CCA Furniture Program

We’ve just finished producing a short video introducing the Furniture Design Program at CCA. It features Russ Baldon (chair of the program), myself and many of our current students and alumni. There’s always something new posted on the website too, including an article on last semester’s highly successful Engage Studio to design furniture for the YBCA foyer.


Whittling – Part 2

So to conclude my previous post I should tell you a bit about the whittling workshop at the J.B. Blunk estate.

It was with Japanese master whittler Yo Takimoto. Yo-san lives in the US and Japan. He was born in Wakayama and graduated from USC with a degree in Architecture. He subsequently worked for 22 years as a city planner in Tokyo. 16 years ago a friend gave him a ‘kiridashi’ a small Japanese style carving knife, to help him with stress relief from his hectic job and to remind him of his postwar childhood in Kumano; ‘where I played in the forests and swam in the river’. This set a new direction for Yo-san’s life and for many years now he has been running workshops in Japan and the US for children and adults where he shares the experience of what he calls ‘kikezuri’. This is not your regular back porch whittlin’ but a subtle exploration of the connection between your inner processes, your hand, the tool and the small piece of wood you have chosen to work with. Yo-san brings a smorgasbord of different delicious woods from the US and Japan to his workshops and then each participant chooses  a piece which ‘speaks to them’. Then with just a kiridashi, and later some dried horsetail stalks and a tightly bound palm leaf brush for a final polish, each person sits quietly for three hours and slowly brings a shape out of the wood. I chose a knotty little piece of Madrone with its sensuous blood red bark still in place. Yo-san later said that it was his favorite American wood to work with and that old growth, tight-knit redwood from J.B.’s collection was a close runner up.

J.B. Blunk’s home was a perfect setting for this exploration. Sitting under the shade of a live oak in good company letting the conversation flow as each of us was intensely but gently working away. I could imagine J.B. going through the same careful dance – with a chainsaw in his case!!

Yo Takimoto - master whittler. I love the fundamental contradiction in this title.

What's on the menu?

Whittlin', perhaps thinking about the fresh oysters to come.

The final outcome - a worry stick. I've taken to carrying it in my jacket pocket to keep me grounded.

The workshop was a real treat. After 25 years of working with wood I do admit to getting complacent sometimes. Yo-san helped me rediscover the pleasure of tracing grain, letting a form grow, and the feel of a good sharp tool at work. Very satisfying!

Whittling in the shade of J.B. Blunk – Part 1

I have had the privilege of visiting a very special place several times over the last few months, the former home and studio of J.B. Blunk in Inverness. The most recent visit was last weekend to participate in an all day whittling workshop with Yo Takimoto. Let me tell you a little about the place and show you around and then I’ll give you a taste of the workshop.

J.B. Blunk was an astoundingly gifted sculptor who gained a national reputation for his huge but sensitively carved functional sculptures. I have spent many a summer day lounging around in the carved furniture he created at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. They are now imbedded in the Plane trees which have continued to grow up and around these beautifully aged works. You can see his iconic piece ‘Planet’ at the Oakland Museum of California and dine at one of his functional sculptures at Green’s Restaurant at Fort Mason.

Shady seating at Tassajara

Perfect for a snooze.

Nice details

Here is a short slide show of some of J.B.’s sculptures in process (made by Rivkah Beth Medow and Mariah Nielson).

But perhaps the best way to get an inkling of the mind, spirit and process of JB is to visit his home and studio which he began in 1959 and then proceeded to tinker with until his death in 2002. The hand-built house and studio is perched high on the ridge line of Pt. Reyes looking down through the forests to Tomales Bay below.

You can read Glenn Adamson’s overview of J.B.’s life here, and see more of his work at the J.B. Blunk website. Unfortunately, I never met J.B. while he was living. My connection to J.B. comes through his daughter Maria Nielson (who was born in the house – literally!) and now cares for the house and studio and J.B.’s legacy.

Here are some glimpses of the house and studio – a delightful mix of zen minimalism, NorCal transcendentalism and ribald humor.

The house approaching from the studio.

The kitchen, which always seems to be laden with delicious hand-built food!

A wall collaged from exquisitely figured sculptural off-cuts - mostly from 'Planet' I believe.

The bathroom with panoramic views down to Tomales Bay and a richly detailed hand-carved sink. The window is a glass door mounted on its side.

One of many stools - this one threatens personal damage if you're not mindful.

Cubist construction from chainsaw off-cuts.

Every nook and cranny shows the artist's hand.

J.B. studied in Japan in the 50's and you can see the influence everywhere.

Every light switch has a sculptural pull.

Even in the functioning studio everything is thoughtfully arranged.

Tools ready for action.

I love the wooden gutters on the open-air chainsaw studio

Sculptures on the grounds.

Serendipitous ones too.

The quintessence of the 'pastoral'!

More on the whittling workshop in my next post.