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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Benches of refuge in a time of need...

We are busy getting ready for the Maryland Renaissance Festival where we make our living as artists. The grounds of the place is thick with benches. Literally 100's of various wooden benches of all designs and forms. I expect that I will be posting many variations of them in the coming weeks. So I thought I would start out with these simple examples just a couple of booths away from us. Nice basic form, built of framing lumber primarily. Sturdy.


Every bench has a story, some more than others, many unknown. 

 At the Festival, perhaps no benches have as dramatic view point as these. You will note the red and white booth they rest at. You see, these benches sit on the deck outside the main First Aid station. You must imagine, that although the festival is a very safe and family friendly environment, there will often be over ten thousand people on a weekend afternoon on the grounds. Any time you mix ten thousand individuals in one place, you are bound to have accidents, wounds, bee stings, and occasionally worse. Add to that the many possible pre-existing medical conditions that we humans are prone to, well, some days they can get busy there. So the people who have sat on these benches have been in pain, fear, and worry, as well as gratitude for the care they have received from the dedicated EMTs who main the station. Their lives might have changed dramatically and permanently that day..., or perhaps it was a brief moment, where aid was rendered and they went on.  I have seen folks walked up by friends, often from well across the multi-acre site, suffering of heat stroke or other ailment,  leaning on the arm of their companions, and the final destination, when they could sit and know they care was on the way, was here. 

They are literally a point of refuge and rest.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Real pay as you sit benches in China? Really?

 Life imitates art. It seems the art installation, "pay as you sit" bench created by Fabian Brunsing, which was meant as a commentary on commericiazation creeping into public spaces, has actually inspired officials in China. The art installation was previous blogged about at AQuiet Sit Down and when I saw it, I thought, "oh no, someone is going to really build that." Well, there you have. Hit the link to see the real deal, and watch the video to see the installation.

Quirky News | Orange UK

PAY & SIT: the private bench (HD) from Fabian Brunsing on Vimeo.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Benches and books, made for each other.

What is it about benches and books that seems to go well together?

Today, in a brief foray out to our local farmer's market in Frostburg, MD, we always pop into Main Street Books. A wonderful place, the perfect sort of bookstore, holding on to a way of selling books that has largely disappeared. Just out front there, I noticed a bench. There it is, under the plants. I liked the READ sign and composition of this, so the bench is sort of diminished, but still life's are like that.

Here is a better pictures of it, a classic five board, with wonderful wire cut nails. Worn and weathered, edged in cut and tool marks, it obviously spent many years in a workshop before being re-imagined. The owner of the shop, told me that it had been rescued from a garbage, sadly the fate of many good five board benches. I believe, from the construction, it must be at least very early 20th Century, if not late 19th.

When I informed the owner why I was taking pictures of his bench, we had a chat about benches and books, and blogs. All three of which are interrelated, in strange ways. Another excellent design blog out there, also read by the owner of Main Street Books is BookShelf, which explores creative ways to store and stack books, and is created by the blogger of Shedworking which is about working in small spaces, and with whom my fellow bench blogger, Sarah Salway, seems to have a professional connection as Literary Editor to, all of which is the sort of interlinked, six degrees of separation, thing that our modern world is so good at!

So it would seem that like any good lover of books, he loves benches as well, and showed me several others in the shop. There was this little modern bench, which sadly, I took a blurry picture of , but will post any way, for you will note the park bench behind it. Two benches for one.

Then there was this wonderful blue and weathered five board, layers of paint revealing stories and memories.

We were discussing benches and their ages. I was thinking about how is that many dining chairs and other furniture are cheaply made, but benches, by their nature tend to be solidly built. They last, often many generations. Perhaps that is why benches and books go well together. We all read on benches, the quiet that they tend to create is conducive to this. However, it is that solidity and stableness that is connected as well. A book, like a bench, can be a connection to an earlier time. We read the words as the author wrote them. Maybe that is it...or maybe they are just a great place to stack your books. Either is good.

Discussing old benches with Fred, he decided to show me a treasure. Hand sawn oak, pull knifed spindle legs, cut nails, with age and patina that wouldn't quit. I believe I actually gasped when he brought it out, eliciting good humored laughter, as few people get excited about benches.

What a bench. 150 years old or more. If only it could rest my ear on it's surface and let it tell me stories, I would write them down. Put them in a books, and stack them up on the bench that played witness.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pallet Wood Bench.

Here is one of my other scrap wood benches. This one composed of every recycler's old favorite, a pallet. Technically only the seat is a shipping pallet. I had been saving it for some time for just this purpose. It was an uncommon shape, four feet long and narrow. So add in some old lumber, and some scrap plywood, and our balcony, which I had just finished redecking, got a nice bench. Here is a better close up of it that shows some construction details.
I am particularly fond of some of those junky old 2X4 pieces. I pulled those out of a burned home over a decade ago. They have bounced around between homes and woodpiles that whole time and were used in another project as well. Now there they are, pieced together, and this time permanently. They await a good sanding and paint job, and could feasibly last another decade or more as a bench. That is sustainability in action.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why benches?

"Sitting is the gateway of truth to total liberation." -  Dogen

I suppose the title of this post comes right to the point of this blog. Why benches indeed. The humble bench. A place to sit, rest and stay awhile. Let your senses open up, your mind relax along with your calves. Look around you, notice the little things. Feel the sun on your face, and the wind in your hair.

I love benches. I always have. For years I have built small benches, set on posts, in appropriate spots for contemplation, leaving them like seeds of quiet in the world. Hopefully to grow and blossom into stillness for others. Some of these benches I know have long since rotted away, or been taken down. However, for a time, they were there, and I shall make many more.

As a practicing Buddhist I find this particularly appealing. Sitting, being still, resting in a state of brightly alert attention that is free of thoughts, is one of the object practices of Zen Buddhism. I don't intend this blog to become a Buddhist Blog, however, I cannot imagine talking about benches, without the practice of zazen coming into play. If nothing else, it provides me with some excellent quotes on sitting quietly.

As a builder and craftsman, I enjoy the cleverness of benches. They can be as simple as log upon the ground, or are complicated as the rich tapestries of Rococo forms found in French gardens. I like them in all their various incarnations, but I think I like them best when constructed of rustic materials. Recycled lumber, branches and prunings, brought together in new formulations to inspire humans. Nothing more than a hammer, nails, and a saw, can create a purpose of repose. So you may expect a number of rustic benches and hopefully many of my own construction.

This blog would not exist were it not for the inspiration of writer Sarah Salway and her bench blog, A Quiet Sit Down. While I was researching benches, it came across her blog, and was inspired. After sharing one of my benches with her, and musing on starting a bench blog of my own, she encouraged me, and so here it is. Thank you, Sarah. I hope we can both sit upon a bench together someday, and share a moment of solitude.

Perhaps we two are the only bench blogs in the whole vastness the internet. Perhaps there will be more. I know there will be more benches. I hope so. I hope that perhaps, this will inspire other benchers out there, to build and appreciate them all the more.

So for a first bench, I think I need to share my first one that I sent to Sarah and she graciously shared on her Blog. A simple one. Two posts, pounded into the ground, with a board nailed across them. It looks down on our home and gardens here in the mountains of western Maryland. We call our home "Flora Vale", and we have many benches. This was the first one I built after we moved here. A spot I discovered, on a little knoll, that practically called out to me for a place to sit. Now it is a destination, up a flight of flagstone stairs, it gives you a reason to go up there and sit awhile. Here it is.