Editor’s Note: Robell wrote this post several weeks ago, soon after he came up to help with the Nicholson bench build. Because I’ve been out straight getting Issue Three ready, I haven’t had a moment to put this up on the blog until now. Mike and I loved having Robell in the shop with us and we look forward to the next time he can come up. The following are Robell’s reflections on his time working with us.
It is often intimidating meeting people you admire from afar. That was the case for me when I met Joshua and Mike. Having been a reader of M&T since the first issue, I reached out and asked if I could spend some time working with them. Even though they didn’t know me besides from a few photographs of my work, they said yes. As I biked down the craggy Maine coast to meet them at the shop on the first day, I was nervous. Would I be taken seriously? Would our personalities vibe?
These worries can be heightened for me because there are exceptionally few people of color represented in the world of fine furniture. As the son of immigrants from Africa, which has its own amazing but different woodworking tradition, I sometimes feel like an outsider.
My nerves quickly dissipated after I pulled into the driveway and saw 12-foot boards hanging out the back of Joshua’s minivan. Conversation came easy and authentically over the days we worked together. We discussed New England’s Whoopie Pie rivalries, the enormous amount of labor that goes into pre-industrial furniture making, and the work songs that woodwrights would sing together on the job. We even tried to come up with a song of our own - a futile but hilarious exercise. But most of the time we spoke in saw strokes and mallet blows, allowing the language of shared physical effort to connect us.
The kindness and warmth that I experienced with Joshua and Mike echoed throughout Maine’s woodworking community. From Skip Brack at the legendary Hulls Cove Tool Barn, to employees and vendors at the Lie-Nielsen Open House, graciousness abounded. Folks were eager to share their woodworking knowledge and experiences, enthusiastically welcoming me into their world. One would think that in a place like Maine where woodworkers are plentiful, they would be at each other’s throats competing for work. Maybe some are. But for me, it felt as if the dominant culture was one of teaching, learning, and sharing. It was truly and deeply inspiring.
In the weeks since my visit, I have been thinking about what it means to build a vibrant woodworking community in Atlanta. I’ve come away more convinced than ever that supporting each other is the key to our success. I’m fortunate to work out of Mass Collective, a maker’s cooperative where I get to interact and connect with various craft people. Spaces like these are critical in fostering inclusive and collaborative work environments, and because, as we all know, gluing up sometimes requires more than just two hands. My experience in Maine strengthened my commitment to helping build a stronger woodworking community here in Atlanta, a community where all people can take part in and have access to this incredible craft.
-Robell Awake (@robellawake)