Thursday, January 6, 2011

It's easy being Green

Well, the new year has come and gone.  Another of my resolutions was to begin taking my woodworking career seriously.  By this I mean my online business, The Green Dragon.  Over the past few days I have turned out six brand new Vampire Stakes, so I'm off to a fairly good start.  I started The Green Dragon website in 2005, two weeks before Hurricane Katrina came and ripped up this region by its roots.  My career in woodworking goes back much farther than that.  If you've read any of my previous blogs, you will know that I lived homeless in Atlanta and could not find a decent job.  At that time I had only worked for fast food joints, a brief stint at Disney World and two years at Terror On Church Street, a year round haunted house in Orlando.  What I'm trying to say is that I had no skills.  These jobs all placed together in the experience section of a job application do not exactly speak of credibility.  It was at this time of despair, once I retreated home to Louisiana, that I came up with the brilliant idea that I would build guitars for a living.  It sounds fine in theory, but in practice, no professional guitar builder is willing to take a clueless girl into a shop who has only studied band saws and table saws in the context of a textbook, let alone teach her the fine secrets of the craft.  In the end, I began looking into custom furniture shops, the concept is there, same tools, learn the trade, build guitars!  This was in 1995.  An older man by the name of Hugh Hogan took me on as an apprentice in his shop.  He gave me a strong foundation in the craft and let me borrow tools to work on projects at home in my spare time.  He had already apprenticed his two sons who had both gone on to have woodworking careers (One built a table for Sir Elton John) and he taught many of his grandchildren.  In so many ways he was like a grandfather to me and I really owe everything I have learned over the years to his willingness to take a chance on this textbook kid. 

My second lucky break was getting a job in Greenville, South Carolina with Michael McDunn.  He is, by trade, what one would call a fine woodworker.  He builds fantastically imaginative custom furniture and has an art gallery in the front of his business.  The collective name for this venture is Michael P McDunn, Woodworking studio and art gallery.  This man is incredible and it was from him that I learned to fine tune my trade, as he taught me to fine tune my chisels and scrapers to work perfectly.  We used hand tools along with the standard power tools and created works of art from slabs of trees, tree trunks, found wood and amazing lumber from those southern Appalachians.  I can't begin to say how much Mike influenced me over the four years that I worked for him.  He took a rough, green carpenter and taught me how to fine tune, to make things absolutely perfect and to restore an antique piece to perfection, even if it arrived in pieces inside a large box.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about Mike and his simple wisdom.  "Bit by bit," he used to tell me when a job seemed overwhelming.  Along with  my personal favorite, even if it's not his, "No good deed ever goes unpunished."  I can't say either how many timeless truths I learned in that studio on Rutherford Road, how many of his friends I became close with or how many amazing artists I met that had their artwork placed in his gallery.  I always feel like Mike is looking over my shoulder to make sure that I am doing a job of utmost perfection.  That inspiration has never been lost on me, although I have worked for employers since my time with him that do not find this type of work ethic to be of any use whatsoever.  It's really disheartening when you want to give your all and someone really, truly wants you to do as little as possible to make it right.  Some jobs are better left behind.

I don't know what Mike thinks about what I have chosen to use my talents for since he spent so many years helping me to improve upon them.  I'm sure that he doesn't want Vampire Stakes in his Gallery, no matter how beautiful they turn out.  There are a few things I may inquire about when I complete them, but that time may come later.  Although I love working with furniture, especially antique restoration, I truly love doing works of a smaller scale, especially wood turning.  One of Mike's friends and colleagues, Tom Zumbach, who is a wood turner by trade, once told me that he loved wood turning because it was "instant gratification."  There were not countless hours spent putting together the case for a piece of furniture, building the drawers, adding drawer fronts, finishing the job, sanding it, spraying it again, sanding it, spraying it AGAIN then adding the hardware, whew.  Throw a rough block onto the lathe and in an hour or so, (less if you are Tom) you have something that is finished!  I really like that concept.  Many of the things I do are not so simple, but I enjoy delving into this craft that is almost as old as time itself.  To take pieces from a tree that a neighbor cut down, to dry it out over the course of years and then turn it into something useful is one of my favorite things to do.  I am also a fan of using recycled and reclaimed wood.  In many ways, I have grown into the name, The Green Dragon.  Not only do I find unwanted wood and hoard it for future projects, I now use less harmful water based finishes and I have very little waste.  It's actually easy being green.
I only wish that my love for wood could sustain me financially through life so that I could continue on with something that truly makes me happy.   Perhaps one day I will find a niche that is well received enough to offer such a commitment.  Perhaps my book of poems will hit the best sellers list!  For now, I am content with my Vampire Stakes, Magic Wands, Druid Sticks, ancient games and other woodworks that aren't quite as odd.  I never did build a guitar, but I did build a very nice Ashiko Drum last year.  Do feel free to visit my woodworking website to see what it is all about.  I also enjoy building custom pieces for anyone who requests it.  Strangely enough, I have never written about my woodworking, though I have written many of my poems about other topics while inside the workshop.  Go figure, it's bound to happen one day. 

Until then, my book, I Wandered from New Orleans is still available on my author's website, among other places, and my woodworking items are on display and for sale at The Green Dragon's website.  Pop in and tell me what you think!  Cheers!

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