Exploring the deeper recesses of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, the discovery of a table and chair set brought me to an instant standstill.
Subdued museum lighting, the soft sheen of natural wood surfaces. North American species. Design so deceptively simple. Dovetailed joint splicing together a natural fault in the tree. The name on the plaque read: George Nakashima, New Hope, P.A.
No museum guards around. I dropped to my knees, rolled onto my back, and wiggled beneath the table to get a closer look at the joinery. In black ink on the underside, his actual signature. A human connection.
A few weeks later I found his shop, inconspicuously located down a side alley in New Hope. Excited, hoping to meet him and learn how this magic was created, I knocked. The woman who answered the door informed me George had just recently died.
For many years I have struggled to make my dream a functioning enterprise. At times, I felt it unjust that all the wild birds in my woods could sing all day long while I sweated in a craft the world didn't seem ready for. Now the points of life appear in the wilderness more frequently and afford additional opportunities for creativity.
The maker of fine wood furniture reaches out into hundreds of lives, listens to voices and shares in the lives of so many people, giving and receiving.
— George Nakashima, "The Soul of a Tree" (1981)
A road trip west to evaluate architecture grad school programs at University of Colorado and University of Arizona. Driving through Pennsylvania, a side diversion to experience Frank Lloyd Wright's eastern masterpiece.
Although I appreciated the originality of thought behind Fallingwater — the physical manifestation was disappointing. Damp. Leaking windows and roofs. Doorways scaled for small statured people. Constant background noise of water...without actually being able to appreciate (or even see) the flowing stream. I felt the house was built as a clever photo op rather than a structure to inhabit.
Fallingwater's visitor center, in contrast, was spectacular. Glass walls serpantined between trees. Light and space and connection to the surrounding woods. A bookstore stocked with stimulating writings on design!
When at length come your years of fullfillment you will find yourself alone, the only judge of your decisions, in the awesome position of a doctor at the deathbed of his dearest patient. No one will tell you what can be done to bring life flowing again into what death is ready to snatch away. No one will tell you if you are right, or wrong. Even the experience and knowledge of your past years may be of no avail, as your sure guide will always be your intuition...
Art is not a process of feeling little wings grow in your back and grow and grow until they become angel wings and carry you smiling to a Heaven fragrant with sweet violin sounds and harps; when your wings start to lift you above the ground, some good devil will know enough to clip them short, and you will fall and get hurt. Only through this succession of flights and falls will you experience art and grow in stature as an artist.
— Paul Jacques Grillo, "Form, Function & Design" (1960)
Inspired to lutherie rather than furniture building or architecture, Starfish claro walnut guitar was completed in early 1993. Finally, a guitar that I wanted to play! I thought perhaps building instruments would be my career path. Wondering if working for (or with) others might be the first stepping stone, I began a series of road trips that spring to meet with people I thought might help.
"Do you have a patent on these ideas? This guitar is so unique and solves so many design problems. Please don't bring it in here. Go get your patents then show it around." (Manager of a prominent local music store, Trenton, NJ)
"That thing is ugly. It looks like a Klingon weapon." (Custom guitar builder, Philadelphia, PA)
"My advice to you is to go home and try to build instruments in the NYC area. Nobody in Nashville will ever play a guitar that looks like that." (Manager of a famous guitar store, Nashville, TN)