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Archive for Craftsmanship

Spotting a Craftsman – Meet Olaf

Olof Schneider - Craftsman

Olaf Schneider - Craftsman

Painting in Partnership and its team of craftsmen were asked this week to volunteer its painting and decorating services to help bring to life numerous stage set elements for The Christmas Schooner, a Holiday musical having its opening performance the day after Thanksgiving in Palatine.

We had two and a half days to get the painting and decorative finishing done, including the main set element: the Schooner! To help us get everything done, we were offered two volunteers that we gladly put to work. And then there was Olaf, a white-bearded older gentleman with a thick German accent, who was wearing a captain’s hat and doing carpentry and assembling different things on the stage. He looked like he definitely belonged on this ship! He later told me that, when he was sixteen, his father asked him what he wanted to do in life. He said: “I want to be a ship captain.” He father said: “You belong on a ship; you were made on a ship!

Mast Ladder for The Christmas Schooner

Mast Ladder - The Christmas Schooner

While I was painting with my crew, I noticed how Olaf was going about putting together two climbing ladders for the mast. He was using rope and sticks that he had cut to size, each of them shorter than the one below, in order to match the distance between the ropes. When he was done, he asked me for some black paint and a brush so he could distress the rungs of the ladders to give them a “more authentic look.” After the final touches to the ladders, he said: “Now, the Schooner looks more “shippy.”

After watching all this happen from the corner of my eye, I said to myself: “Now, here is a real craftsman!” What I saw there is a man motivated by one thing: doing everything he can to contribute to the enjoyment and the quality of the experience of the folks who will come to see the performances of The Christmas Schooner. That attitude is at the core of what makes a true craftsman, in any field of endeavor. Heart and passion is what drives a craftsman to perfect his/her techniques, acquire knowledge and use everything at his/her disposal to achieve that main purpose.

I invited Olaf to join my crew for the following day’s work. That next day, Olaf demonstrated another aspect of being a craftsman: respect for another craftsman’s knowledge. He was eager to join the decorating of the hull of the ship. He said that it looked fun and easy. However, Olaf quickly realized that even though it seemed easy, there was a lot more to it than met the eye. Wanting foremost to be of assistance, he retired from the decorative painting tools and limited himself to rollers and brushes for the rest of the day. I was very impressed with that.

As a team of craftsmen, those are qualities that we, at Painting in Partnership, strive to embody on every painting project. Our primary focus is to enhance the client’s quality of life through the painting and decorating work we do.

Passionate Craftsmen Inspired Chef Armando

House painting contractors who are passionate about craftsmanship gathered in Chicago on September 24-25 at the Glessner House for the 10th Annual PDCA Craftsmanship Conference. It attracted people from all over North America, even one person from the U.K.

Great craftsmanship is known to touch people deeply. It is also true that real craftsmen, through their passion, can inspire the people that come into contact with them in profound ways as well. At the conference, in a totally unexpected way, the truth of the last statement was made real in a vivid way.

The catering for our event was provided by Chef Jorge Armando who is the owner of Café Society , located next door to the Glessner House. On the first day, he was in and out with his other help; I hardly noticed him at all. However, on the second day, he was wearing a very artistic toque, along with his white chef’s attire; no way to miss him then!

After the completion of the conference, I was standing outside Jorge’s building while waiting for a colleague to join me. Jorge also happened to be standing outside, so I went up to him to thank him for his contribution to the conference. He then proceeded to tell me his impressions of the conference, which blew me away.

William Orpen's Le Chef de l'Hotel Chatham in Paris

William Orpen's Le Chef de l'Hotel Chatham in Paris - Courtesy of

Jorge told that, while going in and out of the conference room, he had been listening to the conversations taking place. He said that he had no idea people like us existed in America – painting contractors that care this much about their craft. “I can trust these people”, he said. “People need to know about you!” he added.

Although it was not formally discussed, there was another level to Chef Armando’s communication that day: his attire! His attire communicated: “I am a craftsman also and I belong to a long tradition like you guys do!” For hundreds of years, the toque has been a key element of the Chef attire. The many folds on a toque are believed to represent the many ways to cook an egg: many toques have exactly 101 pleats!

What happened to Chef Armando at the conference demonstrates that the passion that craftsman all share, irrespective of their work endeavors, has the power to inspire and move others in profound ways.

