I have been working with Michael Kelly less frequently lately and the finer details have taken longer. But we are nearly there. The courtyard studio is nearly complete. All that remains is its assembly.
As we finished the larger panels and began the smaller ones, we moved from the rear courtyard to the front of his shop, by the tall windows. Michael’s small workshop is set up in one window, with his bench, tools, coffee machine, stereo and books. Everything he needs for a day’s work.
The studio will have two entries and we are crafting them as saloon style shutter-doors. My role, for much of the project, has been to measure and saw the hundreds of strips of Oregon lath. When I began, my routine was without routine. The sawing bench was at right angles to the table where the uncut lath waited. I would swivel left to de-nail a length, return to the table to measure, then turn left again to saw.
Soon, I shifted the sawing bench in front of me – it fitted neatly underneath the table – so I didn’t need to turn at all. I began to de-nail in batches, measure in batches, saw in batches. I placed the pen, saw and hammer conveniently at hand. Honing this simple order was very satisfying.
Likewise, the simple pattern of our shutter-doors is very pleasing. The horizontal strips of lath are fortified by a rectangle frame and x-marks-the-spot crosspieces.
I recently borrowed the books of architect Christopher Alexander. In the 1970s, he wrote a trilogy outlining his design concepts: The Timeless Way of Building; A Pattern Language; and The Oregon Experiment.
I have only read a third of The Timeless Way, but our elegant shutter-doors seem open in concert with his argument. There is something whole about their design. Alexander writes that certain patterns of materials and behaviour bring life to buildings and their inhabitants:
“…the Alhambra, some tiny gothic church, an old New England house, an Alpine village, an ancient Zen temple, a seat by a mountain stream, a courtyard filled with blue and yellow tiles among the earth. What is it they have in common? They are beautiful, ordered, harmonious—yes, all these things. But especially, and what strikes to the heart, they live.”
On those days when we work in the window of the shop, it feels like we’re getting close to the timeless way. We toil there in the daylight, listening to Bob Dylan, waving and smiling to people who passed.
“Some kinds of physical and social circumstances help a person come to life. Others make it very difficult.
For instance, in some towns, the pattern of relationships between workplaces and families helps us to come to life. Workshops mix with houses, children run around the places where the work is going on, the members of the family help in the work, the family may possibly eat lunch together, or eat lunch together with the people who are working there.
The fact that family and play are part of one continuous stream helps nourish everyone.”
My experience matches Alexander’s words. Some towns, cities, neighbourhoods and homes can make my spirit sing, and so can certain patterns in my daily life. Days and months pass as I slowly take this in, notice what works for me, and what doesn’t, and seek that which fits.