Midway through the Western ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, after being chased for days, a tired and harassed Paul Newman looks down on the men pursuing the two outlaws and asks an equally exasperated Robert Redford ‘Who are those guys?’
Over the past couple of weeks since the launch of our website, this blog and launching the first of many courses we know that ‘Who are those guys?’ has been asked about New English Workshop.
By way of answering that question we need to contrast furniture making on the two sides of the Atlantic: In Europe we have the richest, grandest tradition of furniture making in the world. If you don’t believe that, visit the V&A in London, Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris & Der Hofmobiliendepot in Vienna then let’s talk. And yet it is the USA and France that appear to have the most vibrant, visible and cohesive woodworking scenes amongst both professionals and amateurs. In the UK there is probably more happening per head of population amongst amateur makers than in the USA but somehow all this activity is less visible; the amateur makers beavering away in solitude, the press focussed on the dazzling achievements of the few professionals such as Marc Fish, Robert Ingham and the Barnsley Workshop who, it should be said, are among the best in the world at what they do.
The word ‘amateur’ came to us from the Latin ‘amatorem’ via old French and means ‘lover’ or ‘lover of’. Somehow, in English, we have lost this link and our modern definition can mean ‘unpaid’ or even ‘inept’. But that was not what the word originally meant: it meant someone who was in love with what they did.
As our US and French cousins have realised, if the craft of furniture making, tool making and woodworking in general is not simply to survive but to thrive, it is the amateurs who can and will make that happen. In the USA there are well known people like Roy Underhill and Chris Schwarz that are loudly advocating the value of their craft tradition as well as unsung heroes like Don Williams and Tom Fidgen. But if we look carefully at the forms they are picking up on they are items such as 300-year-old English and Dutch tool chest designs, campaign furniture that is most closely associated with the Napoleonic wars, and workbenches that are verbatim replicas of those found in English, French and German workshops over two centuries ago. There is no doubt that North America has its own tradition but it is a verdant branch of the older tree that first took root on this side of the Atlantic.
At New English Workshop our partnership consists of a handful of amateurs and professionals. Our common link is our passion for the tools, the process and, above all, the end results of fine furniture making. We love great teaching, great tools, discovering work methods old and new, beautiful pieces of furniture and sharing them with you. To do this we are bringing together the best of British, North American and European talent together in the UK to help ensure our craft thrives right here.
We aim to help make fine woodworking in the UK the envy of the world again. No more, no less (no pressure then…). So, if you want to be a part of what we are doing you’re welcome to join us and if not then ‘I can’t help you Sundance’.
– Paul Mayon