Friday, December 07, 2012

Something Special: The Evangeline Table

When I was little, I went to parochial school. I don't think they call them that any more. The nuns were very kind -- still dressed in full penguin togs and fingering their beads by the hour. They read to us. We read Longfellow. Evangeline

    Ye who believe in affection that hopes, and endures, and is patient,
    Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman's devotion,
    List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest;
    List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.

Longfellow was from Maine, and lived in the first brick house in Portland. The whole town is brick now. It's a fitting metaphor for his life. He was one of those people whose work was so accessible and popular that eventually no one wanted it any more. It can't be any good -- everyone likes it. I still like it.

I don't create things as much as I'd like. I make things, which is honorable, and gratifying, but it is not always the "whole" thing --the process from soup to nuts, concept to sticks and bricks. I wanted to make the whole thing for a change.

I had this raw material. I'd purchased a pile of flame birch many years ago. It's the king of all American woods, if you ask me. Hard as a banker's heart, and beautiful as a girl that won't talk to you. I tucked it away to do something with it -- eventually. Eventually is a terrible word in my life now. There was potential in the rough planks of wood that could be brought to bear for the right project. But what?

Creation is the whole thing, as I said. I set up my lathe again. I like the lathe. It's quiet. I don't have to put a vise on my head to use it. It's not a rote operation, ever, even when making the same leg over again. My little son said, "Daddy is sculpting again." I adored that. I was. But more, I was thinking. I was trying. I was striving to make something, the whole thing.

What to do with flame birch? Shakers used it once in a while. But I was not thinking spartan. The wood is the hardest stuff America produces. I was thinking of the forests from whence it came. I was thinking of Acadie. And so I thought of Longfellow, and Evangeline.

It was going to be a nineteenth century table, the legs would have tulips for their toes, and the wild, iridescent grain would be revealed, but somehow tamed by the soft shapes of the turnings. The heaviness of the forest would be transformed into something sophisticated and delicate. I went back and forth over dimensions, proportions. I made it small enough to seem delicate, but big enough to be elegant and useful. I think I made it beautiful, but that is not for me to say.

There is a statue of Evangeline in Nova Scotia. It is where my father's family came from, and the statue was made by a sculptor who used the actress my mother is named for as a model. So I had this whole idea, a mishmash brought together into an object.

The table has a look of  unreality to it. The grain flips from dark to light when you walk past it. It becomes a negative of itself and then goes back again as you move. It's like tortoiseshell. I made it for my Father, who is gone, and my Mother, who I do not see often enough, and for Acadie, and for the nuns that read Evangeline to me.

I cannot keep it because there's nothing wrong with it. We can only keep the things that aren't right somehow. You can buy it. It's not on my furniture website right now, so my readers can see it first, here. This table is either the first one, or the only one; I'm not sure which yet. But I must put it out in the world because it's the best thing I've done, and there is no eventually for me any more.

$399.00, Ready to ship. Free shipping to anywhere in the lower 48 states. 16" x 16" x 27" high.

[UPDATE: Sold to Bob in Missouri. Why do I have so many friends in Missouri? I don't know, but I'm glad of it. Thanks, Bob]

[Saturday Update: Due to the overwhelming interest in this item, I've decided to accept orders for Evangeline Tables here on my blog. They'll be ready for shipment approximately six weeks after you place your order. Many thanks to all my friends for their kind words and their interest in Sippican Cottage. Still $399 each, free shipping included] 

Buy one now:

Or if you'd like to buy a pair of Evangeline Tables, use this button:


Leslie said...

"Daddy is sculpting again." Best. line. ever. That table is too lovely for my home.

Mal said...

If I had the cash, I would send a cab from Canada. Evangeline would have the back seat all to herself.
Congratulations, sir. And thank you for sharing.

Bob said...

I read your blog daily and have read your book. Mostly, because you are a throwback to an earlier era, maybe lost forever. I especially enjoy your posts about other craftsmen. Any craft, just dedicated to doing their best at what they love to do.
Your boys are special and their parents are doing a wonderful job of raising them.
When I saw this table and read your post I had to have it. The wood is spectacular. And, as always your attention to bringing this out shows.

Anonymous said...

Your beautiful line:

"I was thinking of the forests from whence it came. I was thinking of Acadie. And so I thought of Longfellow, and Evangeline."

It reminded me of one of my favorite movie lines (from Sideways, a movie about wine, if you haven't seen it)

...Maya says: "How it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes..."

Your prose is strong and graceful and strangely evocative and it calls up other wonderful things in your readers' minds.

Life is so bereft of surprises these days. Thanks for taking the trouble to turn your phrases as well as your expertly-lathed table legs.

Bob in Manassas, Virginia USA

vanderleun said...

And now a little history lesson coupled with The Band (who should know.)

