One of the greatest things we can do as woodworkers and hobbyists is to share our passions with others. There are many organizations throughout the world that provide the opportunity to get started in woodworking and are geared toward people who either don’t have the resources to be able to get started, or who may have never thought to give it a try.
Two of these organizations are The Work of Our Hands and The Mikell Folk School, both based in Georgia and founded by Frank Allan, a former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and longtime woodworker and customer of Highland Woodworking. A few weeks ago, Frank stopped by our store and I had the opportunity to chat with him and find out a little more information about his wonderful organizations dedicated to furthering the art and love of woodworking within the community. Below is Part 1 of our conversation, where Frank discusses his start in woodworking and his first organization, The Work of Our Hands:
Highland Woodworking: How long have you been in GA?
Frank Allan: I was born outside of Chicago and lived some in Miami. We came to GA when I was about 9 years old during World War II. My Father was stationed at Oak Ridge and we came here to be closer to him. When the war ended he came back to Atlanta and worked as the Director of Operations at Emory, and so we stayed here.
HW: When did you first become interested in woodworking and how did you get started?
FA: I have always been interested in woodworking. My father had an old Sears scroll-saw sitting down in the basement so I got it and started doing things with it, like making toys for my grandchildren. Later I went off to the John Campbell Folk School where I did wood turning and then my office staff gave me a Jet lathe for Christmas. I have been doing that for about 15 years. I thought I was too old to do that and then I met Ed Moulthrop who was 80 years old and still wood turning. I asked him “how much of the day do you do this?” He said “well 8 hours a day.” He has a son named Phillip, who is one of the really great wood turners. They have a lot of their wood turning in the Smithsonian and the Museum of Art in NY. They make things you can fit a human being into. For these projects he had to make his own lathe and own tools because what they were doing was too big for the normal size tools. They also have a secret finish that they use. It is very expensive stuff.
HW: What is your favorite piece that you have made?
FA: When I was younger I built a classic sailboat and I could not get it out of the basement. We had to tear out the storm shutter to get it out.
In terms of wood turning I made a chess set and turned all the pieces. I think my greatest accomplishment was the chessboard. There is a way to make it where everything fits together perfectly. My grandchildren all play with it whenever they come over. I have 9 grandchildren and will have to decide who gets it. We might have to draw straws for it. I have done some shaker projects too.
HW: How did The Work of Our Hands get started?
FA: After I retired, I thought about what I wanted to do with my woodworking hobby. I thought about my John Campbell experience and I wanted to build upon that experience. The folk school experience comes out of the Danish folk school from the 19th century. It transformed the countryside of Denmark, which was very poor at the time, and the concept brought the skills of these rural people together and they trained. And lots of people did it and people made money and so forth. So that was what I was interested in and I thought how can you translate that into an urban setting so we can deal with inner-city poor people? And so I helped start The Work of Our Hands, which consisted of two arts and craft centers. The first is The Friendship Center at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in the Ormewood neighborhood of Atlanta and the other is at Emmaus House near Turner Field in Atlanta.
At Holy Comforter we work primarily with people with mental disabilities. People who have addictions and so forth. And then we have some neighborhood people who come as well. And at Emmaus House we work primarily with inner-city families and children. To start the programs we raised money and then bought all of the lathes from Highland Woodworking and then equipped the centers with the lathes, band saws, and a lot of other tools. The Georgia Wood Turners also gave the Work of Our Hands a lathe for our wood turning shop at Emmaus House, which was delivered by Harvey Henson who came back every Saturday to teach the young people in our Saturday program.
My goal has been to allow these people to gain skills that are marketable. Some of them get good enough to be able to make bowls and sell them. The Work of Our Hands used to run a gallery in Buckhead where we sold the pieces that people made on consignment, and the artists were able to make money when their pieces sold.
Later instead of the gallery, some of us figured there was a better way to get exposure and sell these pieces. We started a craft show/artist market at the Cathedral of St. Phillip, which runs the week before Thanksgiving. We make more money in four days than we ever made doing our gallery. Half of it goes to The Work of Our Hands and the other half goes to the artists who submitted their work.
To make a tax-deductible donation to the Work of Our Hands, please visit the following link HERE.
And don’t forget to be on the look out for the continuation of our interview with Frank Allan next week, where we discuss the Mikell Folk School.