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Art Espenet Carpenter
Memories in Memory
Art Carpenter was almost as old as my dad when I apprenticed to him more than thirty years ago. But unlike my dad, Art had a wonderful quirky bearded edginess somewhere between 120 and 180 grit, not real rough paper like a Hemingway, not real smooth cloth like my dad, the psychiatrist. But Art was rough enough that that he could make lasting impressions. He was smooth enough, too, that the impressions he made didn't bleed. Or bleed all too much. "Goddammit, you have to sweep up UNDER the saw, too..." or "Feel it, will you, it needs more sanding."
Art never threw sandpaper away. What began as 80 grit became over time 600 grit, but still useful. All of Art's sandpaper was tossed into a big cardboard box near the bandsaw. Occasionally I would work up enough courage to pull a fresh sheet of paper from the package in the cupboard instead of finding the right piece in the box, but it always felt wrong. Like I was being lazy. Like I was throwing away usefulness in favor of an indolent arm.
What I did for Art was sand things -- from rolltop desks to black walnut dining tables. He never let me cut or shape or glue any of his pieces. Just sand them. And sand them some more. Once I was allowed to rub some of his favorite Watco Danish Oil onto a low-risk chess board. Ahhhh, what a wonderful step in the process of MAKING with wood! This step is the consumation, the visual transformation into a final creature that will soon be loaded into or on top of the green truck and be delivered to Mrs. So-in-so in Atherton or Tiburon or maybe through the tunnel to Orinda...
Art's creative final products were at times amazing. He invented. He MADE real things. He crafted. And he taught by doing. Some of his lessons were permanent. In my my shop in Maine today is a sturdy Oregon Apple box full of groady sandpaper. On the shelf above is my gallon of Watco. Poignant schooling from a terrific man who week after week during his lifetime layed on the Watco and enjoyed the birth of many thousands of children. Art added true value to his world; and now that world is diminished. I miss him.
June 20, 2006
Glad you are well! I'm not likely to get to your dad's service in person, but I will be there in spirit. I wrote up a short testimonial to your dad which you might read at the service, if it's that sort of affair... again, I'm really sorry to miss it. Give my love to Tori, too.
An Interview with Art Carpenter by Jeff Greef.
Craftsman, Educator: Award of Distinction presented by The Furniture Society on March 16, 2001.
Oral Interview from The Smithonian Archives of American Art. [Original Link = www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/transcripts/carpen01.htm]