Monday, March 3, 2014

Meet Charlie, a knifemaker


"The World is as sharp as a knife's edge."- A Haida saying.

I don't know if I was fooling anyone with the five or so years of calling my husband C. Surely no one thought his name was Chester, or Caleb, or Carlton. Originally it was to help protect his privacy, but since privacy and internet no longer go together in the least and I'm about to unveil things he does under his own name, meet Charlie, everyone:

By now you guys know that he quit his day job and majorly shifted careers last fall, because I've been hinting at "big changes" for a long time.

For the last six years he worked for our county in the parks department, first as an assistant manager and then as a manager for the parks on this island. It was what could only be termed a very decent job, with benefits and and adequate pay. And while he enjoyed the outdoors-y aspects of the job, he was often frustrated with bureaucratic nature of small government work, the myopic view of the county government of all of these islands as the same, rather than individual and also the increased "development" of parks, both National and other here on the islands.

It was a good job, like many jobs and we were grateful for it, but it wasn't exactly his life work. 
You may also remember that Charlie does Northwest Coast Native carving, though I've never covered the topic extensively. He has always been artistic, someone with a good visual eye, whether it be for drawing, or photography. As a teenager he did a lot of graffiti and painting, and dabbled in different forms of art in his spare time on and off throughout his twenties, but nothing ever really struck him as something to pursue. He had the skill, but not the passion to apply it. Having grown up in Seattle he had always been around Northwest Coast art, and loved its look (as evidenced by his insane NWC art-themed T-shirt collection) but never realized that it was something he himself could learn to do. 
Around four years ago, our friend Gregg, a carver and carving-toolmaker, asked if he wanted to participate in the wintertime Sunday carving circle. After going for just a few times, Charlie discovered that he loved doing it and was learning a lot. The medium, with its mix of rigidity of rules and form, as well as freedom to experiment within that form, really worked for him and suited his abilities.
Over the years Charlie kept carving and improving, turning out simple pieces like bowls and ladles, as well as more complicated pieces like a raven rattle, a seal bowl and a couple of masks. He discovered a love of the art, and has pretty much read every book and found every resource there is about it. 
Learning about the art, has also opened his mind to learning about the past and present of First Nations people in our area in a whole different way. While this art is ever present in buildings, public squares, museums, souvenirs and ferryboats, most born and bread Washingtonians, let alone the transplants, know very little of the actual culture, and the cultural revival currently happening along the coast (Interestingly a lot of the art displayed and associated with WA is actually the art of tribes much further up the coast, at one time the enemies of native folks  down here.). Involvement in this art has definitely enriched both of our knowledge about the history of this land and its people, although I have to admit that sometimes I'm about ready to plug my ears from all the formline talk in my house.
A big part of his carving experience and learning from Gregg, was using the tools Gregg has been making for some thirty years now.

When he first started carving, Gregg who at one time in his life (this man has done a lot of amazing unbelievably amazing things over the years) was a machinist, was told by other carvers when asking where to get the right tools, that most people involved in the art made their own. Gregg then put his unique experience and skill-set to work at trying to make the best possible tools for this art form. Apparently, many of the greatest carvers think he did just that. 
Over time, as Charlie got more and more into carving, he also became interested in the toolmaking. Having been unable to find anyone to continue his work as a toolmaker, Gregg has been "semi-retired" for a number of years, meaning that he still made tools for anyone who needed them, but had been trying to shift production down for while. 
In the fall of 2012, he invited Charlie to come and help with the toolmaking in his spare time (Charlie worked only part-time in the winter months at the park.). What Charlie quickly discovered was that he had an aptitude for the work, something Gregg says is a rare thing, as a lot of it is very intricate, fine work, with multitude of steps for every little process. 
Gregg wasn't exactly eager to take on teaching the tricks of the trade to anyone. He was already in his seventies and having an apprentice would be a serious commitment. Still, this was his life's work and an important part of the actual art and its revival. We too, had our own concerns, having no significant money to buy the business, let alone live on while Charlie first learned the trade, seemed like a formidable obstacle. For a long time, the two of them hemmed and hawed over it, while Gregg's wife Irene and I tried cheer them on from the sidelines. In the end, though, it seemed the only reasonable thing to do.

As of the beginning of this year Charlie is a partner in Kestrel Tool.

