KAWS Companion- a poignant commentary

I believe one of today’s more compelling pieces of art is by the artist KAWS and his famous “Companion”. It was outside the Modern Art Museum here in Fort Worth a little over a year ago. It captured me from the moment I saw it. In fact, I continued to think about it for a few days and returned to take a few pictures of it. I was reminded of this piece this weekend because we visited the Modern for an exhibit on NY art in the 80′s.

I shop therefore I am...

Here is one piece from the exhibit, this is Barbara Kruger’s untitled work which captures the “greed-is-good” attitude of the 1980′s. It is about the search for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world.

It is a play of course on the philosophical idea, “I think therefore I am”. This 80′s spin on this idea is striking.

Great art moves us, it challenges us and causes us to reflect. The Companion does it for me because it captures the present age so well. What KAWS has done is given us a glimpse of Mickey and Disney world, behind the scenes. The cartoon figure is a blend of Mickey Mouse and a clown. He appears to be in distress, possibly weeping, but why?

I think we all know why. The façade we put up in life, the utopian ideal that many of us feel compelled to project is false. There is a happy face we share with the world but behind the scenes, there is actually a great deal of shame and sadness in our lives. The Disney world we all want others to see, and the projection of fulfilment and happiness we may share on Facebook is only part of the story.

KAWS I believe is giving us a glimpse of ourselves. This figure is a mirror that highlights the reality of a plastic world, a false world that we should all question and challenge instead of perpetuating.


I share this with you on a blog about Timeless Building because the parallels to the McMansion are very real. We are building “impressive” larger house that are a false façade. They are false either because we can’t really afford what we just built or what we built will not last and is thus very temporal.

I think as a culture we need to explore and pursue eternal values, we need to delve into what is beautiful and pursue eternal beauty. Important things to consider if nothing else.










Tools of the trade: Inspriation from the past

axesIf you look at the inside cover of my book you will find this picture. It is taken at the building tool museum in Troyes, France. It is an awesome multi-story museum filled with cases (like this) of tools for crafting and building. This particular case displays timber framing axes used by craftsmen to fell and shape timbers. It is poignant to me because it is easy to forget, that before the rise of lumber mills, making timbers from logs was all done by hand.

A closer look at these axes and timber tools reveals their wonderful variety and individuality. Note the shape and size of the handles; some are long, some are short, some are curved, some are even left-handed. Each one is shaped and beveled to conform to the hands of each craftsmen. The craftsman’s experience would taught him that some handles break too easily, some give blisters and some aren’t quite big enough, and some need a stop so they don’t slip from my hands.

axes close

The variety and shapes of the axe faces are also revealing. Some are elongated, evidently designed to fit into a narrow spot; maybe a mortise, or maybe the deep crotch of a tree. Some have a small cutting blade, some are very wide which of course would have allowed you to sheer off more wood with each swing. Thought, care and wisdom went into the design of these tools.

To follow are some of my favorite pictures from the museum.

To start the museum is filled with many half-scale building models. These wonderful works help the craftsman work out complex shapes and construction challenges. For example, this circular stair model may have been built to work out the radius challenges of inside and outside rails. …you may also note some children who can’t seem to stay out of the pictures. . .

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This is a beautiful bow front window model. The bow front window is a great test as compound curves pushes the limits of a craftsman’s skills. Much like in boat building, getting a piece of wood to curve in 2 directions is quiet hard. It is the pinnacle in the art of woodworking.

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My favorite, was this window model below. Even built with operating miniature shutters and hardware. The French casement window (which is an in-swing-window) is hard to build. It requires precision and care that is a lost art of window making. This great miniature example had all the various parts and pieces. As a craftsmen and designer it was an inspiration. . . you may note my son is not quite as enthralled with the design…

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From my perspective the museum is a celebration of craft. Thus, there were also fine examples of the tools which help the art of craft. This plaster screed was designed as a beautiful ceiling crown/cornice mold. This is a single tool that saves time and money. To build the same cornice in wood, requires at least 4 different moldings. Also, this type of tool is great for circular work where plaster is much less expensive than making curved moldings.

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I love this roof tile with a graceful fish scale design.

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Finally this slate crest detail I love because it highlights a functional and practical way of providing cresting for a roof ridge while at the same time shows off a well-crafted method of linking these top slates shingles so that they don’t need to be nailed at the top. Form and function in perfect harmony.

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I write in the book about the celebration of craft. The tool museum highlights the personality and genius of great craft. It demonstrates through tool and samples that form and function serve and decorate at the same time. This is part of Timeless design and craft.

Michaelangelo and the obsession with great material

I’m studying Michelangelo and I’ve learned an interesting secret about him. It is a secret that we can all take to heart as we work to create our own masterpieces.

Michaelangelo's david

You may be familiar with the story of how Michelangelo carved his David when he was 29 years old from a huge and yet flawed piece of marble that had been rejected by a previous artist 40 years before. From this “unworkable” piece of stone he created one of world’s greatest works of art, how?








It is clear, that besides being a great artist, Michelangelo also understood the importance of great material. It is thought that one of his early building inspirations were the granite columns on the exterior of the Pantheon in Rome. pantheon-facade The columns, pictured here, are 50′ tall and made from solid granite which were quarried in Egypt by the Romans.  They are colossal! The task of quarrying and shipping them, even today, is an engineering marvel. Yet, they are also defining character pieces and highlight the buildings importance.

One of Michelangelo’s first great commissions was the Pietà. Currently in the Vatican, it depicts Mary holding Christ’s dead body after he has been brought down from the cross. pieta When Michelangelo first received the commission, he immediately traveled to the marble quarries to find an amazing piece of stone. It is thought that there has NEVER been a more beautiful piece of marble and Michelangelo throughout his life remembered where in the quarry he found this stunning marble.

Not surprisingly, Michelangelo spent nearly 4 years of his life in stone quarry’s. 4 years! This is a tremendous amount of time.


For David as mentioned above, you may know that he did not choose that block of stone. Instead, it was considered “ruined” because it had set unused for 40 years and would have been dry and brittle. Part of the reason, I believe, Michelangelo was able to bring David to life from this brittle piece of marble is because he was intimately acquainted with the subtleties and grain of marble. His deep understanding of marble gave him the ability to work with material others assumed was lost.

The encouragement for Craftsmen today is to learn and become intimately acquainted with wood. Learn the character of its grain, its strength and its weaknesses. Too often power tools cause us to ignore wood grain because we can. Pick up a hand plane and go to flatten out a piece of rough sawn oak. You will quickly learn about its grain and its character. To create master pieces we must be masters of our materials.

I’m pretty proud of a kitchen we are doing for a client in Long Leaf Yellow Pine; I’ll claim it is my “Michelangelo example”.  In the south, we have a strong building tradition of houses and even furniture made from a unique southern pine called, Long Leaf yellow pine. Long Leaf Pine is a very rare and unique wood that was originally prized for its strength and dense wood grain. It made wonderful beams and strong floors. Today, most of what we are able to find, is through salvaging old buildings.

When our client requested a long leaf pine kitchen, I knew finding the right pine and the right character in the wood would be the key to the success of the project. Without carefully culling for quarter and rift sawn material, and patiently choosing boards with the optimum color, it could quickly turn into a mess of loud grain and ugly character.

Only because of our years of experience building in Long Leaf Pine did we know where to look and how to find the best wood for this project. C2Materials matter. We delivered the island to the job today. When we get it finished I’ll share more.