Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Indian Wall Hanging



The Indian wall hanging, a colorful and exotic Christmas gift from my younger son, was mounted in the living room today! This was the culmination of six months of preparation.

Scoffers may think six months is a ludicrous duration. Scoffers may point out that most people would buy prefabricated mounting hardware and slap the wall hanging up on the wall in a single afternoon, with enough time left over for a movie or a walk in the park. Scoffers may insinuate that a significant portion of the six months was attributable to some combination of my foot-dragging and incompetence. Well, let the scoffers scoff. In my household, craftsmanship is a process that is allowed to unfold at its own pace, a process to be slowly savored.

In January, my son and I set to work on the design of the rod and mounting brackets. These parts needed to be made of some species of wood that, when stained, would match the color and grain of the Morris chairs in the living room. We settled on white oak for the brackets and cherry for the rod. My son, who judges color with excellent discrimination, selected a red oak wood finish for the stain.

Now, having assembled the raw materials, we needed a pattern for the brackets. I suggested brackets in the shape of violin scrolls. What could be more elegant than the intricate curves of a violin scroll? My son, well aware that he would be performing the hands-on woodworking, quashed this suggestion. His counter-suggestion was that the brackets should match the simple angular pattern of the Indian wall hanging itself. For the sake of household tranquility, I acceded.

At this point the enterprise hit a snag. We had no workbench on which to make the brackets. So, most of February was devoted to the design and construction of an eight-foot workbench in the garage. Mail order of a vise took until April. (See the blog entry from April 17, 2011 for a view of the finished workbench.) With the workbench ready for business, all we lacked were the proper woodworking tools.

At this point, Providence tugged events in unexpected directions. In May my son's violin playing career started to pick up steam. He and his guitarist friend had a gig at a local bar and grill. They played the first half of their set and then took their break. My son found a safe place for his violin at the back of the stage and went outside for a breath of fresh air. When my son returned, the guitarist broke the news that a lady – a very old, very drunk lady – had staggered into a microphone stand at the edge of the stage. Toppling, the microphone was just long enough to reach the back of the stage and smack the violin, knocking its fingerboard free of the neck. My son gathered up the deranged violin and felt sick. Providence seemed to be frowning on him. After his distress subsided, my son improvised a playing technique to compensate for the loose fingerboard and limped through the remainder of the gig.

The following day my son dropped off the violin at the violin repair shop, the shop that had fixed violins and bows for both my sons over the past twenty years. The proprietor's diagnosis was reassuring: a simple glue job, no permanent damage.

It was now that Providence revealed that the violin accident had been the means of delivering an unexpected blessing. The proprietor of the shop surprised my son with a job offer. If my son were willing to learn violin repair, there would be a job for him at the shop. My son eagerly accepted. He rushed home and started searching the Internet for the tools of the violin fix-it trade: chisels, scrapers, files, planes, polishing stones, and shop knives.

A plane for shaping a violin's top and back plates soon arrived in the mail. My son used this plane to shape and smooth the angles of the brackets for the wall hanging. Everything about the timing of these events seemed right and natural.

The rest of the project went quickly. This weekend my son and I applied a coat of stain and a coat of linseed oil to the brackets and rod. And tonight we threaded the rod through the wall hanging's loops, hoisted the wall hanging, and attached its brackets to the living room wall. Success!

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