They decided to be partners for two years, after which Charlie will buy the business in payments. He will buy into the business by buying half of the inventory, and begin amassing the equipment he needs, all the while working his ass off to try to grow the business to where it can support two families, and eventually earn him enough money to set up shop, make a living and pay Gregg. 
It's an amazing opportunity to have a livelihood that's meaningful and rewarding and a way for him to give back and support an art form he loves and which has become a big part of his life. It's also exciting to keep this an Island business, because there are only so many ways one can make a living out here. 
Of course, we still don't have all the money we need, but we're hoping to figure that out in the next month or so. Either way, we're determined to make it work. I'm glad we took the plunge, abandoning financial security, (that dubious concept again) to try our hand at something that's more than just a job. I now realize that really that was the only thing to do.

It's so good to see him walking off in the morning, through the woods, to Gregg's shop on their beautiful homestead, and spend his days learning from someone wise and generous and making the tools that in turn make so much art possible.

I'm continuously amazed by Charlie's ability to pick up new things and do them well. Already he's learned so much about this trade, not to mention completely unrelated things that support this venture. He even built them a new website, with just the tiniest amount of help from me.

Now if only I could learn the leather-working aspects of the business as fast and well...

I'm really proud of both of them for deciding to take this on and I'm really happy for Charlie. It's a lot of work, but all good things are.
There you have it, the big change we've been making. Wish us luck!

These are just a few shots I've snapped around the shop, but heck out Charlie's website for more pictures about the tools and the art, and if you like, help us spread the word by liking his facebook-page too.

NOTE: Wikipedia was the best information link I was able to find on the Haida history. Please look around on the interwebs, there's some amazing art, cultural and political information, but I couldn't find a concrete history page geared towards those who don't know a thing about this Northwest Coast Nation. 

48 comments:

  1. That's fantastic! I wish you and he the best in this! :)

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    1. Thank you m'dear. You know better than most what it's like to work your butt off to get somewhere you want to be. Oh and not be afraid to get your hands a little dirty ;) Hope your work is going well and you're not snowcalypsed in too deep <3

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  2. Oh Milla, I am so happy for Charlie (and for you!) and completely delighted at this beautiful portrait of him! No wonder you are so proud of his qualities and talents, and excited that he can dive into a meaningful living that allows him to bring them forth so well :o)

    Also, on Kestrel Tool's website (what incredible tools indeed!), this radiant picture of the two of you brings tears to my eyes, and the one with the canoe he built is amazing - the canoe, the light, the space, his smile, everything is floating in harmony :o)

    Sending all my blessings to you both for this wonderful adventure!
    xo

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    1. Oh hon, you don't know how sweet and warm that is to me. Your blessings are much appreciated. Having done that same jump into the uncertainty and the satisfaction that it can bring, I salute you. Pursuing your dreams is hard work, but so rewarding. Lots of love to you dear.

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    1. Thanks, but we're just a bunch of ordinary weirdos. Well he's kind of amazing. Thank you for your kind words and presence here♡

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  4. Wow, this is so cool! I love that Gregg's knowledge is being passed on to your amazingly talented Charlie. There are too few true artisans in this modern world. I'm excited for the both of you in this new ad/venture. My best wishes to you.

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    1. Thanks Nicole, as you know it's exciting to be actually making something. Of course there's all that OTHER stuff that comes with it, but there's few things more satisfying than making something with your own two hands. And a few things more disappointing when you don't succeed (speaking for myself, I'm kind struggling with absorbing everything I need to). It's such an awesome pursuit. I appreciate your kind words and wishes.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this awesome portrait, Milla. I wish Charlie (and you) both the best with this as it moves forward! Scott Jensen (who I'm sure Charlie knows of) used to live just up the road from me and I had the great pleasure of seeing some of his work in progress, as well as modeling for him. I can really appreciate Charlie's work as the art form it is; what an honor that Gregg is entrusting him with his business.

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    1. He was just talking about taking a class with him in Bham! Small small island world! That's awesome that you modeled for him, what kind of work was it for? Charlie really lucked out and I think it's going to work out great for the both of them, but you know, it's an endeavor. Exciting though. Thank you for your kind words and sending you good vibes across the water.

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    2. Oh man, if he can swing it, I would think a class with Scott would be an incredible opportunity. To answer your question, I modeled a buckskin dress that he had made. It had a carved wood face on the chest and deer hooves all around the bottom; it was a pretty amazing piece. He gifted me two prints in exchange, one of which is framed and hanging above my computer. I love it so much! Good vibes right back to you, island girl : )

      Oh, and I just read your other post about going to America, ha ha. I go off-island once or twice a week these days and can totally relate to coming down when you get back home. So much stimulus! So many people! Whew...

