Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

by James Glaser
March 6, 2009

I don't know what's wrong when I talk with friends about life in 2009, but I think what I am hearing is fear. Mostly fear of the unknown, but also fear for their loved ones and our country.

Many people don't even know that they are fearful. They don't want to admit it to themselves. I think when you decide to fix up your old car rather than buy a new one, you can tell yourself that you have decided to be frugal, or you can think that you are just practical. Of course, if your old car is a Lexes or a BMW, practicality was never your strong suit.

I work in an Art Park, and so much of "shop talk" is about art, the selling of art, and the costs of producing art. I see painters trying to sell their paintings unframed. I see sculptors working in lower cost woods, and galvanized steel instead of stainless. Jewelers are trying copper and semiprecious stones instead of sliver or gold. Sometimes being frugal can cost you money.

Not only can a frame make a painting or a print look better, many people want to buy a piece of art they can take home and hang up. That extra step of taking it to a frame shop, and the indecision of which frame looks good can kill a sale.

People who buy jewelry are looking for something that looks of value, and no matter how great the design, copper looks a bit cheap. Stainless steel shines and can be polished, while galvanized looks dull. Expensive hardwoods take a polish and give off a rich luster, while pine or spruce make a sculpture look like a craft item.

In the last year rents have gone up, and the City of Tallahassee decided that now is a good time to increase utility rates. So, you see artists sharing studio space or giving up their studio and working at home. There is no doubt that sales are down, and you know every time the stock market goes down, another art patron decides to stay home instead of going to that opening at the gallery.

Not just people in the park, but people everywhere are taking their lunch to work, or they are going home if it is close by. Today I saw most of the crew at the lumberyard eating their lunch in the back of a pickup under a tree near by.

Many are cutting corners that they didn't even see a year ago. I am a prime example.

One of my favorite things to do is to drive out to Redwood Bay Lumber in Blountstown. They have a room filled with exotic woods and every American hard wood you can think of. You can pick your boards, and they will plane them to what ever thickness you want.

My shop, like every wood working shop is filled with scraps of wood. Short pieces, narrow pieces, thin pieces, and odd shaped pieces. Well, about two months ago I decided that there would be no more trips to Redwood Bay until I used up all those scraps. You can make a lot of things with scraps, it just takes so long milling the wood to useable sizes. Also, it always seems that you are a couple of boards short, so you have to design the piece with two or more colors of wood and make it look like it was supposed to be that way.

After you get into it, it can be fun. The other day I spent hours cutting up all these scarps of oak trying to make some boards for a chest. I had to cut them all an inch by five eights inch thick so I could laminate them together to form wide boards. I had a fair amount of oak, but some of it was tongue and groove. I had to cut off the tongue and the groove, then cut what was left into one inch strips, then plane them down to five eights, because I had a bunch of scraps that thick. You can only make your boards as thick as your thinnest wood.

Because I am using up all these scraps, my shop is actually getting bigger. Every wood worker has a hard time throwing away wood, and most shops end up with wood leaning against the walls, packed in corners, under work tables, and in racks overhead. Some of the wood I am using today I have had for twenty or more years. Yes, I moved a bunch of wood scraps down to Florida with me from Minnesota.

I used a piece of select red oak yesterday that was ½ inch thick, 11 inches wide, and 22 inches long. Tell me, who could throw a piece of oak like that away? If you needed it, it would cost you maybe ten bucks to buy, but you couldn't buy a piece that small. So, you hang on to it thinking you will use it some day.

I am sure I'm not the only wood worker using up his or her scrap wood. Because we are using our scraps, I know sales are down at the lumber year. Like sales are down at the lunch counter, the frame shop, the car dealer, the jewelry supply store, and the place that sells stainless steel. All of that because the art patron's stock portfolio has tanked and they are afraid to go and buy at the art gallery opening.

It isn't just the art patron. It is everybody. People don't know what the future will hold and that makes them scared. Fear of the unknown makes you stop doing what you usually do. You don't know why, but you feel you had better hunker down and wait. You don't know what you are waiting for. Maybe you want the stock market to go back up. Maybe you want to see the unemployment numbers fall back down. Maybe you just want to feel good again. You don't know what will do it, but you know you will know when the time is right again.

The trouble is that the whole nation has stopped, just like you have. They are all waiting for a sign that things are going to get better. I hope it is soon, because I am running out of scraps.

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