Frequently Asked Questions
College of the Redwoods
I visited with him in February of 2009 along with Joe Amaral and Ricky Yu. I was nervous feeling like Dorothy visiting the Wizard because all the things I had heard.
He spoke of his wife with total admiration and appreciation for her dedication.
He spoke of the deterioration of his eyesight to the point that he could not see the food on his plate and how humbling it was. I was thrown off by this because acknowledging being humbled was not in line with the stories. He said it however matter of fact and as if he was on a journey of experiences.
He added growing old was humbling
He wondered out loud what was next. What he would come up next to offer the world and in that I saw a giving person.
He jokingly referred to Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night”. I finally took the time to view it today….. wow
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Jim really inspired me, and clearly everyone who has posted such kind remembrances here. We are all lucky to have been touched by Jim, and in return, let's share what we learned from Jim, what he enabled us to learn about ourselves; pass it on, you know, to leave your own finger prints on what we make, and encourage others to do the same, and that's not limited to woodworking. I was at the library with my daughter one day when she was very small (probably 20 years ago), and I literally turned around and there was a copy of Cabinetmaker's Notebook sticking out on the shelf. The jewelry box with dovetails were on this hardcover edition-you know. It instantly drew me in and I checked it out over and over. I wasn't even a woodworker. I wondered if this philosopher whose medium was wood was still alive, so I called the publisher and finally found out that he was teaching at CR, whatever that was. Over time, I checked it out so many times, and even built some pieces, very early stuff, but I look back and see Jim influence. I kept checking out the book so much that my wife orders a copy me (I don't know why it didn't occur to me to buy it), sent it to Jim with a short letter and a few pictures of my work, all unbeknownst to me of course. For Christmas that year, you can imagine my surprise when I received the book with an inscription and signature back from Jim. I finally got the nerve to call the school and I heard this high voice on the other end. I asked if Mr. Krenov was available. The response was, "This is Jim." We chatted for a few minutes, and he invited me to come see him and the school. I asked if that 'tap-tap' in the background was someone chopping dovetails, and he said it was. In any event, a couple years later, I got into his plane making class and the weekend presentation, and finally got to meet him, Jim and David. I especially liked his hand-written sign, "Knock Please." Needless to say, it was a great week in my life, and despite my sadness at Jim's passing, I am, and we are, all better people and woodworkers, and in that order, for having known Jim.
I didn't really know Jim well, having only been in the shop w/him back summer of '93 tools and techniques. Nonetheless I did manage to get flamed one day for a silly question (a specialty), honored another to help on a big glue up of panels for a parquet cabinet, and charmed by his walk-by comments and lectures. A tiny JK sampler. Missed out on green bananas apparently.
Maloof and Krenov in a matter of months. Contrasting inspirations, and a lot to think about. Brought into focus how in less than a year worries about clients/money/etc. have militated for unwelcome compromise. Still coming to grips w/fact that most folks don't get this work. I really like to make things that please and satisfy, but I'm not willing to make what will satisfy most people, whose standards for quality (in all senses) are generally low but whose standards for economy are towering.
Jim changed my life!
I was scrambling this passed weekend working on the house and looking for a missing part or item in my barn/workshop. As part of my hunt, I opened up a special plastic container I have with items I still have from CR days. And there was a steel iron Jim once gifted me and I held it I did a little thinking about him. So it must have been like a message I didn't understand.
I'm sure all the folks he left his fingerprints on feel the same lose. So the school will be another part of his legacy. You guys carry the torch for all of us.
it was with both surprise and sorrow that I read of Jim’s passing in today’s NY Times. I was Jim’s assistant for the year he spent at the BU Program in Artisanry, and shared not only his efforts to shape that program, but also some of the thinking that went into his first book. The PIA was a frustrating experience for both of us, and, I noted, was not mentioned in the Time’s obit. Jim and I shared a number of traits, including our love of wood (“Wood is Good”), our stress on quality, our association with the “hippie” culture (I was dyed in the wool to his pre-Kerouac), and our stature. There were some things we did not see eye to eye on at the time. One of those was my contention that softwoods such as sugar pine and cedar had a rightful place in the pantheon of worthy materials for the fine art of woodworking. Another was his innate sense of the value of aristocracy in the face of my innate populism. I now suspect that both these differences were two expressions of the same thing. My apprenticeship had been in harpsichord and organ building, and it was not until the year with Jim that I gained the confidence to start up my own custom woodworking enterprise in Boston. Jim’s intensity, his radical humanism, and his exquisite feel for the refinements, not only of his craft, but within the heart of his relationships, made him for me, as I know for many others, a revered mentor.
