Mark Webster’s Initial Inspiration
In the late 70s there was a surge of interest in “Fine Woodworking”. Many woodworkers began to focus on creating objects out of domestic and exotic woods that not only provided a function, but also exhibited very high quality of workmanship. People wanted to learn about the techniques that would help them achieve these goals. Woodworkers like James Krenov and Tage Frid began writing books and magazine articles sharing techniques and philosophies that combined art, function and wood. At that time, Mark Webster, living in Porterville Ca., was one of those people who wanted to learn about these techniques. He wanted to learn about hand and power woodworking tools, wood, joinery and construction techniques. The primary resources at that time were magazines and books. There was no internet and there were no known local master craftsmen in the area who provided woodworking classes.
It occurred to Mark that maybe he could muster enough local interest to start an association in the San Joaquin Valley and in 1983 Mark along with a group of local woodworkers established the San Joaquin Fine Woodworkers Association. Their goal for the organization was to bring woodworkers of all levels of experience together to share their skills and provide a local source for education through networking and classes. As a group they hoped they could also pool their resources and invite some of the “experts” to the valley to give classes.
Start of an Association
Under Mark’s leadership, by-laws were written which stated the General Purpose of the organization would be a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the education, promotion and execution of the principles of fine woodworking . The by-laws also stated that the Specific Purposes would include:
Public education of the principles of fine woodworking by the presentation of lectures, seminars, discussions, workshops and field trips.
The dissemination and exchange of data and information on indigenous and rare woods and associated fine woodworking methods.
Public exhibition of the products of fine woodworking.
The promotion and appreciation of the arts and skills of the artisan woodworker.
In those early years, the “education, promotion and execution of the principles of fine woodworking” were accomplished mainly by bringing experts from outside the Valley to teach a variety of courses to members.
The Middle Years
Monthly meetings were established early on with the location alternating between the North and South. The plan was that each meeting would include a business segment and a presentation on some aspect of woodworking. At the outset, the President planned the monthly meeting programs, and soon after the assignment fell to the two Vice Presidents.
In addition to the monthly programs, classes were taught by members of the organization and by outside “experts”.
The organization has had a booth in the Tulare County Fair for many years where member-made items and toys are displayed. Also, various woodworking tools and techniques are demonstrated, and wooden toys, puzzles and games are available for fair goers to marvel over. Information about the organization is also available. The Fresno County Fair has been another venue for the “fair show.”
In 1989, the organization began a community project of making wooden toys for under privileged children. These workshops serve two purposes: 1) to build toys and 2) provide training on various tools and techniques to club members. Over time, the program has grown and the large number of quality toys now being produced is clearly a benefit to the community.
Members of the organization also make presentations to many service groups in the area describing the purposes of the organization and elaborating on the toy project and its impact on the community.
There is also a social part to the organization. Friendship among woodworkers is an important avenue for exchange of knowledge and help to members. Gathering at the monthly meetings, taking classes, and working on projects (mainly the toy program) produces the natural acquaintance that the love of the woodworking craft engenders.
We have several organizations of quilters who contribute to the toy program by making the fabric components for the wooden cradles. Participation of the quilters at our annual banquet brings to the woodworkers a deeper understanding and appreciation of the quilter’s special craft, and they in turn get to examine the variety of objects produced by fine woodworkers.
Under our immediate Past President some significant changes were made. Five stand out as important influences on our 100+ member Association:
The Toy Program has been invigorated by a re-emphasis on the quality of toys being produced. The total production has gone from 250 the first year to over 5000 toys a year in recent years. A quality control step has been implemented to ensure the toys are well made and safe.
An Education Committee has been formed, and is working toward a set of activities that will produce a comprehensive education program teaching beginning through advanced woodworking design and production. This year, we will begin the education of students aged 12 to 17 in small tutorial classes where the safe use of woodworking tools will be emphasized. We also are adding a second introduction to woodworking course, this one focused on hand tools while continuing the one focused on use of power equipment. Currently, there is a committee evaluating the possibility of having a juried show at the Fresno County Fair Home Arts building where members and non-members would enter their fine woodworking projects for public display and have them judged and critiqued by a recognized expert in the field.
The By-Laws, of the Association were reviewed and revised, for only the second time since the beginning of the club in 1983. The stated objectives remained the same.
The Association reorganized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. This provides the potential for opening up opportunities for the Association.
Given this new status, the budgeting and accounting systems are developing into a more useful managerial tool.
The Next Few Years
We will continue a dedication to the General and Specific purposes of the Association as stated above and we need to be clear about how we will proceed in the next few years to make greater progress. Our intention is to:
Annually review our organization structure and methods to keep it compatible with the best possible performance.
Regularly review our program of educational courses to adjust it to the needs of our current and future members and young students who will one day be the repository of knowledge and competence in the craft of artisan fine woodworking.
Develop and implement plans for an annual show of fine woodworking, for both our members and other woodworkers who wish to display the results of their own fine woodworking.
Annually review the toys we make, how they are distributed, and the “play value” and “educational value” to the children who are presented with them, and regularly examine the teaching-learning of members of the Association involved in producing those toys.
Seek to have an Association dedicated shop in which we can teach, work, and learn.
Develop a culture of good practices in use of resources, always seeking to enhance our performance as we work toward our stated goals.
All of this is possible only by the good graces of friendship, determination to become better at our craft, and desire to share the blessings of a delightful, demanding, useful, and joyful craft.