A Visit with Toshio Odate

RemScreen

Most of last week, I was in Connecticut to film a video with teacher, sculptor, author, artist and woodworker (also, excellent chef) Toshio Odate, along with our video editor, David Thiel, and studio manger Ric Deliantoni.

I’d prepared (of course) a long list of questions and subjects to discuss with Toshio…but when we turned the cameras on, Toshio started talking, and I could barely get a word in. And that’s great – because what he had to say is as a result far more spontaneous and genuine. In fact, the only time I said more than 10 words was when we were discussing David Charlesworth’s “ruler trick” … Toshio thinks it’s bunk (or best used only by those who know what they’re getting into by taking the blade back’s geometry out of flat). Fair enough…but I’ll keep doing it (though I’ll now feel at least vaguely guilty about it).

We captured almost nine hours of video on two cameras – everything from a shop tour to tool talks to discussions of art and philosophy, along with a tour of the grounds for a look at his many sculptures displayed thereupon.

And, he, his son Shōbu, partner Laure Olender and several friends were in the midst of erecting “Reminiscence of Heirinji,” a massive piece Toshio created in 1985 that was on display at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Frankly, that was a little scary to watch – I kept worrying that a tenon would crack … or someone would drop a 300-pound chunk of wood on his or her head. (Of course, none of that happened.) The piece is so large that Toshio had to add on to a deck on which he wanted install it (you can still see the product code tags on the end of the decking). We captured a lot of that on video, too (and helped to hold the tripod at times).

I have lots of great anecdotes from the visit…but they’ll all be on one of the two (or more) videos we’re jumping into editing (those should be out in July or August). So I’m not going to give them away here (but I’ve shared a few phone snaps below).

Instead, I’ll leave you with this, from one of Toshio’s books, “Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use” — “The true purpose of a tool is to be productive, not pretty.”

— Megan Fitzpatrick

p.s. I’ve also just added to our site one of Toshio’s articles, “Kōshi-do,” in which he discusses his training as a woodworker and how it relates to his current shop and life.