Last winter, our neighbour Konrad milled a window sill for us. Konrad Sauer happens to be a highly sought after maker of custom hand planes. You can see his work here: Sauer and Steiner. In exchange for the sill we agreed I would paint at least one still life portrait of a piece or pieces from his hand tool collection.
Only in the last couple of weeks, thinking a still life painting would be a nice break after the frenetic pace of Star Portraits, did I finally make it over to his shop to get a bit of a primer on hand planes, woods, and metals, and to select one of his storied collection of hand tools as the subject for a still life painting.
We settled on an amazing miniature mitre plane, made from the brass of an old tenon saw back and infilled with English boxwood. The brass bears the stamped marks of the original saw maker alongside those of the plane maker, Bill Carter, who lives in Leicester England with his wife Sarah, and who has made more than 700 planes in his lifetime. You can see Bill and Sarah’s excellent website here: Bill Carter Hand Made Planes. The little plane is an exquisite object in itself, all the moreso when you realize that it is a precise, efficient woodworking tool. These tools of astonishing beauty are made by hand with care and precision and are purchased by wood workers and furniture makers who hand craft wood into furniture or cabinetry or musical instruments that will last for generations. What a contrast to the disposable world of cheaply produced goods most of us live in.
I have the utmost respect for these makers of hand tools—I like to think we share a certain sensibility. I am looking forward to recording some of these unique tools, so unfamiliar to many of us, and so different from the mass produced tools so readily available, in still life portraits.
The story might have ended here, but it does not…
In my larger painting series, I have often incorporated text into the backgrounds of my paintings—to suggest a narrative that runs deeper than the surface of the person or thing I have painted. I am always drawn to story and to the written word. When I got the little plane back to my studio, I took a look at the website of its maker: Bill Carter Hand Made Planes
Mitre plane in brass and boxwood, oil and gold leaf on panel, detail
After reading about Bill’s plane making I decided to contact Bill and Sarah to request permission to use the stories from their website in the background of my painting, to which they readily and generously agreed. Imagine my surprise when several days later I opened my inbox to discover that I would be the extremely honoured recipient of two Bill Carter miniature mitre planes—tenon saw brass bodies and ebony infill, stamped with Bill’s name and address across the heels. I was so moved. I am extremely flattered. Of course I intend to show my gratitude with portraits of the miniature planes for Bill and Sarah. Almost overnight I have become an amateur of hand tools with a tiny but meaningful collection. I will post portraits of the tools on this blog in the future.
How amazing that in repaying the kindness of a neighbour, I have made a connection with a couple an ocean away who will bestow on me an incredible gift, which I will attempt to repay and each of us will have a little something of the other to remind us of this connection. How unexpected, and how lovely.