Work Without Art

April 10, 2010 at 7:20 PM | Posted in Art | 6 Comments

A number of years ago my wife Ingrid and I noticed shelving in a neighbor’s house. It was a Southwestern design and interesting. Our neighbors raved about the woodworker and we contacted him. I was excited to meet him because, for me, book cases make a house. I know that this is an out-of-date notion but my wonderful books deserved great shelves, places of honor, as they do today.

John Hatlestad looked like a strong and weathered Richard Burton. His pony-tail was both odd and fitting. He listened well to what we thought we wanted and then grew excited as he began to make suggestions. I knew then that these were going to be his shelves as well as ours. He was thoroughly professional and soon he came to our house with drawings.

The shelves are beautiful and to call them shelves does them an injustice. He deployed oak for the shelves, birds-eye maple for the drawers and seats and cherry for a superb inlay on one side of the shelves. A platform for my large dictionary has a light placed above perfectly. A surprise touch is a hidden tray for liquors that still rolls true eighteen years later.

When he was half-way through the project he both invited and insisted we come to his workshop in Grayslake, Illinois. It was a big place and he and his helper took care to show us the work that had been done to date. Not being handy I didn’t understand much of what he was painstakingly explaining. As I’ve alluded to, John was a very compelling figure and one attended to him.

As we were about to leave, we turned a corner and I saw a new part of the workshop. There on the wall, in bright red paint were the words:

                                                                             Work without Art is Tyranny


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  1. what a powerful statement.
    the work they do looks really cool

  2. Ingrid? What a beautiful name.

    It never occurred to me to hire someone to do shelving. That kind of thing would really make a library, though. They are beautiful!

    And “work without art is tyranny”? What an interesting phrase. I’ll have to let that one sit in the brain pan for a few days. I like it.

    Once again, very thought provoking post! Short, concise, and yet very good point.

    • Yes, my wife was named after Ingrid Bergman.

  3. Beautiful. I am particularly jealous as all my books are still boxed, eight months after the move. Still trying to place furniture before putting up some (much plainer) shelves.

  4. How is it that I have looked at those shelves a hundred thousand times and never knew the story behind them? The books and their home do make the house.

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