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  6. So awesome! I'm stoked for you both. To be able to make a living doing what you truly love is a rare thing!

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    1. Thank you dearest. We'll see about making a living, but he sure is making a go of it. It makes me sad that it's a rare thing, that our callings are so obscure, or complex and the world we live in is so complex that it's hard to…I mean, you know I believe that we all end up doing what we're meant to do, but sometimes I wonder. Anyway, lots of love to you and thank you ALWAYS for being there for me and supporting me. It means so much.

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    2. Mills this resonated with me so much. Why is it so hard to make a living as a maker or craftsperson these days, while others can easily make obscene amounts in the most capitalistic of self-interested businesses? I am so proud and excited for you and Charlie to make this leap. My family is struggling right now with similar questions. Will you be in charge of all the leatherwork hilts and cases? So many good wishes and hopeful thoughts for you two and your livelihood.

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    3. Of course I meant Milla not Mills--silly phone!

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  7. Oi miten hieno juttu!
    Olen onnellinen teidän puolestanne, tai paremminkin: teidän kanssanne!
    Samaa mieltä myös Emmanuellen kanssa: niin kauniit kuvat ja teksti teistä Kestrel Toolin sivulla.

    Todella hieno asia teidän rohkeutenne etsiä ja löytää oma polkunne, elämä kyllä kantaa. On siunaus saada kulkea rinnakkain.
    Oman suuren suruni keskellä blogisi tuo valoa ja luottamusta elämään, samoin ystäväsi Lissan blogi jonka kauttasi löysin.
    Rakkaani kuolema tällä hetkellä musertaa, se on suurin suru vaikka parhaan ystäväni kuolema 24-vuotiaana ja rakkaan serkkuni kuolema kun olin 17 olivat kovia paikkoja nekin.

    Jakamasi kauneuden katsominen tekee hyvää ja valaa uskoa tulevalle hyvälle.

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    1. Ihana miten sinulta riittää kauniita sanoja, kiitos niistä, kunpa mullakin olisi jotkut sanat joilla voisin sinua ilahduttaa. Sentään ehkä nämä kuvat niin kuin sanoit. Mietinkin sinua kun seuraavan kerran otan maisemakuvia <3 ja oikeassa olet, se on ihan käsittämätön onni tämä yhteinen elämä ja kaikki hyvät asiat. Sitä yritän muistuttaa itselleni pienissä kolhuissa, koska se on niin totta. Paljon halauksia sinulle.

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  8. that is awesome!! So happy for him and you! xo m

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    1. Thank you! Sorry I haven't called you, I've been busy. But you must come in nettle season. Our new house is not as cozy for guests, but it is very lovely and deep quiet end of the island. Hugs!

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  9. !!! I love this so much! Congrats to you both! And thanks for sharing with us here. This entry reminds me of a time when I volunteered in the botanical gardens in GG park under a master gardner. I swear- I've never seen anyone so pumped to be at work everyday. It was really inspiring. I was only volunteering for a short time, but I learned a lot from that experience.

    Rad.

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    1. Thank you for your kindness, dear! You are so right about learning from someone who's passionate and really good at what they do. It can really open your eyes. I'm so glad you were able to have such an experience.

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  10. Congratulations to you both! And thank you for sharing your Charlie with us. It seems like such a beautiful art form, and everyone should be as lucky to find something they love to do for a job. I wish you both the best of luck! Hooray!

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    1. Lauren, you are so sweet. Thank you for your support and kind words. It's so true. I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if you we were more able to follow our passions for work. I bet it would be better built, more thoughtfully constructed and a lot slower paced…Lots of love to you and yours.

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  11. I'm happy that he is able to do something he loves. Amen for that! And thanks for sharing your stories, they are a light in my days.

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    1. Dear Teeny, thank you. You and your wit and perspective are the light of mine. I'm so happy to have you in my life dear, and thank the damn internet every day for you girls, if for nothing else. I think you should write a post on the whole financial downshifting, changing careers thing, I think there's a lot there. Just saying, I'd love to read it ;) Love ya!

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  12. that is amazing news well done~to make that step out there and do what he, you both, love is just amazing xoxox

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    1. Thank you so much, thank you for your sweet words, for being present here, for your support and point-of-view, makes my day to come here and have good folks be genuinely happy for us. Nothing like it. Blessings to your neck of the woods!

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    1. Thank you! Big smiles to you too ;)

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  14. Wonderful! Wishing you all the luck in the world!