The war was over and the spirit was broken
The hills were smokin' as the men withdrew
We stood on the cliffs and watched the ships
Slowly sinking to their rendezvous

They signed a treaty and our homes were taken
Loved ones forsaken, they didn't give a damn
Try to raise a family, end up the enemy
Over what went down on the plains of Abraham

Acadian driftwood, gypsy tail wind
They call my home the land of snow
Canadian cold front movin' in
What a way to ride, oh, what a way to go

Bilejones said...

My boy goes here

We are not Papists but this was clearly to be preferred to the government schools.

TmjUtah said...

Is American birch ever used for knife scales?

Sam L. said...

Well, I'm from Missouri, and when we say 'Show me", by Dang you done 'SHOWED us'.

Table's special. You're special (the good kind). The Heir, the Spare, them too. Now your wife, Mrs. Sippi, she got to be Some Kind Of Special.

Roy Lofquist said...

No fair. I had my card out and ready to order by the time I got to the update.

It is beautiful. E-mail me if you do another. I bid $500.

Jewel said...

That is exquisite. Just exquisite, Sipp.

julie said...

Other folks have already been far more eloquent than me, but still it bears repeating: the table is just beautiful. If it were in my home, I'd be hard-pressed not to run my fingers across it every time I passed, it looks so lovely to touch.

Dr Bob said...

Yeah, put me on the list for one of these if you do another. Gawd, that's beautiful....

Gedaliya said...

Here in NY that table would sell for well over $1000. You could wholesale it for over $399.

I'm a little surprised you let it go for so little.

A woodworker extraordinaire you are sir. A businessman you are not.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Ah but Gedaliyah, he's feeding a family, living simply, and is quietly waiting for the rest of the world to find out how wonderful he is. Businessman or not, he's rich beyond telling.

But for the telling of it, that table says quite a bit.

Sixty Grit said...

I have worked with flame birch - it is a wonderful wood.

When first saw that table I thought it was painted - I just gave my brother a set of old graining tools used in years past to achieve a look not unlike the way that table looks. It's amazing when nature provides what men can only approximate.

Anyway, that is a stunning piece of furniture, so showy it would set a Shaker to shakin' for sure. Well done, sir, well done. A beautiful wood used great effect in a piece of furniture that should last for a long time.

Golden West said...

Useful and beautiful both.

Gedaliya said...

Joan, I quite well understand and admire Sipp's lifestyle and choices, and I'm impressed with his courage to leave the stinking rat race. It takes both brains an character to do what he's doing, and from all appearances, it's working.

Even so, $1000 buys a lot more food-for-his-family than does $399, and if he keeps selling his furniture at below-market prices, the "rest of the world," as you describe it, will do what it always does, and rob him blind.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have been able to sell it; beauty like that is not only irreplaceable but uncopiable. Loved the line: 'Hard as a banker's heart and beautiful as the girl who won't talk to you' by the way. Been tortured by both.

Jewel said...

My father works wonders with wood, stain and veneers. He was given an electric guitar once, and it was standard-issue ugly. Black-rimmed with an orange and yellow sunburst coming forth from the inky darkness and converging in the middle. It seemed all the electric guitars were that hideous mixture of black, orange and yellow.

My father set up a table on the enclosed porch and there he stripped the ugly thing naked, till the beige came through. And there it was, all the beauty of the tree that gave its life for the thankless little monstrosity.

Father began to stain it a lovely blue. It was a long and patience-building process, but we were fascinated and gave up television to watch him coax the agate out of the grain.

When he was finished, it was a miraculous piece of art. Every guitarist wanted the Blue Guitar. He sold it for a nice amount of money.

I don’t know how much he sold it for, but I wish I had a photograph of it. It was almost as exquisite as your “Evangeline” and your prose.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Leslie- Your home handled two SC tables pretty well. Many thanks!

Hi Mal- Thanks. Due to an abundance of caution and a dearth of time, I never did the work required to sell my wares in Canada, which I find unfortunate. I practically live in Canada now.

Hi Bob- Many thanks! I'll send it out right away.

Hi Bob- I feel like we are old friends, now. Many thanks for your kind words and Interfellowship.

A lovely and wistful song. Of course, Evangeline is a about the same thing; if anyone's interested, you can find the Project Gutenburg copy through the hyperlink in the essay and read it.

Hi Bilejones- I'm glad that still exists. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Tmj- I don't know. I know that people used to make wooden dishes (treenware) out of them. It's really hard wood.

Hi Sam- Thanks.

I am smart and my wife isn't. I married her and she married me to prove it.

Hi Roy- Thanks. Sorry you missed it. I've decided to let people order one if they'd like.

Hi Jewel- Thanks!

Hi Julie- Thanks. Hey, everyone, I'm making a table for Julie and her family right now. They're nice people.

Hi Dr. Bob- Thanks. I'm taking orders for more, if you're still interested.

Hi Gedaliya- Thanks for reading and commenting. You are perhaps correct, but not in the way you think.

