Reflections on Loss and Moving On
I am thinking of the many small businesses that have lost everything. And the many collaterally damaged by the loss of trade.
Thinking back on my workshop fire in 1998 or 1999 – I cannot remember accurately the date.
“It all seems so overwhelming. Eventually I realised I had a choice to re-build or not to. I could reflect on what I was doing and what I wished to do. I realised that all that was there, the timber, machines, jigs, stock . . . workbenches, beloved hand tools . . . And while it was there, before the fire, I could never walk away from all that, and in a sense I was trapped in my own dreaming, in the fulfillment of my own dreams. So you could say the fire freed me, gave me choice. I choose to spend more time at the gallery.
And then I began collaborating with makers in Canberra. And that was all so very satisfying. As was being in the gallery, working with good staff, taking on some adventuresome projects.
I realise now how hard it was for Evan Dunstone who was the main person in the workshop, going full pelt living his dreaming of fine making and design. It cut him at a very sensitive time in his aspirations. He set up his own business, Phoenix. And maybe ten years ensued of ups and downs. Being on ones own, starting out is a very hard gig indeed. Evan persevered, and now he is recognised as one of the best in the country. But it is still a very tough and anxious grind. It is a condition of my being that I am quite low energy, and I absolutely must rely on others in every endeavor I do. So I have come to have much empathy for makers trying to make a go of woodworking in the fine woodworking tradition. My workshop was about 100 meters from my house. And for four years after the fire, I could never even look in the direction of the burnt rubble. But eventually I did rebuild.
It is a good space. A better space than previously. I still collaborate with wood turner, Jim Homman, and woodworker Mitchell Rice. Collaboration gives me agency. It can all be taken away in a flash. So I have a very detached attitude to things, tools, machines, objects, and the furniture I make.
It really bugs me when occasional people visiting the gallery say “its expensive” or “I wish things did not cost so much.” I am at a loss for polite words to express what I know is the hard, hard road to making exceptionally fine furniture.
Our best client over the years lost her house in a fire two years after the Canberra fires in 2003. She works in hospital administration mostly the night shifts. She loves art, and fine making. Her house is a mini gallery. You don’t have to be rich to own good objects. You just have to choose to own fine things. That’s what I want to say to people who say “its so expensive!” Even rich folks say that!!I most sincerely am thankful for people’s concern and caring about what we do and what we represent.
David Mac Laren OAM, Designer maker in wood, since 1974 Founder, Owner, Director, Bungendore Wood Works Gallery since 1983
From one of our treasured walking stick makers:
Thank you for your inspiring newsletter. You guys are the standard against which all other wood galleries are measured. It’s heartening to hear you are persevering in such hard times. Something very precious would be lost if you ceased to be.
We, here in Waitpinga SA, have been blessed with the good fortune of not having to contend with the fires at our own place. 80 kms to the north of us and 120 kms to the south fires raged and some still do, but here… nothing. We are so very grateful and mindful of the need of others less fortunate than ourselves in these times.
Keep doing what you do and we will continue to do what we do and the wood art world will be better for it.
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