Steaming ahead!

The longer bends (up to 16ft) are now coming out of the steamer and seem to be behaving very nicely.

I decided to add a steel backing strap to each bend. The boards do free bend without a strap pretty easily. But when I was bending the shorter 8ft lengths, I had failures on several of the bends; even the less extreme ones. Also, occasionally, a single board will twist and warp while its being bent and there is no way I can supply sufficient torque to pull it back out of wind before it cools too far to be elastic. I think that the back-strap will maintain a more consistent compression throughout the board, help constrain twisting, keep the board warmer (and so flexible) for longer, and will give me a more consistent bend following the form laid out by the jig.

I love the steaming process. It has a nice rhythm to it. The work can’t be rushed. There is an precision to it that can only be discovered not predetermined. Its all dependent on the weather, the particular board being bent, the vagaries of the particular days work, and the individual curve that needs to be followed. Its a bit like baking bread!

Everything in the studio needed to be juggled to allow for quick placing of the steamed board into the jig, with strap in place, followed by the bend of a 16′ curve in one even sweep.

Board in place, ready to bend!

I love the Veritas steam-bending strap and adjustable end stop, to control the compression as the bend happens.

Bend complete, with steam still rising.

I like to imagine that I’m following in the footsteps of the great 19th Century cabinetmaker, innovator, inventor, industrialist Michael Thonet. I always start my History and Theory of 20th Century Furniture class at CCA with Thonet; his discoveries, set-backs and the development of his company makes such a great story. It’s the perfect exemplar of the industrialization of furniture production based on innovation; from technology and production methods right through to social engineering and international marketing. Apart from the fact that I’ve got on my trusty Blundstone boots, what I’m doing isn’t very far from these Thonet workers a century ago.

Michael Thonet and the boys

pre OH&S

Tough toes!

“Now where did I put that part?”

Human/Nature at the Headlands Center for the Arts.

Last weekend was, theoretically, the closing of Human/Nature at the Headlands Center for the Arts. However, by popular demand and to coincide with the Creative Ecologies event taking place there over the next few weeks, the show has been extended. So you still have a chance to see this interesting exhibition.

Perhaps at the public round table for Creative Ecologies from 1pm on Sunday March 6th, from 1pm.

I got a second chance to wander and contemplate Human/Nature last week when I attended the orientation for the Headland’s Artist in Residence (AIR) program. I have a residency in the Project Space where Human/Nature is showing, in July and August this year. An incredibly exciting (and slightly daunting) prospect. The Project Spaces (there are two) are extraordinarily beautiful spaces with intriguing natural light and panoramic views of the valley heading down to Rodeo Cove. All of the work that is in Human/Nature resonates with the physical environment and does so directly by connecting with the views through the huge windows in the Project Spaces. I’m really enjoying this early ideation stage of getting to know the space and thinking about what might work within the scale of the Project Space, within the context of the larger environment of the Headlands and within my own conceptual framework. Its such a strange (and  yet familiar) dance.

Here’s a, hopefully mouthwatering, sampling from Human/Nature. This is just a taste! See it ‘in the flesh’ soon!

The West Project Space at the Headlands Center for the Arts.

My "Panopticon", in situ.

Andy Vogt's "Built by Destruction".

Jesse Schlesinger's "Elemental Drawing", using salvaged cypress logs from the Headlands,

which connects to a counterpart in the landscape viewed through the adjacent window.

Ben Venom's "Raised by Wolves", made from recycled heavy metal t-shirts.

Nathan Lynch's "They had a way of cleaning everything", ceramic.

Matthew Mullin's "Beetles". Extraordinarily detailed watercolor of something equally as painstaking.

Martin Machado's "Days on the Bay 1".


Youngsuk Suh's "Swans", in situ with the borrowed landscapes and archaeo-tectural detailing of the Project Space.

