The desk on which my computer sits and at which I sit to type these vignettes is not a desk at all. It is a repurposed kitchen table. In fact, it is the very first kitchen table my young wife and I bought for our very old new home. It was made of typical gold-colored pine slats with white-painted legs. That small table served our little family for years. When the little family became a big family, we needed a larger kitchen table. The old table was passed from room to room as a desk for various children. Erin stained the table top a darker brown and painted a green-and-maroon border, with blue flowers on vines in the center. I thought it was beautiful. During my six-month exile of separation, I took the table to my construction zone quarters as my writing desk. I had gathered notes and observations for nearly 20 years, determined to someday write my book. I had felt compelled for years to write it, but never made the time. But now a chiding thought nagged at me: You’ve always wanted to write your book. You will never have a better time to do it. Now is the time. So, I got to work. Nights and weekends I typed up my chicken scratch notes, many written as I walked on Rabbit Lane, elaborated my thoughts, printed and sorted and organized, reassembled and knitted together the stories in chapters, until the manuscript took its first breath as a real creature. I published the book in 2016, entitling it Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. I felt better about this book than anything I had ever accomplished. I knew I had done it well and had made something beautiful and worthwhile. As we placed the old kitchen table turned writing desk into the moving truck last month to bring it to my new office at Mom’s and Dad’s house, a leg irreparably broke off. I was prepared to let the desk go, despite its sentimental value, but while I was at work Dad and a friend sank three long screws to repair the desk for my ongoing writing. I am hoping one day to prepare new manuscripts of which I can be equally proud. And I never see those blue flowers in the center of the table without remembering my daughter Erin and her beautiful artistic soul.
The negotiated terms of my ouster included me rescuing my children’s artwork from the attic storage closet. I wanted these paintings displayed and my children honored. They had made oil, acrylic, and collage paintings on old plywood, cardboard, canvas board, and posterboard. Many pieces were very good. Determined, I took a framing class at the Tooele Army Depot morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) facility. I learned to measure and cut the mats and the glass, assemble the frames, and apply the backing. I felt joyful and proud to hang these excellent art pieces on the walls of my apartment, which my father came to call my “art gallery.” They included scenes of Lisbon streetcars, Rio de Janeiro’s Cristo Redentor, the romantic streets of Paris, African villages, Korean dancers, and New York City street corners, plus a Panda Bear and a Great Blue Heron. The most venerable painting hanging on my apartment walls was an oil Dad painted in the 1950s of two children, a boy and a girl, walking hand-in-hand down a forest path. To move them safely, I wrapped these jewels in plastic and stacked them carefully in the Mom’s and Dad’s basement. After two weeks, I found myself ready to decorate my two rooms, too small to accommodate all the paintings I had framed. And I suddenly found that my connection to them was touched with old despair. For now, I will gently store them to await a time of greater healing and permanence, when I will take them out and again proudly display them. Now is not the time or the season. They are like so many priceless museum pieces wrapped in protecting plastic and stowed in crates, awaiting their grand retrospective. In the meantime, I have hung in my rooms several of Mom’s beautiful needlepoints, prints I bought on various trips, and the old oil of two children walking through the woods, holding hands.
In 2012 my daughter Laura and I joined a multi-week pottery class. She turned and glazed many beautiful pieces (see photos below). While the wheel tested our (my) patience, taking the class was a wonderful daddy-daughter experience. As a younger child, Laura formed a clay blob of which she is not so proud. But I love it because she made it, and it has become one of my treasures–which is why I wanted to write this poem.
She Gifted to Me a Treasure
a blob of fired clay,
a woven straw beehive
in shape—a slanting thumb hole
welcomes pencils and pens,
barred pheasant feathers.
I am so fond of this blob because her hands formed
this blob, the masterpiece of a child creating,
and she made a present of it to me
because she doubted
her creation’s merit
as a thing, a tapering firm-based thing
with a cream sky dangling turquoise clouds and royal-blue stars:
a treasure to me
as is she.
