James Krenov in the 1990s
When James Krenov died in late 2009 (wow, has it been that long?) I wondered at great length what would happen to his reputation.
For some undefinable reason, when some influential woodworkers die, their legacy seems to fade with each passing year. See Tage Frid and Alan Peters for examples of this. And others seem to grow with every passing year, such as Sam Maloof, Wharton Esherick and George Nakashima.
Actually, I’m amazed that anyone’s reputation survives considering the crappy state of photography on Wikipedia. (Note to future furniture gods: Allow a Creative Commons license for photos of your finished products.)
Back to Krenov, many of his students have carried his ideas forward. I’m most familiar with Robert Van Norman at the Inside Passage woodworking school; Laura Mays who took over the fine woodworking program at the College of the Redwoods; and David Finck, a furniture maker and planemaker. There are hundreds of other students that I don’t know, plus thousands and thousands of woodworkers who have been influenced by Krenov’s influential books.
So I was fascinated to see the creation of the Krenov Foundation in 2014, which has as one of its goals to create an online archive of Krenov’s work. That, in my opinion, is one of the things that will ensure that his huge, almost un-measurable, influence on the craft will not be forgotten.
This week the foundation posted a 23-minute film on Krenov that was made during the 1990s by Cam Schiff and Richard Swift. If you have never encountered Krenov or his ideas about woodworking, this short film is an ideal encapsulation of his thoughts on design and work. It might just make you pick up one of his books. My personal favorite is “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook,” though they all are worth owning.
I never had the opportunity to meet Krenov, but I do own one of his planes. After his eyesight started to retreat, Krenov turned to planemaking to continue living life as a craftsman. I love words, but I cannot express adequately how much respect I have for this man, who found a way to continue working wood when most of us would have given up.
I only hope I can meet that bar when I hit my 80s.
Watch the interview above. And even if you aren’t inspired by his furniture forms, I think it’s impossible to deny that Krenov loved the craft as deeply as anyone.
— Christopher Schwarz