I was saddened today to learn that the oldest and the wisest of the elephants has gone. While I only spent two weeks taking a summer course in 2001, sitting with Jim, drinking tea and eating cookies, was instructional in itself. He was an amzing, gifted, unique, whimsical and cantankerous spirit and, as I told him, his craft has touched the ages, an experience precious few of us will ever have. I am much richer for having met him.
Jim has had a huge impact on my life. Thank you Britta for sharing him with us supporting and encouraging him these many years. Your faithfulness in marriage and standing with him has also shaped him into the great man he was. May Christ meet your every need during this time.
Add me to the list of people who when they read the books for the first time were gently jolted by the strange and yet somehow familiar thoughts and feelings about working with wood he laid out on the pages. As he's said before, he writes with the spoken word and what he had to say really connected with me.
Fast forward to the first time I visited C/R to see this place for myself sometime in 2000something. There I was walking around in this building packed full of busy wood dogs, working on things of such quality and beauty that I had never seen before. I got to talk to a few, and as I was walking and looking around, out of the corner of my eye came this tiny troll of a old fellow with long stringy white hair walking by me. He looked up at me and I looked down at him, and he just kept on walking by and out the front door... I'm thinking wow!...there's a strange little character... Not knowing at the time, I'd just met JK.
Fast forward again and I've actually been lucky enough to be accepted to C/R. JK has officially retired, but he was in and out of class and I got to see him at his home and shop. He was a feisty old dude. Sometimes seemed a little out of place in the laid back, 'show no extreme emotion', that is northern California. But at the same time he also fit right in, in that area so soaked in creative juices as it is.
I'll never forget my time at C/R, I'll never forget JK..
It was a dream of mine to be able to come and study at the school, and it finally happened. The year I spent in the Monastery was simply the best single year of my life. Jim’s writings and teaching brought my drifting life plans into very clear focus. To discover the “Why” of it was to find the bridge from simply a mechanical process of building something, into all the doors being opened to creative freedom thru developing technical excellence in combination with injecting your soul, your creative force, into your work.
I came to the CRW like so many others, enchanted with Jim's writings and the person I thought I already knew; the person who I really believed had "the answers" to the questions in the pit of my soul. Quite a lot to ask of a stranger - and from the moment I met Jim he was nothing like the person I had imagined him to be. Perhaps I was a little disappointed or maybe surprised upon that first meeting, and subsequently, as the year progressed, to learn that I would not be embraced by Jim as the long lost son he never had; that we would never be more than "comfortable" with one another. Now, I realize that Jim was merely introducing me to the first of many lessons: that I did not come there looking for him as I had supposed. He was just the messenger, not the message.
Many people have touched upon Jim's critical side in their remembrances. I would ask them to look to the results and forgive the methods. Sometimes a mother wolf must nip at a pup, and Jim's "nips" made him real, took him down off the pedestal and helped us realize that Jim could only show us the answers he had found to the questions in his own life. We would need to find our own.
If Jim was correct and the world is all metaphysical, if the deeds of this life direct the journey of the "Soul" in the next, then I believe James Krenov will be reincarnated as someone or something very special. Peace be with you "Old Jim", and may your chisels be sharp in that next "go around". You gave us so much more than you took.
We all knew this time would come. How long has it been since he hasn't bought green bananas? He has prepared us well. Such a community he has created, so many stories. I can say without hesitation that my years in Fort Bragg were the best of my life. I'm sure it had something to do with Jim, but there was also a feeling of ease and acceptance from the community that I haven't felt since I left. He has certainly brought a lot of people together under one roof. I am grateful for the time I had there, and especially to have been one of Jim's students.
My Rememberances of James Krenov
My mentor passed away yesterday. He was 89
A man who went into his work without much of the rigid restraint which we all sense in this world of "gitdone" sensibilities.
He was a genius who took the time, had the intent-to make a few truly beautiful pieces of woodcraft.
A complex, "don't tread on me" sort, yet very generous, and quite human. Jim influenced, and inspired alot of us who were looking for a teacher/mentor/touchstone who could open minds to some important concepts, and ways to live and see.
JK inspired something quite rare. Something like this: "It's OK to be who you are". And though we go through life with differing circumstances, pleasures, and obstacles, it is still relevant to "keep at it, and keep working", and keep it simple.
I am going to work throughout this day in his honor, and rememberance.
