The Making of a Master Furniture Maker

We were recently directed to a humorous story from Guild member Dan Mosheim that we just had to share. A few years ago, Dan submitted a proposal to reproduce some Frank Lloyd Wright furniture. As a part of the requirements, he had to submit a curriculum vitae, something a furniture maker like Dan doesn’t have to do very often. In fact, Dan had to look up what a curriculum vitae was.

Dan didn’t ultimately get the gig, which, in retrospect, he’s happy for. The best part of the story, however, is that Dan sent the following retrospective in blog form about the first 10 years of his career. It’s a great story with some very cool old pics that he wrote for the third anniversary of his blog. Enjoy!

Three Years of Writing

I could do another picture of a sunset here and say something about how now I like to write, (like I said on anniversary one and two), but a couple things have come together in the last two months that make me want to go a little deeper … While we were making the recent shop video, I went through our scrapbooks to get images of our first shop, and, scattered around there, were pictures of some of my early work … my first table; my first chairs from scratch; my first sideboard (still have it); and, like David Byrne once famously wondered “How did I get here???. Is this my beautiful house??? “. Well, the days have gone by and I have now been making stuff from wood for over half of my 63 year old life. I didn’t set out to do this; there was no grand plan, and as Anne Beattie so gracefully points out in the passage below, things happen …

In looking back through the stuff I have written and photographed in the last three years, it’s easy to see we can now make a lot of different stuff, but, really, it wasn’t always like this … Like most other folks I know, progress is incremental; we do not know instantly what to do. We work from one recovery to the next. In one of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest books, ‘Outliers’, he notes that interest and coincidence often combine to produce surprising careers. I was interested and was fortunate enough to encounter the coincidences I encountered and rise to the good fortune that arrived at my door.

I can’t do the whole 38 years in one shot, but I’ll briefly touch on the first 10 or so years and hopefully come back to finish up as the spirit moves me … If you’ve gotten this far, this will be a long one … Thanks for sticking with me. Click the photos to enlarge them …
Thank you Ann Beattie for writing this passage and thanks to my friend Tom Peters, who passed it on to me as an important piece of child rearing and general life information. It’s been on my various bulletin boards for about 10 years … See also the related quote at the end of this post from Jim Harrison …. ‘ready and attentive’ … be there …

My first (or second?) table, my brother’s stereo cabinet, my first chairs from scratch …
Images 1973-81 … the ‘Welsh Cabinet’ I built in 1973 using F.E. Hoard and A.W. Marlow’s book ‘Good Furniture You Can Make Yourself’ .. page 150 and 151 … a corner cupboard lower right from our house …Some later Windsor chairs and a cabinet for a friend’s daughter … Bottom left is a table I still have in my dining room … made in early 1981.
Before we got to furniture, we first needed a house … which is part of the story … In the top photo with the mustache and long hair, I am working on a project in the basement of the apartment I rented when I first came to Vermont. Kit joined me there shortly after I moved in and I later went on to work as a carpenter for my landlord, even though I knew absolutely nothing about carpentry at the time … It was interesting work though and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to build my own house … By 1974, the economy was in the tank and my landlord/contractor was now running a logging business, and I was working in the woods, sawing, skidding and Prentice loading. The schedule was, start at 5:30 … out of the woods at 2:30, back to town by 3:30 … It was summer and that gave me 5 hours or so of daylightafter my real job to work on my house. Home to bed… up and at it again the next day. We moved in in November … I was young and energetic and in great shape from logging (3 coincidences there) and we were on our way …
We borrowed and cheated, (a little) to get a piece of land; we somehow got a mortgage, (the bank president’s mother was Kit’s fifth grade teacher). We bought books and lumber … We worked hard. We built a house in our spare time!!!! By that time, it was the gas crisis, my landlord was out of business, I got another job with a real carpenter, Mark Breen, with whom I still do projects, like right now 
We built a shop/garage in 1976 … I did a few things on the side until December of 1979, when, after about 40 houses, Mark and I went our own ways … I was on my own as a furniture maker … I often say I then attended the “checkbook” school of woodworking … Checkbook needs money … go figure it out …. One of Mark’s first jobs after I left in 1980 was a house for some people who had come to town from California. Mark hired me to build some French doors … Well, we’re all still friends today. Cook Neilsen, the husband and famous motorcycle guy, and his wife Stepper, went on to become our longtime friends and photographers for the next 20 years. Stepper called me two weeks ago to adjust the latch on one of the 30 year old doors I built below… It just needed a little tuning and lubing …. ‘Proper lubrication is, after all, the key to life’. I had a nice visit with their stuff and it all still looks good. A truly nice feeling.
One of the 4 french doors in the original project …The cat shelf, bolted to the fireplace corner…
And a pine cabinet from, I think 1982.
It’s 1982 now and kids (Sam’ and Kit are in the lower left corner) happen … This photo was taken by Cook, Labor Day 1983 … That’s Stepper in the middle along with cousins, friends, friends’ kids, neighbors … we’re all still here today,
And I thank my wife Kit for her constant and unending support through the last 39 years. As the official ‘sees all, knows all’, ‘arbiter of taste’ branch of my work, she is and always will be truly indispensable. Photo above is from the windowsill in our kitchen 1971. And finally, below, we have some wisdom from one of my favorite writers, Jim Harrison. I am now in the ‘rowing’ mode, approaching life backwards, looking at the past, wondering indeed, ‘How Did I Get Here?’ More later … 1982- 1996, when we moved and built our current shop, would be the next logical chunk. Stay tuned …

Click for Dan’s Guild Page
Email Dan: dan@dorsetcustomfurniture.com
Website: http://www.dorsetcustomfurniture.com/

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