Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Maymont Foundation

On Thursday of last week I had the pleasure of going with my daughter on her field trip to Maymont.  It was my first visit, but certainly not my last.  After taking a quick tour through the indoor Nature Center, filled with animals that live in or near the James River, we exited through the rear doors and out into the property. 

The first thing you see is acre after acre of rolling pasture that extends out into the distance in every direction.  There is a path, and a map, that takes you to areas of interest, a barn, filled with sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, and even a donkey.  The mansion itself, open to the public for tours.  The Japanese garden, the Italian garden, and the carefully restored ornamental lawn.  There are also various animal exhibits, black bears, several birds of prey, red and grey foxes, and several species of owl. 

Any of those things would be worth a return trip.  Without a doubt though, for me, the thing that sealed the deal was the trees.  I found myself staring dumbfounded at the immense trees that cover the property.  I don't think I have ever seen a larger collection of huge trees in my life.  Huge Oaks, with trunks easily 5 to 6 feet in diameter are everywhere.  Huge Tulip Poplars, larger than any that I have ever seen are found throughout the property.  Down near the path to the Japanese Garden are Beech trees that are monstrous, with huge twisted branches curling up into the sky.  I was at a loss for words. 

Here are a few pictures that I took, they do not do justice to the arboreal spectacle that awaits you should you have the opportunity to visit Maymont.  I'll be back, the trees have assured my return.  Remember, you can click on each picture to see it in full size.

Not to be outdone by the trees that cover the grounds, there is a huge stand of rhododendrons that were in bloom.  I had to take a picture of those as well.
  As a woodworker, or whatever it is that I am, a woodworker might be a stretch I guess.  I am always looking at trees and thinking of the wonderful things that I could make from them.  I was surprised that my first thought when visiting the trees of Maymont was just the opposite.  These trees need to stay as they are, for all to visit and enjoy.  Maymont just got added to the list of must see places for people visiting Richmond, VA  Come on down, and I'll show you the trees.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Function over form

I struggled over the title of this post for quite some time.  I wasn't sure how to convey the topic of this post in the title, and I'm still not sure I have, but at least it sets the stage.  In my opinion when carving something that is going to be used by someone for a specific purpose there are two main design elements that must be considered.  Form and function.  What does that mean?  Well you could carve the most beautiful and artistic spoon in the world and if it doesn't work as a spoon should, then what good is it?  On the other hand, you can carve a spoon that isn't visually appealing, but works outstandingly well.  There must be a balance between the way it looks and the way it works.  Getting that balance right is the key. 

Okay, so where am I going with this?  What is my point?  I think a lot of people, myself included, often have a misguided view on what is more important when it comes to form and function.  I think that we often give a higher weight to form, the way things look, than to function, the way things work.  I also think that people give up on themselves because the things that they make don't look as perfect or well-formed as those that others make.  I think it is natural to compare your work to others, but while that comparison is often helpful, it can also cause feelings of inadequacy. 

I'm guilty and I have talked about it in the past on more than one occasion.  Today though, I came to a realization.  When you first start carving spoons, or making anything else for that matter, you MUST consider function first.  If you are carving a spoon, make a spoon first and foremost, then worry about how good it looks when you have figured out the technique.  Case in point, I present the following spoon.

I carved it in October of last year, 7 months ago.  I had been carving spoons for maybe four months at the time.  A neighbor had a Bradford pear tree come down in a storm and gave me a few sticks of wood in exchange for helping him clean up the mess. I carved this spoon the same day the tree fell, and I was pretty proud of it, but then I noticed the crack in the bowl. 

Not wanting to throw it away, I threw it into a kitchen drawer.  It wasn't pretty, the wood was hard to carve and my tools were less than adequate.  I was still having trouble with handle design.  That being said, it was still a spoon and from a functional standpoint a pretty good one.  I didn't think much of it at the time, but in the 7 months that have passed since I carved this spoon, I have used it almost every day. 

I have stirred gallons of iced tea and Kool-Aid with this spoon.  I have made pan upon pan of sausage gravy, I have used it to stir soups, to saute vegetables, to make scrambled eggs, to stir pancake batter.  I have cooked with it, served with it, and tasted food from the cracked bowl.  This regular old spoon has become one of the most used cooking implements in my kitchen.

I have carved better looking spoons since this one was made.  Spoons that I have given as gifts and are in use by other people today.  They have looked better than the one pictured above, my sincerest hope, though, is that they have performed just as well.  A spoon, if it is truly a spoon, must work.  The way it looks, the fact that it was sanded or has a tooled finish, the shape of the handle and the bowl do not matter in the long run.  Form is important, but function reigns supreme.  Let us never forget that we are essentially tool makers.  Focus on making tools that work and the beauty will come naturally.

Happy carving my friends.