Becoming James Krenov
James Krenov (1920-2009) became famous for his poetic, sensitive, and anti-establishment approach to
woodworking. His method, both material and philosophical, became widely known through a series of
books he wrote throughout the 70s and early 80s, reputed to be the best selling craft books ever. Through
writing that is simultaneously formal and casually anecdotal, rambling yet specific, the reader gets a sense
of a complex human, negotiating his work, his livelihood, and his material. His books are a philosophy of
art and life, told through the specifics of technique, the vagaries and intricacies of wood species, and the
chasing of a particular grain pattern that evoked an elusive quality of smoke, or curtains in a breeze.
Before the books were written James Krenov was not widely known--both his furniture and his approach
to woodworking became known through his books. Books are shaped and worked, form and content
dancing with each other, the one interacting with and influencing the other. Before a book is written, there
are countless forms it might take. Then the groundwork is laid, decisions made, and slowly the overall
shape comes into being.
James Krenov developed his first book, A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, with fellow woodworker Craig
McArt, but there was a period during the spring and summer of 1974, when this as yet unnamed and
unformed book was going to be edited by the young furniture-makers John and Carolyn Grew Sheridan,
particularly Carolyn. Detailed correspondence between them reveals their negotiations and the
unravelling of friendly relations between them.
This presentation, including Powerpoint visuals of original material (the correspondence between Carolyn
Grew Sheridan and James Krenov) looks at the process of James Krenov’s books coming into being, and
examines both the paths not taken as well as those which eventually led to publication. Looking at how
the books generated the persona, the presentation will speculate on how that might have been different
had the books taken a slightly or radically different form under a different editor. The books are examined
as the product of a team rather than a lone author, and attempt to untangle the process of becoming an
iconic figure in the history of contemporary woodworking.