Tuesday, September 19, 2017

this is your brain on art

It has 6 legs (or four arms and two legs) along with cat ears, and wings behind. What is it? Even the child who made it is not sure. Yesterday my first, second and third grade students continued making "superheroes."Some of my fourth, fifth and sixth grade students would have preferred that activity to making models of the solar system. But we started that project anyway.

We must make certain that children's brains are effectively engaged in in school. In the early days of manual arts training, administrators were concerned that exercises not be "purely mechanical," meaning that what the children did and made must involve the brain as well as the hands. Children's hands were not to be put to mindless (and mind numbing) tasks, like those one might find in industrial employment. Now we must demand that educational activities involve the hands as well as the brain. The hands and brain form a learning system in which each part refreshes and sustains the other.

Educational psychologists have long described the effect of art on mental performance. Now, through the use of brain imaging technology, we can see the actual effect. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/lifestyle/your-brain-on-art/

Make, fix, create, and make full use of our most effective learning instruments: our hands.

Monday, September 18, 2017

solar system models, revisited

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, we'll repeat a project from 2009, making models of the solar system. http://wisdomofhands.blogspot.com/2009/02/solar-system-models.html

I have disks cut out to represent the sun, and large and small dowels to cut into discs representing the various planets, proportional to their real size. The students will drill holes mounting their planets, and will paint their work in their classroom or art class. This will likely be a two day project, finishing later in the week.

Make, fix, create and assist others in learning likewise.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Making a happy state.

The difference between these boxes and the veneered boxes I've made in the past is very subtle. The veneered top panel is recessed slightly below the sides, allowing it to be glued in a groove and for all the edges to be buried.

That makes fitting easier and less prone to error, as the panel needs not be cut quite as precise. Some may see the recessed panel as an interesting design feature (or not). Slightly less time will be required per box.

Other features will be the same as in some of the boxes I've made in the past. I'll install keys at the mitered corners to strengthen the joints, and use spring loaded barbed hinges to connect the lid to the base. The veneered top panels are some that I did as demonstrations and I'm attempting to make use of unfinished works.

We have witnessed a radical depersonalizing and unraveling of the fabric of human society. This is taking place in small communities, and in the world at large as people display greater anger and intolerance toward each other.

If we were living in an earlier time, I might be wearing the socks and mittens you made from the wool of your own sheep. You might be eating the wheat I raised and paid in exchange. We would think kindly of each other and be kind to each other. The web of human existence and the fabric of community life were carefully crafted from small repetitive acts of kindness and concern. The exercise of craftsmanship and the exchange of useful beauty is the antidote for a society in decline as ours seems to be.

A recent study proclaimed Minnesota as the happiest state based on a number of interrelated factors. My state of Arkansas was 46th as one of the very least happy. I will be teaching in Minnesota on the 10th, 11th and 12th of November so will have a chance to see that happy state first hand.

On Thursday at 6 PM at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, a new documentary short film about 2016 Arkansas Living Treasure, Eleanor Lux will be shown in public for the first time. Larry Williams, Arkansas Living Treasure 2006 and I, Arkansas Living Treasure 2009 will also be on hand to talk about our work, as our documentary films will also be shown. You are invited to attend.

Make, fix, create. Make yours a happy state.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

today in the wood shop.

I have many small projects that require attention to complete. The object of completion is to get them out of my way and placed and sold (hopefully) to make room for further production.

In Sweden in the 19th century, German manufactured goods overwhelmed the populace. In the past the Swedish farm families had met most of their own needs for boots and gloves and you name it, by either making these things or trading with neighbors. In the crafting of objects, the crafting of the intelligence and character of the people was assured.

When the cheaper, but well manufactured German trade goods decimated the value of home craft, the Swedish farmer turned to the making of Branvin as a source of revenue to replace that lost when their home crafted goods were no longer of value. Drunkenness was a by-product of the exchange. The Lutheran church became deeply concerned, as did the Swedish Parliament and King, just as we should have been over the past 150 years.

Educational Sloyd, the use of woodworking as an important part of school, was the means through which the industriousness and intelligence of the people was to be restored and the whole of Swedish culture was to be put back on the right track.