My children and I worked for months (and in the case of the featured lamps, years) to be ready for the Tooele Arts Festival, a gathering of more dozens of artists and crafters from around the American west, held June 14-16. I purchased a booth space to sell the family wares. This post highlights several wood lamps I made with my sons John, Caleb, and Hyrum. Displaying our art for three days was an intense and rewarding social experience as we interacted with many hundreds of people, not pushing for sales, but just being personable. We sold three lamps, five rag rugs crocheted by my mother, eight wood bird-beak back scratchers carved by Caleb, and two dozen papier mache floral jars made with my daughter Hannah and my sons, along with 40 copies of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. Making these lamps with my sons has been a meaningful father-son experience for me, and hopefully gave them a sense of creativity, beauty, and business. You can see our other lamps on the Woodcraft page of this blog.
Burl wood in Sedona red, by Caleb.
Burl wood in Provincial brown, by Caleb. (Sold $49.)
Cottonwood with larval etchings, by Hyrum.
Root stump, by Hyrum.
Forked branch, by Hyrum.
Slender branch, by Hyrum.
“Anchor” by Hyrum. (Sold $49.)
“Little Guy” by John.
Hyrum’s first lamp from 2014.
“Old Timer” by Dad (me). This one is on my night stand. (Made in 1993,)
“Stone” by Hyrum.
“Ripples” by Hyrum. (Sold $29.)
My friend and business associate Randy S. commissioned this lamp, affectionately named Hope, as a companion to our beautiful wood lamp Waves. Randy selected the wood for Hope from several photographs I sent him in October 2015, seen here from three different views.
Hyrum (15) and I worked slowly over the next year and a half to transform this rough piece of wood into the beautiful lamp featured above. The first step was, as always, to clean and smooth the wood. Next we drilled the small surface that would support the bulb socket, stained the wood with several coats of dark Provincial stain, and inserted the nipple pipe and socket.
Preparing the table-top base came next.
We mounted the lamp wood onto the base with wood glue and several three-inch screws, wired the lamp, varnished the base and lamp with gloss polyurethane, and caulked around the lamp base. We routed the base bottom to house the lamp chord.
The final step was to suspend the lamp upside down between two padded chairs and attach black felt to the bottom of the base.
Randy took the lamp to his home office to join Waves after nearly two years. He said it was worth the wait.
(Purchase Price: $500.)
Baker Brothers Lamps was founded to help my sons earn money for the 2013 and 2017 National Boy Scout Jamborees and to pay for their high school athletic activities and university studies. It has been so fun for me to work on this hobby with my sons, transforming rough wood into beautiful lamps.
Sphere of Absence by Erin Frances Baker
I exited a posh downtown law firm revolving door to accompany several high-priced litigators to lunch. As a municipal attorney, my city was their client, and I its representative. Hundreds of people walked every which way, moving single-mindedly toward their various destinations. Car horns honked. Crosswalk lights chirped. People talked animatedly. Buses dieseled by. Trolley car power cables sizzled. On the corner, in the middle of the commotion, sat a homeless woman, dirty, dressed in rags, her hair ratty. She sat and rocked and wailed inconsolably. No one paid her any mind. They merely arced around her from their many directions, creating a sphere of absence around her. I approached her, but not too close, to see her better. I ached for her, yet feared to enter that intimidating sphere. I marveled that she remained invisible to the bustling world around her. Still, though I saw her and felt for her, I too arced clear and moved on to my worldly business. Below is my poem describing the encounter, entitled “Sphere of Absence.”
My daughter, Erin Frances Baker, adapted my poem for her acrylic-on-board masterpiece, changing the character of my homeless woman to the lighter, but still isolated and nearly invisible, figure of a street performer. I hope you enjoy the poem and the painting.
SPHERE OF ABSENCE
She sat on the corner
of a bustling city street:
a surreal reminder
of an unfriendly reality;
a sad black-and-white cutout,
pasted, out of place,
into the noisy, colorful hustle
of illusory pursuits.
Mute faces ate and laughed
behind thick glass panes;
wingtips and heels stepped past
in all directions,
carving a polygonal sphere,
seen but ignored, unknown.
Above the train-wheel grind and clatter,
the honking horns,
the crosswalk chirps,
the biting wind,
and the chatter, rose
a soft, wailing cry,
a muffled desperation,
a distracted pouring-out
of a fractured soul
into the lonely sphere of absence.
Wood Lamp Timponogos by Owen Nelson Baker, Jr.
