I’ve thought about this day for many, many years; and now it’s here. I got word tonight that Jennie Alexander passed away. Just today I was preparing for a presentation on “green woodworking” and as I have many times in recent years, I was planning on focusing the talk on the people who got me here. And nobody got me here more than Jennie.
I’ve written this blog now for 10 years. I write it for many reasons – self-promotion, a work journal, sharing what I have learned, and most importantly for lots of that time – as a way to keep connected with Alexander. As her health failed over the years, she was able to do less and less in the shop, but kept on working on the 3rd edition of Make a Chair from a Tree, and talking to various chairmaking friends on the phone. Many of the calls I got in the past few months were exactly the same, but they were always fun & pleasant. JA told me many times when I asked about her health, “Oh, my health is shit, but my spirits are the best they have ever been!”
I joked that JA & I taught each other joinery without either of us knowing how to do it. And our process was amazingly clunky by modern standards. I would go to the MFA in Boston and photograph joined furniture; 35mm slides. Those would get sent out for developing, so I’d wait to see what I shot. Then, I’d pick out the good ones, have them duplicated, write keyed notes to the slides, and make a copy of those notes. Then send that off to Baltimore in the US mail. And the reverse would happen from Jennie’s end, only substitute Winterthur Museum for the MFA.
Just recently arrangements were made, and the transaction too, for her notes/papers on chairmaking and joinery to go to the library at Winterthur. Whew, nick of time.
I keep harping about Jennie being the one to coin the term “green woodworking” – in the 1978 book Make a Chair from a Tree: An Introduction to Working Green Wood – I re-read much of it tonight, and the phrase isn’t in there! This is how myths get started…
I’ll write more about Jennie in the coming weeks I’m sure.
Meanwhile, a poem, Buffalo Bill’s by e.e. cummings