We can do the same thing here. It is relatively simple. Give students the opportunity to create. The use of the hands refreshes and energizes intellectual capacity. Don't believe me? Try making something.

Make, fix, and create.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


In wood shop at the Clear Spring School yesterday, as some students were finishing their pen sets and whittling pens, I invited others to make "super-heroes." One first grade girl announced, "I want to make a cat." Another one suggested, "It could be cat woman!" And so they began making super hero cats as shown in the photo. They used the little scraps that resulted from forming the neck to make ears. The photo also shows one left unfinished, and another with moveable arms.

Perhaps you can understand why children love wood shop. What they learn will not be effectively measured in standardized testing, but in real life instead. The children asked, "May I take this home?" And of course they can, and they did.

To make a super hero (or cat) of your own, begin with a piece of 3/4 in. white pine 2 in. wide by 6 in. long. Use a band saw or straight cutting hand saw to begin forming the legs. Then have the child make a coping saw cut to remove the scrap of wood from between the legs.

A coping saw is used to make cuts forming the neck. The top of the head can be sawn to shape or left flat for the attachment of ears, which are glued in place. The super hero stock must be mounted securely in the vise for all cuts. We use a drill press to drill holes for the arms to fit. In drilling, I hold the stock securely in place as the student turns on the drill and turns the handle to form the holes on either side. 1/4 in. dowels are glued in place to form the arms.

Today I will ship boxes to the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock.

Make, fix, create, and help others learn lifewise.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The longer school day.

There is a national debate about the effectiveness of a longer school day. If it makes room for recess it might not be such a bad idea. But educators might want to look more seriously at Finland. In the international PISA testing, the students of Finland have regularly thrashed American students, and they have far more recess time and less time in school than do the students in the US.

The following is from an editorial by Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg describing how Finnish schools differ from American schooling. http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/06/opinion/sahlberg-finland-education/index.html
"...play constitutes a significant part of individual growth and learning in Finnish schools. Every class must be followed by a 15-minute recess break so children can spend time outside on their own activities. Schooldays are also shorter in Finland than in the United States, and primary schools keep the homework load to a minimum so students have time for their own hobbies and friends when school is over."
Perhaps instead of lengthening the school day, we should look at a more comprehensive approach. We know that the things we've each learned that had maximum and lasting impact on our understanding were those things we learned hands-on. Can we not use that idea to reinvigorate all schooling?

Yesterday at Clear Spring School, the 4th, 5th and 6th grade students formed a solar system on the school playground. Even serious schooling can take the form of play. Each student was assigned the role of a planet. And when they were organized began to orbit.

Today at Clear Spring School, my first, second and third grade students will whittle pens and begin making boxes.

Make, fix, and create...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Mondays are my busiest days at the Clear Spring School. I have middle school and high school students in the morning and then all of the elementary school kids in the afternoon. That along with materials preparation makes for a busy day.

David Pye, a woodworker, philosopher and author in the UK, had noted that writing with a pen was an example of the relationship between certainty and risk. You cannot dip a pen in ink without it leading to a mark. You cannot erase what you have written in ink, and so once you set the tip of the pen to paper, things are changed.

Pye recognized two forms of workmanship, that of certainty in which the intelligence is built into a particular device and the results are consistently the same, and that of risk in which total attention of the craftsman is required. In workmanship of risk, one slip of the chisel and you are set off in a quest for for plan B.

Workmanship of certainty may be performed by the unskilled and unthoughtful.  Workmanship of risk is made successful through the exercise and development of skill and mindfulness... Developing therefore the character and intelligence of the craftsman.

In workmanship of certainty the jig is made and the results of the machine like operation will go on and on in relative perfection, until the machine like operator shuts down the process. In workmanship of risk, whether writing with a pen, or sawing dovetails by hand, there are opportunities for growth of either skill or intellect available to the craftsman. "Pye proposed that we build things to effect change." Workmanship of certainty may have a profound (and overwhelming) effect on the world around us. Workmanship of risk is a means through which to transform self.

Today I will sand boxes, sign them and apply finish.

Make, fix and create.