Tuesday, October 2, 2012



Bill Lucas at his Sawmill (date and photographer unknown)

As I’ve continued working on the Perkins Folklife Project, I’ve been able to pursue a longstanding interest in the various woodworking traditions of the South Jersey region.  I’ve already reported in this blog on the decoy carving traditions of South Jersey, and on various related traditions.  I’ve maintained an interest in wood (as natural resource) and woodworking (as cultural activity) for a number of years now, in South Jersey and elsewhere.   
Bill Lucas Storage Shed; photo by Tom Carroll

In recent months I’ve been working with individual woodworkers and artisans, in order to refine my knowledge and understanding of woodworking traditions in the project region.  In May, I recorded an interview with Bill Robbins, a furniture maker and designer in Southampton, in which we explored his development as a woodworker, the sources of his design ideas, the varied influences on his work, and the South Jersey area as context for that work, among other topics.  (Bill maintains a website at williamrobbinsfurniture.com, where you can see many examples of his fine woodworking.)  I also paid a visit to Tom Lederer at his shop in Columbus, to take another look at his work and continue what I hope will become an ongoing discussion with him.  (You can see more of his work at ledererstudiofurniture.com.)

Bill Robbins Working on Chair Components; photo by Tom Carroll

Tom Lederer and Bill Robbins are part of a larger community of artisans working in various modes and genres, who have adopted wood as their chosen material.  In addition to these two furniture makers, this group, broadly conceived, would also include the decoy carvers I've mentioned, and people like Dick Toone, who expertly reproduces Colonial era artifacts for museums and collectors in his Arneys Mount workshop (livinghistoryshop.com).  In future fieldwork I plan to continue investigating these and other woodworking traditions, within the wider framework of South Jersey artisan wood traditions per se.  I plan to look for linkages between the work of all of these individuals, and understand them as part of the ongoing dynamism and historical development of south Jersey culture.  

Bill Robbins Assembling a Chair; photo by Tom Carroll
While doing fieldwork in the Pemberton area, I met a man named Bill Lucas, and wrote about him somewhat obliquely in an earlier post on this blog.  Bill passed away in December of 2011, and some time later, items from his shop and other buildings on the property were put up for auction.  I  attended the auction where his wood, his woodworking equipment (including his sawmill), and other artifacts he’d collected over the years were rendered up for bidding. 

Bill was a longtime sawmill operator, craftsman, and above all, conservator of wood that he milled from trees harvested or salvaged throughout the Pine Barrens region.  I had a number of conversations with Bill Lucas in the past couple of years, and since the time of his death in December 2011, have spoken with a number of people in the region to explore and try to understand his legacy.  My plan for the coming year is to initiate an oral history project to document and record memories of Bill Lucas and link these with ongoing wood-related artisan activity in the project region. 

Bill Lucas’s work dovetails in interesting ways with that of the woodworkers mentioned in this post.  For example, Bill Robbins purchased wood from Lucas, and visited him occasionally over the years.  Dick Toone also bought wood from Lucas.  Both he and Robbins know of other woodworkers who bought wood -- or tried to buy wood -- from Bill Lucas (he didn’t readily let go of his wood in later years), or who had other sorts of business or personal dealings with him.  I’ll be reporting on the progress of this work in future posts as the new fiscal year gets underway.

Long Rifle by Dick Toone; photo by Tom Carroll