Toshio Odate: Woodworking Legend

Toshio Odate discussing Japanese planes at Woodworking in America 2009, in Valley Forge, Penn. Photo my Megan Fitzpatrick

Toshio Odate discussing Japanese planes at Woodworking in America 2009, in Valley Forge, Penn. Photo by Megan Fitzpatrick

I count myself among the luckier people in the world for having had the chance to hang out with Toshio Odate and Laure Olender for a couple of days in Connecticut. Sure, we were there to film “Woodworking Legends: An Interview with Toshio Odate” (and “Talking Japanese Tools with Toshio Odate“), but it felt quite a bit like a vacation with friends (except for that mike I had attached to my shirt).

The day I showed up, Toshio, Laure, Toshio’s son, Shobu Odate and some friends were in the midst of reconstructing the massive sculpture piece “Reminiscence of Heirinji” – and it will get even larger as Toshio adds to it (he built a bigger deck for just that purpose).

Reassembling "Reminiscence of Heirinji" on Toshio’s property. Toshio is in the background, his son, Shobu, is in the foreground, and Toshio's partner (and fellow artist) Laure Olender is with me in the middle, looking at the joinery.

Reassembling “Reminiscence of Heirinji” on Toshio’s property. Toshio is in the background, his son, Shobu, is in the foreground, and Toshio’s partner (and fellow artist) Laure Olender is with me in the middle, looking at the joinery. Photo by Ric Deliantoni

So, we (videographers Ric Deliantoni, David Thiel and I) spent some time looking at the work and worrying that someone was going to hurt (those beams were heavy!), and offered to help where we could – but Toshio and his team had it under control.

But most of my time there was spent listening to Toshio. I had planned to interview him…but it didn’t really work out like that. Instead, I asked a question or three, then just listened. Most of my “job” on this video is that of an audience – a student, really – listening to what a master with a lifetime of knowledge has to say about art, teaching, woodworking and life. (Also, a little bit about performing in Greenwich Village clubs – that was a surprise…one of many.)

Toshio didn’t give me much of a chance to get a word in edgewise…and I didn’t really want to. His journey as a young man embarking on what was to be a one-year visit to the United States, to his life in art is a fascinating story. So I just let him tell it.

"Homage to Professor Shinji Koike," by Toshio Odate. Photo by Laure Olender

“Homage to Professor Shinji Koike,” by Toshio Odate. Photo by Laure Olender

And we have Laure – Toshio’s partner and fellow artist – to thank, too. She not only welcomed us warmly into their home, but spent a long time digging through their archives to find and share with us the vintage photographs included in this documentary video, and she graciously took the time to review “Woodworking Legends: An Interview with Toshio Odate” and the tool video before they went to the presser to not only make sure we got everything right, but offer suggestions as to how we could make it better.

Without Laure Olender's attention to detail and tireless help, we'd have not been able to pull off this project.

Without Laure Olender’s attention to detail and tireless help, we’d have not been able to pull off this project. Photo by Ric Deliantoni

Anyway, the title of this video is perhaps a little misleading – it’s not so much an interview as a learning and listening experience. But there is no doubt in my mind that Toshio is and deserves to be a woodworking legend.

I think I was asking Toshio here how he was going to get a massive crossbeam onto tenons 10' (maybe 12') up. He just shrugged and smiled. But before we left, it was firmly in place. Magic! (Or some young, strong arms and a tripod.)

I think I was asking Toshio here how he was going to get a massive crossbeam onto tenons 10′ (maybe 12′) up. He just shrugged and smiled. But before we left, it was firmly in place. Magic! (Or some young, strong arms and a tripod.) Photo by Ric Deliantoni

— Megan Fitzpatrick

One thought on “Toshio Odate: Woodworking Legend

  1. mysticcarver

    “Homage to Professor Shinji Koike,” Oh Wow… what a beautiful piece! I believe I actually said “Oh Wow” when I first looked at it. Can not wait to see more of this trip.

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