In the late 1950s, when my mother was my dad’s girlfriend, the two of them hiked to the peak of Mt. Timponogos in Utah. (Nelson and Lucille have been married for 54 years.) The 20-mile hike ends with optional slide down a steep, half-mile-long glacier. (I made the mistake of sliding down this glacier 60 years after they did. I slid so violently and fast, hitting dozens of rocks and holes on the way, that I thought I was going to die. My backside was black-and-blue for months!)
Owen Nelson Baker, Jr., my father, returned from that trip with a large piece of twisted root-wood on his shoulder. He sandblasted it clean and smooth, drilled it, wired it, stained it, mounted it, and switched on the light of this gorgeous wood lamp, which I have named Timponogos. The heavy iron base he hack-sawed off of an antique bird cage. The root-wood still contains a sizable stone around which the roots grew.
The antique oak table on which Timponogos rests was made by my father’s grandfather, also Nelson Baker, who was a machinist and mine foreman for the Prince gold mind in Pioche, Nevada.
Notice the solid brace construction.
I have decorated the Timponogos table top with antique tools made and used long ago by great-grandpa Nelson.
My father’s beautiful lamp, which I have admired all of my life, is the inspiration behind Baker Brothers Lamps, an enterprise in which I join my three younger sons–John, Caleb, and Hyrum–to make beautiful wood lamps that we sell to fund our attendance at the National Boy Scout Jamboree, and for their future college expenses. (Sorry to disappoint, but Timponogos is not for sale.)
Dad and the Baker Brothers on 9/11/2011
John, Dad, and Caleb coming home tired from the 2013 National Jamboree
We continue to enjoy making beautiful wood lamps together, the pictures and stories of which I will continue to post on this blog and offer for sale. Here are links to some of the lamps we have made thus so far. We hope you like them.
Stone by Hyrum Baker
Though made of wood, Hyrum and I thought Stone a good name for this little gem of a lamp, perfect for an end-table or night-stand. Stained a dark Jacobean, we thought its swirls reminiscent of cooling magma on some ancient volcanic seashore. Note the brass electrical tube wound tightly with jute twine.
Along with Reach, we traded Stone for in-kind services, provided by my journeyman friend Justin, to power my chicken-coop studio. We had set the price at $145.
Little Guy by John Baker
Not all of Baker Brothers lamps are large (like Dolphin and Grace) or ornate (like Smoke and Waves). Some are small and simple, but still beautiful, like Little Guy, pictured above. Made from a fairly flat piece of drift wood, it resembles a small floating barc. A decorative stone placed just so balances the lamp perfectly on the wood’s natural three contact points (don’t worry–it won’t fall over without the stone, just tip slightly, as if riding a wave). The brass tube containing the wire and holding the shade is wrapped with jute twine for a rustic, seafaring look.
Little Guy can accompany you on your next maritime imagination adventure for $180, proceeds to fund the Bakers brothers’ attendance at the National Boy Scout Jamboree and their college funds. (An assortment of lamp shades is available.)
The piece of driftwood that became the lamp Grace leaned against my shed for about a decade, a temporary decoration with which I might do something someday. It joined my other decorations, antiques, hanging from the shed by nails, though the wood lay on the ground, frequently obscured by weeds and grass.
This lamp posed the special challenge of mounting its lithe and twisting form to the base. At first I used a single nut and bolt, with washers at each end. But no matter how tight, the lamp still wobbled. Eventually, after staining and wiring, I added another bolt, and the lamp now stands firm like a ship’s mast to a ship. While drilling such a lamp for wire would normally be a challenge, only minimal drilling was required. The wire follows mostly natural cracks running down the back of the wood.
At 4.5 feet tall, a possible companion piece to Hyrum’s lamp Dolphin (4 feet even), we suggest a value for this lamp of $850.
Not just my sons have raised money for the National Boy Scout Jamboree. I join them in both the fund-raising and the scouting efforts. I attended in 2013 as an assistant scoutmaster, one of four men accompanying a troop of 36 Boy Scouts. I will attend again in 2017 in the same role. I am pictured here with my sons John and Caleb, in the Salt Lake City International airport, exhausted but happy after our three-week adventure.
I will post pictures and stories of additional wood lamps soon.