Bulb Archaeologies

The rain keeps coming down feeding the Sierra snow pack which is great for all of thirsty California and for our own local gardens and wild places. The colors and textures of the  Albany Bulb are always enhanced by the rain and the gray skies. It reminds me strongly of Australia at this time of year when the Broom and the Acacia are in full bloom – Broom is a noxious weed in Australia (and here) and the Bulb boasts at least six different species of Acacia that I have seen – all Australian natives. As far as I know all of the plants on the Bulb are self-sown so that it represents the new ‘native’ flora of NorCal – a mixture of robust natives, remnant die-hard locals, and adventitious immigrants – a bit like the human population of Bayarea!

Wattle in full bloom

Eucalyptus globulus - The Tassie Blue Gum is such an intrinsic part of the California landscape now

They thrive here with no koalas or insects to munch on them.

The storms have dredged the Bay and laid down a rich carpet of red, brown and green algal flotsam.

Alysum abstraction

Klein cooch collaboration

Bulb archaeology

There’s lots of new art popping up around the Bulb but I might keep that for another post!

Lawrence LaBianca – Icon

My colleague (as sculptor, educator and surfer) Lawrence LaBianca invited my CCA graduate CRAFT LAB group to visit his studio last week. We are talking, reading, writing and making around concepts connected to tools and process so Lawrence’s work is particularly relevant to our project.

Lawrence has just returned from an extended residency at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado. He is a prolific and dedicated artist and the quantity, diversity and intensity of the work he produced during his residency was amazing to all of us. His home/studio in the Mission is encrusted with his work, collections and artistic collaborations. Lawrence and I share a love and nostalgia for the great ocean voyages of exploration, and his living space resembles the cabin of a seasoned voyager: neat, efficient and tightly packed with discoveries of a peripatetic life of artistic and physical engagement with the world.

Lawrence explaining his river borne etching machine

No space wasted!

Echoing forms

Walls encrusted with old and new works. Tools for apprehending the natural world

Creative collaborations,

Mysterious artifacts,

Ghostly projections.

Lawrence shared the in-production footage of his weather ballon powered drawing machine completed at the Anderson Ranch.

If you’d like to see more of Lawrence and his work, Regina Connell did a nice interview with him last year on her Handful of Salt blog.

And the Anderson Ranch blog about his residency has some great process shots!

Bread and craft

Yesterday’s post on Tartine’s bread wizard Chad Robinson, reminded me of one of the core stories I enjoy and often tell when I give presentations on my work. The story came from the inspiring Tasmanian woodworker and sculptor Gay Hawkes who was renown, when I was getting started, for her reinterpretation of the bush vernacular furniture of the (perhaps mythical) colonial chair bodger Jimmy Possum.

On Mt. Wellington, Gay Hawkes

Gay used to say that the ultimate craft was bread baking.

The baker starts in the wee hours of the morning when everyone is asleep and the world is dark and foggy.

She starts up the ovens, gets the chill off her bones and unwraps the basic tools of her trade.

The ingredients are simple and primal – flour, eggs, water, yeast, salt, oil.

When they are mixed, there is an alchemy which transforms and synthesizes the simple ingredients in extraordinary ways.

The work requires strength, care, patience and risk.

The results are delicious, varied, and lie at the very core of human culture.

By sun-up the work is done, the shelves are laden.

When the bakery doors open there is a flood of hungry customers who demolish the baker’s work with gusto and joy.

The baker cleans the tools of her trade, closes shop and goes home to rest.

There is very little waste.

Early in the morning the baker wakes and goes through the whole process once more!

With perhaps a subtle shift in recipe or process to test a new idea or improve an already proven formula.

Isn’t this the essence of CRAFT?

The best bread in the world

Tartine in San Francisco is reputed to make the best bread in the world.

Here is a video about Tartine’s resident baking genius Chad Robertson’s process that shows you why!

I love the surfing reference in this video. The idea that the weather provides the context for excellence in both surfing and baking. Its also a joy to hear the composition of local musical luminaries Tin Hat played by Marié Abe on the soundtrack.

Bread is a mixture
of flour and water
that is transformed
into something through
the course of fermentation,
that transcends
the simplicity of those
basic ingredients.

Chad Robertson