Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Gifts of Gifts

by Drew Martin

My father's father was a tinkerer. In the early 1900's, he made a telescopic, "cherry picker" vehicle (for painting barns) out of the detritus of a plane that crashed in his fields. He made his own dentures in his later years and he was always making models of houses he wanted to build for his family even after he built a beautiful modern home on the Potomac River. My father is also a tinkerer and very handy and skilled with tools. Amongst other things, he invented a plug box to lock our television plug to deter me from watching TV when I was a kid.

A few years ago I asked my family to start making gifts for me instead of buying them. My father responded first with wooden links he carved from one piece of wood, followed by a miniature table, still attached to its original block of wood. It is one of my favorite works. I like it so much because my father made it specifically for me but also because it was such a creative, conceptual and artistic leap for him after a life of practical application. It was a gift born from discovering a gift. I especially like the table because of his process and the story behind it, which spans 14 years. The wood for both projects, as well as similar sculptures he made for my brother and his brother were all from the same his words...

"a black walnut tree, which I planted on 05-20-1989 as a bare-root sapling, two feet in length. After growing to a height of 45 feet (as measured after felling it) and a trunk diameter of 11 inches at ground level, I cut it down on 10-21-2003. I cut into fireplace length sections because the wood was white rather than a dark brown which I expected. In the spring of the next year, I noticed while splitting some of it that the wood had turned dark brown. I saved some for carving."

My mother's father was not a tinkerer or skilled with tools and yet he once whittled two slingshots (for my brother and me) when we were young boys. The wide, white rubber, elastic straps that he fastened to the posts deteriorated a decade ago. What is left is the simple Y-frame, with a hard, glossy patina of adventurous dirt, oil and sweat from my once youthful hands. For something never intended to be viewed as art, this remaining artifact has a beautiful, formal and timeless presence.