Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Polishing Humility: Reclaimed Wood Projects


Finally, I have finished a couple of small woodcraft pieces made from reclaimed objects. I forgot how damn fulfilling it is to work with little more than a few pieces of wood, limited tools, and one's own hands and imagination. I'm beginning to think of the salvaged materials I've been gathering - wooden pallets, fenceposts, etc. - as small totems reflecting the rapidly vanishing American traditions of manufacturing and labor. These are objects that have been scarred and weathered by worker's hands, steel tools, and heavy machinery. They have been stained with the grease, debris, and dirt of warehouses, truck trailers, and factory floors. They have bits of nails, screws, and staples embedded in them, sometimes producing a rich patina of rust and the earliest evidence of decayed metals. They are simple, humble, utilitarian, and designed for work. They remain sturdy and eager to be used. There is an integrity to these materials that cannot be reproduced or mimicked. The more I've worked on these small little objects, the more I've learned to respect the materials and appreciate the history they represent.


Made from reclaimed pallet wood. Handmade rust & vinegar stain on lid.
The pleasure of seeing a rough pallet board spring to life with multi-colored woodgrains and richly burled knots as one sands away the rough shell of its former life as a neglected industry remnant is kind of a spiritual experience. It provides a metaphor for so many things in this world that are neglected and forgotten and simply need a bit of attention and a recognition of value. This is true of people, resources, and even parts of our own selves that we neglect and devalue. I also love that many of the scars, dings, and dents remain in these materials, even after sanding and polishing. Instead of marring them, these scars and scrapes take on a quietly regal appearance as they are contrasted by the smooth, sanded surface all around them. These "flaws" communicate a history, a story, and a longevity in a world that has moved increasingly towards the disposable. So, I'm already kind of falling in love with these small objects made from detritus and "waste." They are reinforcing meaning and helping me make connections that might otherwise go unnoticed. While I started working on these hoping to help raise funds for my tiny house dream, I'm already getting much more out of this process than anticipated. I'll soon be setting up an Etsy shop and sending these things out in the world to see if others feel they have value worthy of part of a paycheck. If people feel that way, that would be nice. However, these objects and the materials they come from have already proven their worth to me, and I'm grateful to spend some time learning from them. As a kid, my mother used to tell me that I "would argue with a fencepost" when I was being ornery and stubborn. I suppose she was right. Hopefully I've mellowed and matured just a tad so that I can now have a conversation with that fencepost; I had no idea such humble materials have so much to teach.








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