If that table could sell in New York for $1000, and I'm willing to sell it to anyone for $399, then a businessman in New York could make $601 to my $399 just by letting me make it for them.

But that just means that there are no smart businessmen in New York. I don't enter in to it.

Hi Joan- Thanks for reading and commenting and for your kind words and friendship.

It's been touched on here, but it's important for anyone judging my business acumen to understand what a poor man facing the possibility of perfectly elastic demand for his products has to consider: Sippican's Snappy Elastic Pricing Synopsis

Hi Sixty Grit- Thanks!

Hi Golden West- Thanks!

Hi Anon- I am in the business of making and selling things. I never make the mistake of thinking I can afford my own things.

Thud said...

Bloody hell Sipp outstanding, do I have to move to America to live with your stuff?

TmjUtah said...

I have access to a number of retired birch rifle stocks. Granted, they came off of old, utilitarian commie rifles, but maybe there could be a little beauty hidden inside one of them.

I will try a few bias sections and see what develops.

teresa said...

The old man read Evangeline to our daughter when she was about eight. What a lovely time that was. One of the beauties of homeschooling. The snow was falling outside the windows and the long rolling cadence of Longfellow's poem rose and fell as the fire flickered. Pure happiness.
You make beautiful furniture. Those kids of yours aren't too shabby either.
Mrs Sippican is a lucky girl.

Tom Francis said...

There is a concept called "the thing of the thing is the thing" - basically that wood sitting on your shelf was always destined to be a Evangeline, it just need time for one to make the thing of the thing into the thing. You may need to think about that for a while, but it will eventually make sense.

I've always liked "flamed" woods,but I am in love with quilted maple. I have a custom made Strat body made of quilted maple and it is simply gorgeous.

I think you short changed yourself with the price - that's a $1,000 table if I've ever seen one.

Mark.Cappers said...

Absolutely Gorgeous Table, and wonderful tale to go with it.

I love the lathe work on the legs absolute simple beauty.

And to echo what Jewel said about her father & the renovated guitar I can attest the magic of the flame and tiger maple for sunburst finishes so it's a testament that you didn't give in to the temptation to go full guitar sunburst and make a Les Paul or Mandolin for one or both heirs. Who knows maybe you can find the middle way and sell sunburst tables.

I love this sunburst finish technique that James Condino illustrates in this article, and hope to tackle such a project in the not too distant future. (the last time backfired as the target guitar bought at a pittance at a garage sale turned out to be fiberglass grain veneer over composite body. water based analyne dye + fiberglass = big fail. Alas, can't resist fixing up cheap beater guitars though)

Dinah in Missouri said...

Thanks for showing us your lovely table! The wood is great, but it took your loving skill to make the most of it...bringing out its inner beauty. A fine combination of your 'art' applied to nature's product. Bob in Missouri is a lucky guy....early bird and all that. I'm hoping by the time I scrape up more cash for another of your tables that they will still be somewhat affordable. Regards, as well, to the boys!

shoreacres said...

There it is. The Pearl of Great Price.

It's not just the table - the perfection of the lines or the beauty of the wood. It's the name.
My first blog post, in 2008, was titled "Evangeline Memories". Two years later, I republished it here . In the past two years, my fascination with the whole sweep of the story has been the impetus for multiple trips to Louisiana's Acadiana, doing research and slowly formulating an outline for The Book, which also involves Evangeline and has her name in the title.

Maybe I'll keep my notes in the drawer.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Shoreacres- Many thanks for your purchase.

I read your linked essay; it's about 113 percent more interesting than mine. Maybe I should have bought a table from you. And the music from the comments is exceptionally fine.

Thanks to everyone that purchased a table, and everyone that reads, and patronizes my links, and everyone that comments. It's very gratifying.

Bilejones said...

My question is:
Where do you source your lumber?

I'm in NE PA and can get some half -way decent Cherry and Oak, fancy stuff is difficult.

Arlan said...

Gorgeous. Ripples and shines like a woman's hair.

buddy larsen said...

Statue of Evangeline in her faraway home, St. Martinville in the deep of South Louisiana.

At the link, be sure and click the 'Images' tab, and scroll on down for amazingly graceful art and craft here and there 'round the area. Dating back to the late 1700s, when the Acadian exiles arrived.

Scroll down to see the picture of the white marble ''sleeping child'' in the city graveyard of Natchez, Mississippi. Pull up the full-size .jpg --wowsers!

cuttin' up said...

your Evangeline table arrived today as promised. Your gifts of design and craftsmanship have created a piece of art sure to last for many years. thank you for making it and for allowing me to be its caretaker for now, as it will surely outlast me and need many future caretakers.

Bob in Missouri

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Bilejones- I buy it about a mile from my house. Buy firewood there, sometimes, too.

Hi Arlan- I thought it looked somehow feminine, too.

Buddy Larsen! I love Buddy Larsen.

Hi Bob- Thanks for your pioneering purchase. I'm glad you like it. Enjoy!