After all those years, his hands have never betrayed him. They firmly caresse the pieces of wood, gage its hardness. He checks for imperfections, rugosities and cracks. He welcomes them, anticipates the shapes they will draw on his creations. He designs around them. Under his hands, they become embroideries, vigorous veins, mysterious maps on the wood.
He works slowly, patiently, bending the wood piece to his will; a cup, a salad bowl, or a candle holder. His productions are simple, repetitive, but always carved from carefully chosen pieces of precious woods. He likes the solidity and the lightness of cherrywood, the scent and rosé tint of cedar, the wavy grain of maple and the deep texture of walnut. I have watched him working many times, his lips parted as though smiling, little drops of perspiration on his brow, his body arched over the wood taking shape, his hand moving fast, agile and precise. When he works, his frail body looks taller, projecting a long shadow on the wall over the shelves where all of his works are displayed.
A strong scent of wood reigns in his workshop. Like a forest smell on a hot summer day. Wood dust everywhere, making his lashes whiter than his age. In one corner of the room he has carefully stored the raw pieces of wood he collected. They are categorised by size, shape, colour, type of wood. He puts little stickers on some of the pieces with dates and places. Some are ready to be carved, some need to dry and age a little like a good bottle of wine. He knows each of them by heart and by hand.
There is some organised clutter, samples of woods, brushes and cloths, wood oils and wood files, sandpaper and some antique goggles he uses when he starts carving. They make him look like one of those first aviators on old photos. And he wears a long blue gown which enveloppes him like the chasuble of a priest or the surgical gown of a doctor. A priest surrounded by panelling and pieces of wood. A wood surgeon.
He had set up his woodwork bench right under a sky light. On the wall opposite, he had pinned drawings and pictures of the pieces he wanted to create; one day, maybe, if he had time, he would create them. Over the years, he had collected photos of wood sculptures, objects, tools, a crumpled article from the local paper about his first exhibition. He admires the work of others. He always felt he was an amateur, even after 13 years of woodworking. He turned to woodworking late after an obscure but respected academic life. He researched on a rare enzyme effect on dementia. At University, the Lab was his kingdom, his home and his shelter from his wife and five kids. It had nothing to do with his not loving his family, he just needed to escape. For 20 years, the Lab enabled his escape, with the added benefit that he was providing for his family. One day, some colleagues from a Swiss lab published faster than him on his enzyme. His funding was slowly withdrawn, his team redeployed, his PHD allocation reduced. He left his Lab, without looking back, and took on the solitary pursuit of woodworking. I say solitary, but I always feel the presence of all of his creations, of all shapes and forms, all kinds of precious woods, like breathing statues which keep him company. Their wooden surfaces mirror his eyes, brighter than ever, as his hands choose the next piece of wood they will carve.