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    1. Oh hon, that's a really sweet thing to say. Same to you in all your endeavors, may they be joyous and challenging and awesome <3

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  15. This is sooooo wonderful!!!! My little brother is a wood carver and I just shared the site with him via facebook! Such beautiful work! I'm very happy for you both and wish you luck!!

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    1. Hey Laura, I was just thinking of you the other day (I'm writing about friends) and it's so fun to hear from you. Remember you're supposed to check in with me if you're ever in my neck of the woods ;) What kind of carving does your brother do? That's so rad! Thanks for sharing it and thank you for your blessings and luck. Hugs to you.

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    2. Yes! And I definitely will. We were actually considering a weekend on the islands last weekend, but we ended up in Vancouver instead. But possibly this summer! My little brother used to do what I think is usually considered "whittling"? haha! He made spoons, little gnome people, and some fantastic birds. I'm trying to encourage him to get back into it and get on etsy...

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    3. Cool! Your brother's birds sound lovely. I really hope you guys could come up. Let me know. You are welcome to crash at our place. We're not much of tour guides in the summer, but I would love to hang out. xo.

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    4. That's so kind- I will definitely let you know!

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  16. I was almost positive his name wasn't Chester.
    What a special story! Seeing Charlie in action in those images is fantastic. I love the studio space, where he's sketching out designs. He's keeping the tradition of the Haida alive, along with the teachings of Gregg the great.
    That coffee mug, with the 'kestrel tool' carved design. Can I buy one? I will contribute to your new business. ;)
    Really happy for your new adventure / business. What an inspiration. What talent!

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    1. Hahahah! I know, I kind of wish someone somewhere was, right? Thank you for your kind words and for being happy for us, it's no small thing, to be happy for someone else. Doing this to help keep the revival of all these various facets of NW Coast Carving alive is a big part of it. He just loves the art, it makes me happy to see him do it. I'm glad you like the mugs, I'll for sure let you know when they're available, that first one is the trial one to see what they would be like. Lots of hugs and good vibes your way, in fact, I'm gonna go check your log to see what you've been up to!

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  17. vau, onnea! En osaa sanoa nyt oikein mitään,jotenkin tuo on vain niin hienoa. Aikamoinen kunnia! Ja tuo paja on niiin hieno. Myönnän kyllä,että yleissivistyksessäni oli Haida kulttuurin kokoinen aukko,mutta olen nyt tutkinut noita linkkejäsi ja vinkkejäsi sillä seuraamuksella,että unessa oli sellainen jännä aukeava leppäkertun muotoinen naamio,joka siis aukesi keskeltä ja siellä sitten oli se varsinainen naama.

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    1. Oho mika ihana uni! Ne on ihan kasittamattoman hienoja ja tulevat tosiaan alitajuntaan vahvasti. Semmoiset aukeavat on just kreiseimpia.

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  18. Congratulations! I hope everything goes awesomely, and I'm sure you will all work hard and making it do so.

    I've always wanted to try my hand at carving, but then, I always want to try everything at least once :D

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    1. Thank you so much. I'm not much of a carver, but I do like whittling. It's relaxing. I think one should try everything once ;)

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  19. I've been wondering about his carving, since you mentioned it, and then went quiet about it, and then you were hinting at a big change/special project you were both working towards and this is it! It always makes me happy to see people somehow serendipitously catch onto the skills that they didn't necessarily know they were good at, and find that not only do they have talent, but someone else out there can help them make it something they can actually make a living from (wow, that was a clunky sentence, but you get my drift). Anyway, yay!

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    1. Thank you! I know, I just wanted to be sure that we had our ducks lined up. Thankfully everyone was very kind and patient with my secretiveness. I love that so many people have big hearts that allow them to feel joy for us. It's the best <3

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  20. What an inspiring story of an inspiring couple. There is something magical about the art of making blades. I truly hope you have all the success you deserve and I'd love to give something if you're doing a crowd-fund. All the best from Scotland and love from Cathx (a long-time reader of your blog)
    “May you have:

    Walls for the wind

    And a roof for the rain,

    And drinks bedside the fire

    Laughter to cheer you

    And those you love near you,

    And all that your heart may desire.”

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    1. That's so beautiful, thank you Cath, what a lovely blessing. And how nice to meet you <3

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  21. Could you do a kickstarter to get done feed money? You have a very popular blog, it seems a feasible way to make a go :)

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    1. I like your username ;) That's part of what we're working on right now, hopefully it'll happen, thanks for your encouragement!

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