Craftsmen Who Influenced Me: Gary Keener

One of the common questions I get is about who influenced me as a woodworker? Was it Sam Maloof, Tage Frid, James Krenov? Well sure, they all had an inspirational impact on me as I discovered the world of fine woodworking, their work is legendary.

But that really is sort of the problem for me. Even when they were alive, the stories seemed to be no different to me than the stories I read about Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, or the Greene & Greene brothers and the Hall bothers who built their furniture. It all seemed too distant to me. They were all out of reach as legends tend to be. 

The people that had the largest impact on me, were craftsmen that I personally met. I talked with them, they shook my hand, they personally told me stories of their life as a furniture maker. Those are the people that lit the fire in me, and moved me to action, because I knew they were real and they made it seem to be within my reach to be a fine woodworker. 

One of those people was Gary Keener. I had met him at a couple of shows in Columbus, Ohio. He was a super nice guy, and he gave me a little of his time to tell me about his work and life as a craftsman. He really made an impression on me for his generosity, which was on top of his great design and quality of work. 

Later, in January 2006, I was visiting the newly restored Frank Lloyd Wright - Westcott House in Springfield, OH and found out that the furniture had been reproduced by a local craftsman by the name of Gary Keener. Of course, after discovering that he had built the furniture for the Westcott House, I had to call him out on that offer he made in our early conversations to "stop by and visit anytime." 

Frank Lloyd Wright - Westcott House, Springfield, Ohio

Once again, he was very generous with his time by giving me a tour of his shop, sharing his philosophy of the craft, and how he got started. This is what impacts me more than whatever I read about the legendary furniture makers, because Gary was REAL to me. If he was doing it without being a celebrity woodworker, then there was hope for me to do it too.

We had only ever kept light contact over the years, but then he popped up on my Instagram account just a few days ago.

Then, the next day, I found Gary was the cover story on The Woodshop News. So it was neat to all of a sudden run into him again, so to speak. 

Gary is still doing the high-end furniture shows to display his work and make business connections. This weekend, March 13 - 15 he will be in Atlanta at the Cobb Galleria for the American Craft Council show. So if you are in the area, be sure to check it out and say "Hi" to Gary. 

To see Gary's work, you can check out his site: G. Keener & Co. Fine Furniture  You can read his story at The Woodshop News.

If you are in Atlanta this weekend, March 13 - 15 and are interested in fine woodworking, I recommend you check out the show. You can see his show schedule at his site and the next one will be in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show April 10 - 12. 

Woodworking shows are fun to attend, but I would prefer to attend a show like the American Craft Council, the Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show, or the Western Design Conference. The high caliber of work is always stunning. Plus you get to meet the artisans and you will be inspired them just as I was by Gary. 

Your friend in the shop,

Todd A. Clippinger

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By Hand and Eye

One of the things that many woodworkers find very challenging is designing projects. And what is particularly challenging, if not outright mystifying, is understanding how to design a project that feels proportionally balanced.

If developing good proportions and balance is something you have trouble with, I would like to suggest that you check out "By Hand & Eye" authored by Jim Tolpin and George Walker, published by Lost Art Press. 

By Hand & Eye explains how classic proportions and order were developed, and how they were applied historically in architecture. This context helps remove the mystery surrounding what often seems like confusing mathematical formulas. 

By Hand & Eye does well at presenting the information in a logical and comprehensive manner. This is important as it makes the information mentally digestible, which clarifies the subject rather than confounding it.

I really like the chapters "Waking Up Your Eye" and "Proportions Made Simple." They do well at presenting the base information, and demystifying it, which will help you understand the chapter "Classic Orders" later in the book. The information really is dispensed in a logical order of progression which makes it comprehensive. 

Toward the end of the book, there are 10 projects that include explanations of how the classic proportions apply. I recommend that if you are just developing your eye, you really should build the projects. It is only through practical application that you will get a full understanding of how the proportions "feel" when expressed in a tangible item. 

I highly recommend By Hand & Eye. I have other books that share the same technical information, but this has to be the best book that shares the information in a format that is directly related to the woodworking and furniture making community. The fact that it is relatable, helps tremendously in making it understandable. 

For an entertaining and distilled version of understanding proportions, check out this stop-motion video "Design by Hand & Eye" narrated by Jim Tolpin. You will not only be entertained, you will be amazed at how much clarity it brings to understand proportional relationships. 

Disclaimer: I purchased "By Hand & Eye" at full price with my own money. I have not been compensated in any manner for my review or endorsement.  My opinion of the contents are measured against my own experience designing and building as a contractor and professional woodworker since '97. 

Your friend in the shop,

Todd A. Clippinger

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Woodworking Interview With Madison Swords

I love talking to other woodworkers and hearing how their journey in the craft started. I recently met Madison Swords, and I just loved his story of how he got started in woodworking, so I had to share it with you. 

Madison is a self-taught woodworker and he learned everything from YouTube. I was not only impressed with that, but the fact that he choose to go the hand tool route, and his for his first furniture project, he choose to tackle a Greene & Greene side table. I was absolutely blown away!

Madison Swords built a Greene & Greene side table as his first furniture build, all with hand tools, some of which he made himself. 

In talking to Madison, it is clear he really gets it. He snaps up the knowledge and puts it to work straight-away in his own shop. He exhibits a wisdom and perspective beyond his years.

I think his journey into woodworking is impressive, entertaining, and inspirational. And so I bring to you an interview with Madison Swords. 

I hope you enjoy!

Your friend in the shop-

Todd A. Clippinger

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