by Ryan Seiler
If the world needs me to save us in some daring outer space mission you can hedge all bets on mankind taking one giant leap into the apocalypse. To be kitsch with the old phrase “It’s not rocket science” I don’t mean to disrespect all you rocketeers. My understanding is that the phrase means to disarm unfamiliar tasks by belittling them in comparison to the much larger or even unattainable one of “rocket science”. However, in practice the phrase fails in two ways. For some it causes them to abandon all fear for a task and either put them in the hospital or contribute generously to landfills. For me, much like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, I could trace everything in some way to rocket science thereby rendering it impossible.
As I began my studies in Design at Iowa State it was clear that I was many years and skills behind almost everyone else. Everything was rocket science. If I was going to rise up rocket science needed to be brought down. As I began to disarm the intimidating tasks around me I began to learn that brash confidence was no replacement for determination, dedication and a willingness to slow down and learn. We all have limitations but it’s amazing what we can accomplish when those three things are mixed with a healthy fear (that breeds respect) and a little bit of audacity.
After grinding through the core design program I was accepted into Integrated Studio Arts. I have a rich history of woodworkers in my family and so I chose an emphasis in Furniture Design. Growing up I remember my dad’s wood shop as a place of danger, ingenuity and sawdust. It was where my brothers and I got our haircuts, hid from tornados and watched my dad fix and create things. Just outside the door was a chalk board that often had plans drawn on it, two dimensional drawings destined to be tangible objects. My grandfather was a wood worker as well and every Christmas we could expect some brilliant toy that he had made for us. For most of the material things in our lives we can only trace their history back to a sales receipt. For those toys and much of the furniture in my parent’s house you can go into those two wood shops and discover where they were conceived, how they were made and the remnants and extra parts that were left over.
Deeper into my studio work at Iowa State I began to design and build furniture. Every step can be frustrated. From creating ideas to putting on the wood finish it often seemed as though Murphy’s Law was my major and Design was my minor. I could see that my relationship with my dad was growing stronger with every question asked and every project made. Often times relationships are forged by the experiences we share together. The grade reports became secondary to his affirmation of my work. He generously opened up my grandfather’s wood shop to let me use gorgeous lumber that had been sitting there for decades. The quarter sawn mahogany that I made my first coffee table out of simply does not exist in lumberyards anymore. I felt connected to my grandfather as I crafted it.
The goal of this article is not to convince you of the value of woodworking, although I could easily do that. I’m appealing to you in the broader sense of developing skills in our lives that maybe aren’t our specialization. To fix, construct, create, destroy, and develop is something that our generation defaults to outsourcing. It didn’t use to be that way. It can be that way. Most importantly it does not have to be that way. My grandpa was just building us wood toys for Christmas but you can start to see how much life was built around such a small objective. It could be wood working. Or learning how to cook a steak perfectly or the surprisingly more difficult burger. Or changing your oil. Or building a fire. We are open to your ideas. Let us know what skills you’re looking to gain or if you have a skill you can teach us. It’s another way in which this community can grow stronger and equip you to contribute to your family and neighborhood. With determination, dedication and a willingness to slow down and learn let’s bring rocket science down to earth, one small skill at a time.
Samples of Ryan’s work….
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