James Krenov 1920–2009
“Wanting to be a craftsman, or a woodworker, there are, I believe limited choices. The emphasis these days is on novelty, efficiency with very little individual contribution; many schools follow this trend. There are relatively few schools, in fact very few schools that educate a person to become a complete craftsman in wood. One of the schools I’ve been following and observing is at Roberts Creek in Canada, it is called Inside Passage School. I know the people there, I like what they are doing and I like very much the way they are doing it. The emphasis is on hand skills, not primitive methods but efficient skills. Work that that can be traced to the maker, the hand, the eye and the heart.
The staff is open and warm and generous and there is an opportunity there at Roberts Creek to develop the skills that support this approach. In fact the kind of work that I have for many years encouraged, the craftsman as an individual. I think that this will emerge gradually as the school for the complete craftsman. If I were starting my life today as a craftsman, and needed to learn what matters the most; my choice would be Inside Passage School.”
Celebration of the Life and Work
On September 9th of this year the world lost one of the most influential craftsman and teachers of our time. And I lost my friend. My first conversation with Jim Krenov took place in the fall of 1987 and my last was just a few days before Jim passed.
I am so very grateful for our friendship that spanned over two decades. His words of encouragement shaped my work as a craftsman, and as a teacher. In 1998 an unfortunate life changing experience lead to the realization of the dream when I was given the opportunity to study with Jim at the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking Program the following year. I consider myself very fortunate to be alumni of that fine school. The year my family and I spent in Fort Bragg California had profound influence on our lives. Our school would not exist had not been for the generous assistance of all my teachers there. However it was in the years that followed that Jim’s impact on my life and work would be even more deeply felt.
Jim gave his first lecture at our school in the fall of 2005 and the last to my students earlier this summer. In the months that followed we spoke on a regular basis during which time I know he tried to prepare me for the time in which my own experience and the many years of conversations would be left to carry out his work. So today I said goodbye to my friend and make a promise to always remember.
On October 31, 2009 we gathered at the school to celebrate my teachers life and work. I would like to extend deep gratitude to Derrick and Trudene du Toit for allowing us to bring one of Jim’s last cabinets in for the celebration. To my students who insist that while his voice is silent, his spirit remains strong in our work at the school, I thank you for all of your kind words. Reflecting back on the day, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude, with alumni in attendance from each of our first five years. Many made significant sacrifices to attend and wish I had words to adequately convey my appreciation.
The celebration concluded with those in attendance writing a few words on a piece of Alaska yellow cedar at which time shavings were taken and placed in a box of Canadian maple and Mendocino cypress made by our students and resident craftsman in Jim’s honor.
The plane used was made by Jim in 1960, passed along to Michael Burns in 1980, the year the College of the Redwoods was founded. Michael passed the plane along to me in 2004, the year our school was founded. While he and Jim drifted apart in the later years Michael’s friendship remains very important to me. The plane iron was careful sharpened by third year student and resident craftsman Daisuke Tanaka from Japan. The box will be burned at an Elephants to will take place at our home in a few weeks.
I spoke to Britta following the ceremony when I conveyed our appreciation for all her efforts making Jim’s weekly lectures possible. Britta continues to be an important person in my family’s life. Britta has asked that any one wishing to make a contribution in Jim’s memory be made to the James Krenov Scholarship Fund.
— Robert Van Norman