March 26, 2023


Digital Art Community

New: ‘James Krenov: Leave Fingerprints’

Editor’s note: Today we are launching pre-publication sales of “James Krenov: Leave Fingerprints” by Brendan Gaffney. The book will ship in late November. If you order before the book ships, you will receive a free pdf download of the book at checkout. The book is $44.

I’d never heard of James Krenov until I started work for Popular Woodworking magazine in 1996. Growing up, the woodworking books in our house were practical. My dad needed them to build the houses (mostly by hand) on our farm.

One day I asked my boss at the magazine, Steve Shanesy, how he became a woodworker. His reply was a story that I have now heard repeated hundreds (maybe thousands) of times.

“I read ‘A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook’ by James Krenov and ‘The Soul of a Tree’ by George Nakashima,” Steve explained. “I left my job in public relations and went to a furniture school to learn the craft.”

I was astonished that a woodworking book could change the course of someone’s life. All the woodworking books I’d read were dry as a dead deerfly. So I bought “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook” (the 1991 Sterling edition) at a used book store and read it in one day.

Krenov’s writing was intoxicating and friendly. He talked about ideas that had never crossed my mind. He eschewed originality in design. He tried to make furniture that was perfect but did not insist upon itself. He composed grain the way a painter works with a brush.

Who was this guy? There were scant details of his life in the book. But what he revealed made him seem exotic. Born in Russia, lived in Alaska and Sweden. And now he teaches at a remote school in California.

But how did Krenov become this person? And how did he become such an incredible woodworker and writer?

More than 20 years later, I asked Brendan Gaffney those two exact questions while we were sitting in a bar in Covington, Ky. Brendan had attended the fine woodworking program at the College of the Redwoods (now the Krenov School) and had ended up in Covington (a bit ironically) for a stint at Popular Woodworking Magazine.

This conversation with Brendan launched the exhaustive research that would become “James Krenov: Leave Fingerprints.” For the last few years, Brendan has interviewed more than 150 people attached to Krenov’s life. He has pored over thousands of photos, documents and press clippings to piece together the story of Krenov’s long and interesting life.

I try not to describe our books with over-used and gaudy language. But Krenov’s story qualifies as a bonafide epic.

Thanks to Brendan’s dogged determination, “James Krenov: Leave Fingerprints” is a fully realized portrait of Krenov. It answers every question I ever had about the man, and helped me understand why he was such a man of huge contradictions. On the one hand, Krenov’s writing was warm and friendly. But he had a personal reputation of being difficult. While some students adored him, others found him critical and sharp-tongued.

Brendan’s biography does not shy away from this contradiction. In fact, after learning how Krenov struggled to find his place in the world, his writing, teaching and work makes much more sense now. After editing Brendan’s manuscript, I re-read “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook,” and the book was even more compelling and interesting as a result of knowing Krenov’s full life story.

We are thrilled to bring you “James Krenov: Leave Fingerprints,” and we have tried to make a book that befits its subject matter. The book is printed on heavy 80# coated matte paper for crisp image reproduction. The pages are sewn and taped together to create a permanent binding. And the whole thing is wrapped in cotton-covered board and a 100# matte dust jacket. We think this book will be a joy to hold and to read.

— Christopher Schwarz