Well, before you laugh at a guy who drives a Smart car that is less than three metres long, consider it is the only vehicle that will fit on my congested road outside my house and fills the gap other cars can't get into! What is impressive about the car is its deceptively large interior and with the seat folded down I took my digital touchscreen jukebox over to Ireland in 2005 for a major exhibition there.
Digital Touchscreen Jukebox that won The Professional Woodworker of the Year Award 2005
Being good at woodwork, despite being labelled a dunce at school turns out to be a wonderful transferrable skill and a fantastic recent tonic for me has been to get away from the rich bespoke and increasingly precious hand-made furniture market that I can no longer relate to (my order book confirms this!) and use the same range of skills and experience to make a boat, well a micro catamaran that fits into the back of my Smart car. Suddenly the isolation of working alone in a cramped workshop transforms into a sociable interaction allowing friends and passers by to try out the boat on my local canal.
I had observed at the beginning and zenith of my furniture design career that innovation was welcomed and innovation is what I did and was known for - new solutions to old problems, new structures, new forms and new functions. But at recent furniture exhibitions where I showed chairs that were uniquely constructed combining a sculptural form, my work went by totally un-noticed and one of life's big lessons is dealing with a degree of 'celebrity' status in your field that suddenly disappears and you become a nobody! The very people who elevate you - the crafts media, choose to forget you and I'm thinking well I'm not finished yet by a long chalk. Admittedly a long illness around 2002 lasting several years robbed my energy and put me out in the wilderness whilst new kids on the block inevitably stole the limelight. One should not complain as 'every dog has its day' but I got a sense that innovation is a tired buzzword and does not really count, but expense and status does and so the field I once helped pioneer in the 70's became an alien wilderness for me in the second decade of the new century.
The Brickrock chair in ash using a technique not familiar in chair design - 2010
Messing about on the river and especially the river Avon near Chippenham and Bradford on Avon was a chunk of my childhood when I built a canoe that was fluorescent yellow and grey PVC covered in white trimmed spruce. My aim has been to float a craft of similar colour scheme down the same river and re visit my youth, gliding past moorhens, swans and over schools of minoes and perch.
Brilliant woodwork teacher Howard Orme helps Jeremy Broun make a canoe in 1961
All my innovative technical and visual skills have been employed in this project and a quiet confirmation to myself that I am different to those guys who pursue absolute perfection in fine hand-made furniture using micrometers and magnifying glasses and can't do anything else, when yes I can do all that but the fun is to build a boat using an epoxy resin glue filled with colloidal silica and have 3mm gaps between the joints that the resin fills. I once worked on a boat that I think was the flagship for the 1986 America's cup in Sydney - a replica wooden schooner and we used epoxy resin with 6mmm gaps filled by the glue. The guys had never built a boat before!
|The 'Ena' - Sydney 1986|
That's normal in boatbuilding and I'm beginning to become more comfortable with 'normal' which is also more sociable than all those prestigious major exhibitions in the 70's, 80's and 90's showing my furniture alongside the Royal College of Art gang, and they hardly ever said hello to me! The reader will note a twinge of angst, but the truth is complacency never fuels creativity, indeed as Glenn Close once said 'Great art comes from a sense of outrage'. Father thought I was a dunce and banned me from using his workshop as a boy so over his dead body (he died when I was 17) I said 'I'll show you'. You have to believe in yourself ultimately and not listen to those who unwittingly infer 'you can't do it'. I remember those days when to be good with your hands was a serious impairment - an indication there was nothing upstairs! Today the landscape is very different amongst successful conventional professionals who take up furniture making for a career.
But what about the kids of today, who like me, enjoy messing about on the river? Will they have the opportunity and skill base to make a canoe? If my work inspires just a few as indeed I was inspired by a brilliant woodwork teacher at Abbotsholme school (Howard Orme) who helped me build my first canoe, then what I do holds some chance of continuity. Here is my micro catamaran made from just 2mm aircraft plywood and standard softwood battening.
The micro catamaran designed and made by Jeremy Broun -July 2013