Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A pretty girl and her jewelry box

I was fortunate to have an interesting commission come my way not too long ago, and from the states.  A friend asked me to make a jewelry box for his young daughter, to be shown to her upon it's arrival, but actually will be given to her to use when she is older....perhaps turning 18?  I considered it a thoughtful and loving gift.  The order also came at a time when I really needed the work, due to the earthquake and consequences that had resulted shortly before.  Thanks, Paul!

I had been keeping a small supply of what is called Enju wood here, in my possession for at least fifteen years, but had never used any of it.  It is a legume, not so unlike Black Acacia and in the same family I believe, but is a bit softer and a warm brown color.  No previous experience working with the species, but I knew it by reputation as a material sometimes used by an old occupation of woodworkers in Japan, called "sashimono".  These are people that specialized in making smaller items in wood, from scroll cases to certain types of furniture, most frequently in a traditional style, but in many instances also having unique detail embellishments, often very intricately made articles that required a major investment in time to produce.  The level of skill and fine degree of execution is inspiring if one cares to look into it.  There are fine examples to be seen, though sadly, the demand for such goods is in limited supply today, and the number of people still involved in the trade, now few. I suspected that Enju is fairly easy to work and can take on fine crisp details, which turned out to be the case. I can only imagine that the color of the wood will become deep and rich with time and use.

I enjoyed this project immensely, from the initial conceptualizing to the finish execution.  The design is pretty simple, but there is some subtlety, as in the slightly curving sides from top to bottom.  It wasn't without a degree of difficulty to make, working within the limited allowable size, and I was quite pleased with the way it turned out.  My customer seems happy too, sent a photo of Whylie that I love, taken on her birthday!  It was a lucky coincidence that the jewelry box arrived shortly before.  The box is really not very large, but Whylie being next to it makes it appear so.  I am confident that in a few years, the proportions will be better matched!  I do hope that she will get many years of enjoyable use from what I made for her.  In thirty or forty years, I would very much like to see how it has aged....Whylie as well, alas.


Chris Hall said...


nice work and I do like the soft curve on the sides too. The young lady seems to treasure the piece, so what more can a craftsperson ask for?


djy said...

Thank you, Chris. It's nice to get some commentary on the work from a fellow craftsman. When I was working in the states, woodworking occupation friends would visit, or vice versa, and there would often be discussions about what was going on in the shop, opinions expressed to the point of suggestions, sometimes. It was a very open environment about it, a good combination of respect and honesty can make for some good input. Artisans have their own respective view of things, but sometimes we can get to be a bit insular, it also occurs. It's cool to have friends that can "chiff and chaff" about it, without anyone feeling threatened. I miss that, and I do realize that it can take some preliminaries to get to that point between people, a certain juxtaposition of professionalism, or something....?

Here in Japan, people want to be ultra cautious about possibly causing bad feelings it seems, it isn't so common for folks to be open about their work to other people in the same trade, and I notice it being to the point of a person seeming to want to avert their eyes upon a visit to someone else's shop, less it could possibly lead to some comment or whatever, that might not be appreciated. I find it odd, and contradictory to what might more be a natural curiosity. Having confidence and still thinking that you might learn from others, I believe is a good trait, if the level of work is the main priority. Generally speaking, craftsman of a like occupation don't seem to get along so well here. Certainly there are exceptions, but I found the atmosphere in the US considerably more cordial as a rule. In Japan, I believe there is some history in craftsman tending to be more guarded in what they do.

Des King said...

Wonderful work Dennis. In fact, I've enjoyed looking at your work since the Fine Woodworking Design Book 7 days. I'm sure young Miss Whylie will treasure the jewellery box.

Very interesting comments about the exchange of info among craftsmen in Japan. My only experience was in the cloistered environment of a school where information and knowledge was, naturally, freely given.

I know in the kumiko world, I've heard that shokunin would cover their work with a blanket if they had a surprise visit, but the problem is that this secrecy has meant the information and techniques were not being passed on. Consequently, the various associations are now apparently taking steps to make sure that these skills are handed down to the next generation, otherwise they could be lost.

I would imagine in the furniture world, this lack of interchange among Japanese furniture shokunin could lead to a degree of design, and even skill, stagnation, especially if they don't have easy access to the wide range of English-language woodworking information we generally have available.


djy said...

Thanks for the comments, Des.

The shop where I apprenticed in Matsumoto, every great while I may stick my head in for a bit to say hi to some very old friends that still work there. Both of the men that were my teachers are gone now. I will only stop in if i see that the owner's car is not there, or his son's. I really only knew the son when he was a child (grandson of the man that started the shop), but he sort of manages the place now. Neither he or his father are shokunin. I am not welcomed there, nor is anyone else that has left their employ. With the man that assembled the craftsmen from different parts of the country and started the company, my original sponsor, we remained pretty close throughout the years, including after my departure. His son took a different course about leavers, a more business oriented course it seems. i'm a competitor now.

Social graces aside, the place is what it is. I don't feel isolated as a woodworker in Japan, I do have some very good friends that have been doing the occupation for as long or longer than I have, and we get along fine. It isn't quite as open for me as say in the west, but it's comfortable enough. I actually think it is more amongst Japanese themselves where the cautionary comes into play, some observations that I have made. I can sometimes slip through the cracks, have found a way to create allowances by understanding the place sufficiently and also being myself in combination. Fortunately, there is still enough mystery to be somewhat intriguing as well.

May 14, 2012 9:34 PM