I’m sorry to hear about Jim’s passing. My summers with you all are my fondest memories and I’m still at it. I’m sure you will let Mrs. Krenov know how much he meant to his army of students.
My condolences to all of you who shared so much with Jim. As
Thanks for letting us all know about JK. I am saddened to know that he is gone. The old curmudgeon certainly did influence my life and I am very grateful that I was able to get to know him and Britta as he transitioned out of his office at the school to his little shop at home. I hope he is at last at peace, but if there is something beyond life in this world, he will likely have heated exchanges with Sam Maloof and others. At least, from your previous email, he went down the final slippery slope quickly without suffering too much. It was such a sad thing to have his vision fail for his last years. n addition, would like to add something about the fact that for those who did not, or were not, open to digging beyond the oftentimes gruff and opinionated outer shell he used as his defensive shield, a persona that was hard to reconcile with the sensitivity that came through in his written works and was thus confusing to many, missed out on really knowing a very modest man with enormous sensitivity to nature, animals, the creative process in general, and of course all things wood. For those of us patient and brave enough to penetrate that outer shell, he was a generous, open and caring master who gave us much.
Jim was an extraordinary individual who made far more than just his mark in the world. He drew kindred spirits to him like moths to flame, and was as generous with his wisdom as we were eager to absorb it. He was alternately an enigma and completely transparent, and always just a little larger than life. His protestations to the contrary, I don't think he would have been happy otherwise. He was fond of saying that his work "doesn't glow in the dark!" and that he put his pants on one leg at a time, just like everybody else. Well... maybe. I remember him best as he was when I met him in 1984 -- incredibly active and prolific, at 64, salt-and-pepper hair poised as if electrically charged, the lilting voice and those amazing hands. Beneath his sometimes gruff exterior he was as gentle and caring a soul as I've ever met. It was a privilege to know him, an honor to study with him. He knew what he knew, and the simple truths he talked about have helped light the way for a lot of us. His legacy will live a long, long time.
I am honored to have called Jim a friend and to have had the opportunity to study under him. One memory of Jim that stands out and I think speaks to his way of working.
I first met Jim in the late 70's, when he came to Mendocino to do a weekend "show and tell" for the Mendocino Woodworkers Association. That encounter forever changed my relationship with wood, and for that I am grateful. The pace, sound, and tactile experience of planing wood, and the unduplicated quality of the resulting surface, is something I took into all the woodworking I have done since. While I never tended toward the scale of furniture that was his domain, I was able to use the basic techniques and aesthetic appreciation for wood, in the model making that has been my passion. The fact that the school, which formed primarily around the man, has been able to endure and thrive, despite the man, is a testimony to the spirit of his woodworking talents and insight. It is a truth of being an individual that we get to die eventually. I am sad to hear he passed, and glad to hear that he didn't linger in painful limbo.
I’m one among many who will readily acknowledge that we had a life ‘before’ and a life ‘after Jim Krenov’.
‘After’ had a new resonance, a color, a glow, a boldness, a freedom, a joy we quickly looked for ways to incorporate into our work. To say that he was a great teacher, a wonderfully innovative craftsman, an artist and a true original somehow only begins to define the man I came to know as “JK”. I know this because it’s been over 16 years since I left the school, and I can’t count the times I connected with Jim in spirit as I applied Jim’s aesthetic yardstick to evaluate an object or a book, a painting, an important decision. In the end what it came down to was integrity.
Jim had an unusual way of warning us about the pitfalls of working in the trendy styles that attracted the attention of the field and many collectors. “If it’s art, I don’t know what it is" he'd say. "But if it’s craft, it’s CRAP!”
Bill Merikalio recorded an extensive collection of Krenov-isms. (Thank you, Bill!) I just read through them and the classroom came alive: laughter, jeers, whistles, hooting n’ hollering. Jim knew how to make his teachings memorable. His natural wit and his sharp tongue lashes at us, at the work exhibited in galleries, at bad ”art”, at pretense and posturing, like the yapping shepherds’ dog rounding up the sheep and bringing them back to the barn, to discovery, to the creative dialogue with the material. His beloved wood.
Jim enjoyed our attention and our readiness to learn about the living material he had chosen for his work. He was a busy man, looking for ways to awaken us to the unique character of wood, its infinite variety and its ability to change and transform under our hands. And he, in turn, had a unique way of getting our attention. I remember feeling hurt the day he chastised me for not listening to him in making a decision he considered critical in the success of a project I was mocking up. I am grateful today when I look at the cabinet in my living room and try to imagine what it might have been had I not listened to him.
