Sunday, January 24, 2010


We had company Saturday and Sunday this weekend so did a lot of housework. We have a standing joke when the debris gets too deep that it's time to have company so we will be motivated to do for others what we are not quite willing to do just for ourselves.

I have been party to several discussions on housework recently; with my kids who are navigating life with new housemates, with newly weds, with old timers set in their ways. To clean or not to clean. Making peace with this task seems a significant hurdle in living with others.

Those who like a tidy organized home have the higher ground here for we've been taught that cleanliness is close to godliness. And most people probably prefer a tidy environment; they just doubt the return on effort or think someone else should do it.

If you think one's environment has some influence on one's psyche it's hard to argue that some level of organization and cleanliness isn't good for you. A filthy unkempt space is lousy Feng Shui and causes some unease even if subconsciously. Most of us are just trying to get a grip. Chaotic mess doesn't help. A tidy room promotes clearer thinking, better focus, a sense of calm and control.

But in this corner, wearing the black trunks, is the argument that housework is a waste of precious time. It's just going to get dirty again. Every moment you are cleaning your house you are not practicing the cello, reading a good book, helping your community, making friends. An endless list of things that's easy to argue are more meaningful. For those house cleaners who feel holier than thou, you are moving dirt from one place to another. This is a higher calling?

Do you think this will be on the big quiz at the holy gates?

Choose the phrase that best describes your housekeeping philosophy:
  • I love wall to wall white carpet
  • you can't come in with shoes on
  • a place for everything and everything in its place
  • Huh? What's the question?
  • I have to move every few years
  • I try to keep at least a narrow path through most rooms

If it is I bet the only answer that matters is whether you're telling the truth.

Then there is housework's lowly status. It's considered menial work. Because it does not engage intellectually most find it uninteresting, boring, drudgery; an unpleasant chore. It does not need to be so. Like any physical activity it can be done well with attention, speed, accuracy and grace. I don't know this from experience, I'm just saying. It might be worth reconsidering one's view. Doesn't it feel good to put your hands in warm soapy water? If you were bed ridden vacuuming stairs might actually look like fun.

So where are Margy and I in this piece of the marital dance. On the same page, thankfully, which is really all that matters. Pretty laissez faire. A neat freak would run screaming from our place. Long ago I coined the acronym FSS, flat surface syndrome. If it's flat it's covered with stuff. We can go to sleep with dishes in the sink and to work with the bed unmade. We like it neat but there are better things to do. We each get infrequent organizational attacks (at differing times of course) when we "just can't stand it any more" but don't insist the other participate. Instead, "I made a pile for you when you get the chance". The living room stays reasonable.  We clean for guests so that they are comfortable and probably in fear of what they would think of us otherwise.

It's not the right way to deal with this. It's just the way we do.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

the tables turn

Everyone we meet has the potential to enlarge our world. We may learn something we knew nothing about from their talents, interests, and culture. And through their circles of acquaintances it can expand again.

This process is particularly interesting when it begins to come from your own children. After nearly 20 years of teaching, guiding, and  sharing with our children what we hope will be the knowledge and skills to live a contented, happy life the tables slowly turn and they begin to influence us with their discoveries, their chosen interests, their circle of friends.

Last year daughter Robin spent 9 months at a place called Botton Village in England. It was a Camp Hill community dedicated to the care of mentally handicapped adults. A six hundred acre estate nestled in a storybook setting in the moors of Yorkshire. We were lucky to visit her there this summer, our first time abroad. This wonderful experience would not have happened without her initiative and invitation.

Sunday we put our son Dylan on a plane for Senegal, Africa for a semester of study abroad. He will be staying primarily in Dakar, the capital and western most point of Africa. He is posting stories of his experience to a blog. We look forward to seeing Senegal through his eyes.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Sam Maloof Rocking Chair

Dear Sam,

I recently finished making a rocking chair of your design and wanted to tell you about it.

It must be over ten years ago I visited the Boston Museum of Fine Art and sat in one of your chairs. The museum curators had commissioned contemporary wood craftsmen to make seating for the public so that visitors could sit in art while they looked at it. I spent a lot of time looking at your chair. It made a lasting impression.

Earlier this year I visited the showroom of an Amish father-son furniture making business with friends, one of whom was looking for chairs to go with a dining table I had made. The chairs they offered were nice, a Windsor derivative, and an order was placed. I got to thinking I would like to make a chair and yours came to mind. I have made many things of wood but never a chair, let alone one as challenging as your rocker, so thought it would be best to get some help.

At first I sought books as I usually do. I read your book, Sam Maloof Woodworker and Jeremy Adamson's The Furniture of Sam Maloof.  OK, I admit I didn't read all of it but I did look at all the pictures. Poured over them as a matter of fact. I dug up my December 1980 issue of Fine Woodworking and studied the feature article you wrote. I watched a long video of you doing a demonstration. I think you were 90 at the time.

An internet search turned up the help I needed  from Charles Brock who offered full sized plans of a "Maloof Inspired Rocker" with instructions included. Charles teaches workshops on his methods for making this chair and has also recently made a companion video. I think some might begrudge another making a living from their design but I think he would have your blessing.  He is enthusiastic and genuinely interested in helping others be successful.

I thought about you a lot as I made this chair. My favorite quote of yours is when you were asked, "Of all the furniture you have made what is your favorite piece?"  You answered, "The one I'm working on. It's always the one I'm working on."  This captures for me a love of the craft, of the process, of how to live one's life. It's not about what you have done. It's about what you are doing.

There are many who have excelled in their area of interest as you did. They are gifted with a unique vision of their work and the determination and perseverance to make it a reality. But what set you apart from others was your willingness to share what you know, what you learned. In countless articles, interviews, and demonstrations you gave the details as if to say, "Here, you try it."

In the past the tricks of the trades were reserved for those sworn to secrecy and willing to endure years of servitude. Today sharing knowledge is often seen as weakening one's advantage in the marketplace.  I  think your life demonstrates the fallacy in this approach. Although monetary gain was not your motivation, lo and behold, it eventually came your way. And there is no way to measure the friendships and goodwill this way of life creates. More than learning to make a chair I want to learn this from you. Give freely, hold nothing back. Give to all without fear.

It goes without saying that this chair is not as refined as you and your assistants would make. The lines don't flow as smoothly; I should have used a different piece of wood here; a glue line shows a little bit there. But it is a nice chair that is a pleasure to sit in. And I hope it shows that I cared about its making. I tried my best to make something beautiful.

With gratitude,

Stephen Tuttle

Sam Maloof died at age 93 on May 23, 2009. Renowned for his tireless work ethic he was still putting in 8 hour days a few weeks before he died. He is one of the most influential woodworkers of our time. The home he built in San Alto, CA along with its gardens and extensive art collection is now The Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts  and is open to the public.

Sam's furniture will continue to be made available by the three craftsmen who have worked for him for many years. Their website:
This leg to seat joint is a hallmark of Sam's chairs. It is a bridle joint of sorts using matching router bits for the mated pieces. It is further secured with screws covered by ebony plugs. Its strength eliminates the need for stretchers beneath the seat allowing for more sculptural possibilities.

The wood for this chair is from two walnut trees that I harvested using a chainsaw mill. It is nice to be able to picture these trees, to follow the path from tree to chair.

I rarely make something twice and don't think this will be an exception despite ideas and knowing more than when I began. The amount of handwork involved took its toll on my hands. I need to rest them. The opposable thumb thing isn't working as well and if I'm not careful I might have to move down the food chain.