Writing the Arts & Mysteries Column
Arts and Mysteries began when Popular Woodworking’s editor Chris Schwarz, asked me if I was interested in writing an article for an existing column on hand tool usage called “From the Bench”. Before the first article went to print, Chris had created a monster; a new column with its own name, and a distinctive identity, unlike any previous woodworking column.
Arts & Mysteries was the first regular column about period woodworking in a national woodworking magazine. It was the first column to link a whole year of articles into a single narrative theme. It was also the first time the true subject of each article was purposely concealed in an attempt to get woodworkers to think about woodworking like archeologists think about artifacts they find. The goal was to offer readers the joy of making their own discoveries.
These articles were difficult to write and edit. Each article was essentially two articles. Serious questions were raised whether woodworkers would “get it” or enjoy the format. I never really found out the answer. The format was abandoned for year two because it was too restrictive for the subject matter.
I’m beginning my third year of writing articles for Popular Woodworking’s readers. We’re struggling to put together a series of articles that will trump all before them. In these articles, we’ll explore a hand tool project in never before seen depth. You can expect these articles to be every bit as fresh and unprecedented as the first A&M article (striking knife mystery).
But such a claim can be viewed in two different lights. On one hand is the sort of boasting you’ve been reading above (are you feeling had yet?). The other hand is quite a bit darker actually. I have my choice of subject matter because in so many instances, no one has ever written these things down. I think that’s a sad reflection on all of us. I can’t think of another hobby or trade that has retained so little of its traditions and history. That the Arts and Mysteries column is fresh and unprecedented and has a seemingly endless supply of new topics to cover is absolutely nothing to brag about.