This is the first place I have visited that I have fallen in love with - there is such a wonderful air here. PT is on the north-eastern point of the Olympic Peninsula, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. The place is divided by a bluff into "Uptown" and "Downtown": surprisingly, uptown being on top of the cliff, downtown being along the water's edge. Much more straightforward than my home (Downley being the village on the hilltop, High Wycombe being the town in the valley...). So Port Townsend is happily seated between the mountains to landward on the peninsula and the calm, crystal waters of the Sound leading out to the Pacific. Even better, on a clear day the snowy peaks of the Cascades and Mount Rainier frame the horizon.
Port Townsend is a beautiful, calm town that has something going on round every corner. Everyone seems to know each other, but there is no sense of the suffocation of privacy that can come from such a situation. I think the people here have invested themselves in the place and the community, so that everyone plays a part in making it the place it is. So there is sailing, rowing, the nascent woodworking school, book presses and publishers, music and film festivals, great bars with locally caught and reared food and locally brewed beer (which is excellent) the wooden boat festival and school, and every kind of craft: furniture, jewellery, pottery,weaving spinning and boat-building. The list seems practically endless. My point is that nobody seems to go to work, come home and watch TV, go to bed, go to work... Nobody is isolating themselves from everyone else, and that is an incredible thing to experience. This is a vibrant community.
I had arranged to meet Tim Lawson, one of the founders of Port Townsend School of Woodworking, who took it upon himself to be the most extraordinarily generous guide to the place and the people. We met at the school, where I also met Jim Tolpin (as their website says, yes, THAT Jim Tolpin). Jim, Tim and a third founder, John Markworth, who I didn't meet, started the PT School of Woodworking over a year ago, so it is the new kid on the block. The school is still finding its feet (with bench drawers being put in and box upon box of tools to be unpacked) but is functioning in a great space at Fort Worden State Park - the old electricity plant for the fort! They have made an excellent conversion of the space, which is surprisingly light and spacious, despite the some feet thick concrete walls (in case of explosions or fire, of course). It seems to me that the school has been created for all the right reasons: all three founders have come to a point where they wish to teach others what they know, and boy do they have a deep well of knowledge and experience!
Tim is also English, and moved from big software (Lotus) to furniture making only a few years ago. Having seen his furniture in the flesh, I was surprised by this fact, as his work is some of the most ingenious I have ever seen - his bird wing inspiration may be a bit literally translated, but his craft is extremely refined.
Tim in his workshop.
He and his charming wife Teresa moved to Port Townsend from Cambridge, Mass. and seemingly have not looked back since. It was interesting to talk to Tim as an immigrant to the U.S., and he certainly has no doubts or misgivings about moving stateside - the only things he misses are the Beeb and the Guardian! Given that moving abroad is something that my partner Sophie and I have been giving serious thought to, it was valuable to get Tim's insight.
Tim calls the deer (which are around in great number) "rats on stilts". They eat his flowers, and he is inclined to hold it against them. I thought they were rather cute though!
Jim is an unassuming man with a razor-sharp philosophical mind. He possesses the extraordinary ability to find the core of a thought or idea and express it succinctly - it was amazing! Within five minutes of meeting him he had summed up why I was on this trip and where I wanted to head with woodwork. He asked me about my trip and I explained the purpose in my somewhat flowing manner, and he said, "So, basically you're..." followed by the best summing up of my motives as I have heard! I wish I could remember the exact conversation...
When I mentioned my astonishment at his ability to do this, he said that perhaps he was a reductionist: someone who can put complex notions across clearly and succinctly. So it came as no surprise that when I asked him what excites him about woodworking, he said, "If it rolls or floats, I like it." (He has recently completed a reproduction Gypsy wagon, and has built several watercraft). Enough said, really.
Tim and I outside the Port Townsend School of Woodworking on the morning of my departure. No wonder he looks so happy.