Seeing Jim at his work was a privilege I immediately understood. I loved the days when it was Jim's turn to speak to the class. His stories took us to Japan, Sweden, Russia, France, and Alaska! With him we whittled a small piece of driftwood into a small pipe sitting on our haunches by the beach; we went with him up a narrow mountain road, scared half out of our wits as the road wound around the edges of a precipice on our way to an exhibit of chairs in the Japanese Alps. When Jim described a tree he remembered for its unusual form, its resilience, or its beauty we could hear the wind rushing through the branches and up the hillside. “This one must have had a difficult childhood,” he’d say of a gnarled tree in his slide show. His speeches were peppered with wisdom, one-liners, questions and humor. He was nothing if not a vivid 'raconteur'. With his unique sensibility he opened our hearts and minds to a brave new world and encouraged us to go out there, to explore and, hopefully, to find what we could contribute to the field. This field which in many ways granted him a stingy nod when he generously continued to provide a beautiful and original vision, and a demanding practice which engaged all of him.
I was Jim’s bench mate during my first year at the school, and I can see him even now whistling under his breath, poking around his stash of wood bits for just the perfect little piece of doussie or rosewood he would fashion into a playful or elegant pull for the cabinet he was working on. I still marvel today at how infrequently he sharpened his chisels or his plane irons. I mean, I was at the sharpening station a lot!! But his planes were the sharpest in the shop! With just a hint of a smile he offered that I borrow one of his round bottom planes once. He must have grown tired seeing me struggle as I tried to plane a smooth curve into my cabinet’s door. His plane hardly needed a push! It went on its own, singing through the wood! --Producing the thinnest curliest of shavings from the mahogany. Was this the same wood that stuttered and sputtered when it was my plane spitting up weird tight wrinkles of shavings? That day I learned that I had to hang on tight to his teachings and throw in for good measure a healthy dose of humility.
I think he knew he was loved and appreciated. There was a lightness of spirit, which came through in his work, lithe, and playful, and full of life. I am fortunate to have known him and he lives in my heart forever.
These words from a William Blake poem, remind me of Jim.
He who binds to himself a joy
What can I say... Jim will live on in our hearts, our work and for ever be an inspiration.
August 18, 1993
"No numbers - logic, logic, logic."
"Only death can keep us from making mistakes."
August 19, 1993
August 25, 1993
"Not like Mr. Stanley; Mr. Rockwell."
"You get a nice fresh piece of fish, cook it 10-15 minutes and yeah! These people mix up all these ingredients, and you can't even recognize it."
Sept. 1, 1993
Sept. 2, 1993
Sept. 8, 1993
Sept. 15, 1993
"Everything that can possibly be done has already been done - this puts you at ease."
"Certain balances are timeless."
"Numbers are not what beauty is about."
Sept. 22, 1993
"What you gain on the merry-go-round, you lose on the swing."
Sept. 29, 1993
"You don't have to have curves - straight is ok."
Sept. 30, 1993
Oct. 7, 1993
Oct. 27, 1993
Nov. 3, 1993
"It's not always a question of your technique - it's often a question of whether this can be done in these materials."
Nov. 10, 1993
"Perfection only goes so far before it becomes paralysis."
"Some cedars - different kinds of cheese, really."
"Follow your whim; let go, but keep looking at it."
"You're after the sum total of it. You walk into a room and... WOW."
"You can't know enough about wood."
Nov. 18, 1993
Dec. 1, 1993
Feb. 2, 1994
Feb. 3, 1994
April 20, 1994
"Good work makes its own pace."
"I'm a wood nut."
May 4, 1994
"Shapes and balances are not rules."
In the spirit of fond and grateful remembrance, here are a few more JK gleanings.
“This is the 18th class since we started we no longer have anything to
“If you’re going to worry, choose something worth worrying about. ”
“When you’re instrument is in tune you’re happy with that, and you don’t
“Mind you’re p’s and q’s and you’ll do just fine. ”
“It’s not going to change the weather. ”
“Two small differences make an unhappy morning. ”
“Lets just go this far and not get too much in the attic. ”
“When I was growing up and someone got hurt, god help him….god and my
“What you gain on the merry-go-round, you lose on the swings. ”
“It’s pretty quiet on the coopering front. ”
Kevin: “Top of the mornin’ to ya, Jim!”
“Far enough from perfect to still be alive. ”
“My life has consisted of fitting a crooked door to a crooked cabinet.”
"It's a chicken and egg thing."