I had read all of Krenov's books, and found his ideas to be inspiring beyond my enjoyment of their romanticism. His reputation precedes him, and he seems to be a man about whom there are divided opinions. Some clearly worship him as the person who expressed real craftsmanship in his furniture and writing, who led the way for a resurgence in intimate, careful work, while others found him to be hugely egotistical, rude and difficult. I must admit that I was a little nervous to meet the man about whom I had heard so many different accounts, and whose ideas I so admired.
I think it is best for me to describe our meeting and leave opinions for others to form. I arrived at Krenov's home/workshop, and was immediately surprised by its humble size. I eventually found Jim in his workshop, through the trees a little from the main house. He greeted me by saying, "Oh yes, you're the Australian aren't you?" - in a previous phone call he remarked how I sounded like I was from New Zealand, and I assumed that this was what he meant. I told him again that I am from England, and he invited me into his shop, which is an extremely warm (the heating was on in July in California), small, but very comfortable space with a lot of natural light. He invited me to sit down on a stool while he stood at his bench, and spoke for much of the time without looking in my direction, but when he directed his gaze at me I felt the intensity of it.
Initially Jim asked me about myself and my trip, essentially it seemed reminding himself of our previous contact. When he found that I had been to see Sam Maloof, he said, "Sam Maloof! There's only one thing I have to say about Sam Maloof - he's a very good promoter of Sam Maloof."
Jim spoke in a somewhat circular manner, in fact remarking that this was what he preferred - not to be too direct about things, but to talk around them. Much of what he said pointed to three things: devotion to your craft, intimacy with your work and love of wood, your material.
He showed me his planes and explained about how he couldn't make cabinets anymore due to his failing eyesight. In fact, he said that he has had no less than three operations to prevent him from going blind, and that he sees everything in a haze. This seemed to me a very sad occurrence, and not something that Jim has found possible to deal with completely. He told me about how he does a "little song and dance" for the students at the Inside Passage school once a week - giving lectures by telephone, which he seemed to find somewhat amusing but is also something of a lifeline to him after leaving the College of the Redwoods.
At some point he stopped speaking and asked me if I had anything to record our conversation with. I replied that I had brought my notebook, but have a good memory and tend to sit and write about my experiences after they have happened. He took exception to this, saying that "In this day and age there doesn't seem to be a good reason not to have a pocket tape recorder! That seems like a terrible error to me - that you've come all this way so unprepared. I don't mean to be rude, but you can't remember all of the things that I'm saying to write them in a notebook."
Once Jim realised that I had no tape recorder, he quickly became agitated and lost interest in talking to me. I tried to keep calm, and to keep the conversation going, but when I asked for his advice, he said, "I don't teach anymore! I don't like these questions, 'What advice could you give me MR. KRENOV? How do you do this MR. KRENOV?". He proceeded, "I'm sorry but I don't see the point of continuing, I don't think I have anything else to offer." I asked him if he wanted me to leave, and he said that he would never kick anyone out, but didn't see the point of continuing. Continue he did, for a little while, but then I thanked him for his time, "I have found your books and your furniture a great inspiration, and thank you for taking the time to meet me."
In all honesty I was flustered and somewhat angered by Jim's behaviour, but at the same time recognised that had obliged me by letting me meet him, and that being as kind to him as I could was the right thing to do. I am still baffled by that whole experience, and somewhat divided in my opinions of it and of Jim. In any case, that is what happened.