Woodworking. It’s a big part of who I am. I lost this part of me — well, I put it aside — for more than a dozen years as I bounced from Des Moines to New York to Chicago and now to Columbia. But finally I’m back at it. And now that I am, I’m remembering why it’s so important to me.
My current project is some very simple chairs that I’m donating to one of the city’s two fenced-in dog parks. I’m using discarded lumber from construction sites for the materials. The project combines my interest in woodworking with something I’m genetically disposed to do: scavenging for the materials.
My father, LeRoy Mitchell, was an art teacher and he found second and third purposes for everything from carpet samples to the paper that wrapped x-ray film. (Anyone out there have one of his yellow paper books?)
He died more than 30 years ago, before I was able to do woodworking with him.
As a child I watched my dad work on any number of projects and art work and I was usually too small to work with him. But I watched. I watched everything he did. The wood he used, the nails, the screws, the glue. He worked with wire, tin cans, fine hard woods, scrap wood, paper, copper tubing, plastics, glass. I learned a lot from him, but never got to work with him, father and daughter. I could even teach him a thing or two: he’d love to work with a Japanese saw, one that cuts on the pull instead of the push stroke.
When I scavenge I often think of what he’d think of the stuff I’ve found. (Today I found an antique sewing machine but it was so rusty and decayed even I didn’t want it.) When I’m building, I often wish he was here to see what I’ve accomplished from all the years of watching him and what I’ve learned on my own. Also, he was a big, tall, strong man — he’d have been a lot of help around the shop.
So when you come visit me and think my house is full of junk remember: it’s in my genes.