How Great Craftsmanship Touches People Deeply, Forever – Part 2

Two years ago, for her sixteenth birthday, I took my daughter to New York for a bite of the Big Apple and visit some of the sites I became familiar with, as a graduate student at NYU, during the early 1970s. One of these sites is officially known as The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. It is also nicknamed St. John the Unfinished! Being in the second century of its construction (started in 1892), John the Divine is following the tradition of the world’s grand churches: it might take another two or three centuries to complete the construction!

Cathedral Saint John the Divine in New York

Cathedral Saint John the Divine in New York City - Courtesy of

Saint John the Divine - West Entrance Detail

Saint John the Divine - West Entrance Detail

Many things contribute to this Gothic building’s remarkable qualities. One of them is the massiveness of the structure. The exterior is over 600 feet in length and 232 feet in height. The interior height of the nave is 124 feet! It ranks as the fourth largest Christian church building in the world.

Throughout history, the building of churches like these served as the training ground for generations of craftsmen, from stone masons/carvers, architects, carpenters, to many other trades. Not every generation carried the same level of commitment as the past generation. World events such as wars, famine, disease or other calamities also slowed down the construction process. What is it that prevented these buildings from remaining unfinished messes (some of these buildings took 4 or 5 hundred years to complete.)? I believe that the answer can be found in what follows.

Chapel's Stone Carving Detail

Chapel's Stone Carving Detail

In December of 2001, there was a fire that destroyed a portion of the building. The building was under restoration for many years and reopened in late 2008. A blessing from this fire was that it made necessary the cleaning of the interior stone elements of the building, which restored the pristine quality of the stone carvings.

In the back of the church, there are several chapels. Each one is made of stone carvings, each one more magnificent than the other. After going through these chapels, the words that came to me were: “ These people were so grateful to God, for being here in America, that they wanted to express their gratitude through their carvings.” In doing the research for this blog, I discovered that these seven chapels are actually known as the “Chapels of the Tongues”. They are nationalistic chapels, each representing the seven most prominent ethnic groups who immigrated to New York, upon the opening of Ellis Island in 1892. That fortunate discovery helps to make the case that great craftsmanship transcends time and touches people, generation upon generations, in a way that inspires them to carry on the work started by past generations and finish up those great structures, even if it takes centuries!

How Great Craftsmanship Touches People Deeply, Forever – Part 1

During this past Labor Day weekend, my wife said that she had a DVD she wanted to share with me. She said it is about the rebuilding of an old house. On Saturday evening, we sat down and watched the 55-minute documentary. I was very touched, at many levels, by the movie. I will first give you a little background on this old house and then share my insights.

The Old Tick Hall

The Old Tick Hall

Tick Hall is part of a grouping of seven shingled cottages and a clubhouse, built in the 1880’s, in an area called Montauk, at the tip of Long Island, on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic ocean. The land was purchased in 1879, for $151,000, by a wealthy New Yorker named Arthur Benson. His idea was to build cottages for his friends. So he did. He retained the services of the famous landscape architect Olmsted, along with Stanford White as chief architect for the project and the best craftsmen he could find.

The houses were built in a shingled style, in an era when American architecture was just taking its first steps towards developing an identity of its own. Because the houses were built in a short time span, they are a “period” frozen in time. They represent an important step in the development of American architecture.

Rebuilt, Restored and Recreated Tick Hall

Rebuilt, Restored and Recreated Tick Hall

Dick Cavett and his wife Carrie Nye, after falling in love with Tick Hall, purchased the house in 1966. In March of 1997, the house burned to the ground! In spite of having no drawings, the Cavetts decided to rebuild Tick Hall, but not just to rebuild it: they set out to recreate Tick Hall, authentically, in a way that recreates the feeling of being there. What is it that can inspire people to spend millions of dollars to recreate the “feeling” of a house?

I believe that the answer lies in two words: great craftsmanship! Great craftsmanship would not exist without passion, intensity and love. These three elements, when combined, create an irresistible pull. When exposed to it, people may not realize what is going on, but they want to slow down, pause, sit down and relax. People can just be! They are deeply nurtured. In some blessed instances, when that environment is taken away, a hole is left in one’s life, that one wants to fill, at any cost. I believe that the Cavetts’ story with Tick Hall is the epitome of the impact great craftsmanship can have on one’s life. The recreation of Tick Hall worked because the team that rebuilt it matched the passion, intensity and love of the original builders. By watching the movie, you witness for yourself those elements in the folks involved on the project.