair not.  Use and random ring placement will eliminate this in time.  I’ve accepted this quirk of materials and hope you can do the same.
I encourage you to use these utensils.  Cook!  Serve!!  Eat!!!  Fondle them if you must!!!!  Spoons   increase in charm and warmth with the wear and patina of use.  Refer to the care card included with them.  Like many of us, some of these utensils are on their second and third career--tree to barn beam to spoon.  Service is what they know. Occasionally bad things happen to good spoons.  Should that happen to one of yours send it back to me and I will repair or replace it.  Like people, spoons occasionally go to pieces and are always worth the effort to make whole.  
For many years I labored in the vineyards of retail art fairs and wholesale marketplaces. Now I am able to retail solely through my Coffee Street shop.  I am grateful to the many art fair patrons and gallery owners who have supported me in the past.  It is a blessing to travel less, garden more and have unhurried conversations with friends old and new.   My life is bursting with luxury.  I have health, family, friends, delightful work and a beautiful town and vibrant community to live in.  It is a wonderland of morel mushrooms, theatre, art, limestone bluffs, potluck suppers, trout streams, books, fabulous home cooking, forests, trails, farms, cattle, fine neighbors, and respectful visitors.
Did I mention Rhubarb?  Lots of rhubarb!   Please stop by my workshop should you find me there on your next visit to Lanesboro.  
Bon Appetit!
Here's some shots of some Frank's work that Lorna and I have accumulated over the years.

Frank, an American Master? ;-)