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An Austin-based furniture-maker crafts a casket befitting of his grandmother
Austin-based designer and furniture-maker Michael Yates left a high-paying career in electrical engineering to pursue his true passion, woodworking, in 2003. Since that time, he’s gone from a simple, one-man shop-to leading a team of craftsmen who turn out a variety of items including tables, chairs, mirrors, and built-ins. But it was a request from his grandmother that sparked what was perhaps, his most important work: a casket befitting of his family’s matriarch.
If this short documentary produced by Dark Rye-an online magazine produced by Whole Foods Market, oddly enough-doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, I’m not sure anything will.
Incidentally, Yates is no slouch when it comes to furniture design. He took home a 2013 Best of Design award from Core77 (an online industrial design magazine) for his Giacomo Rocker.
An Undertaking from Dark Rye on Vimeo.
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A touching piece...
I was honored with a request by our neighbors son's to do the same for their mother when she passed away suddenly one evening from a heart attack.
They took me into the barn and showed me a pile of 150 year old reclaimed 5/4 tongue and groove walnut flooring, requesting that I used it for the casket. I culled through the stack and found pieces that would bring character to the final work. With some help...we had it finished in 2 days and had it ready for her service.
To see the casket with her in it was moving...my eyes were constantly tearing up. She had become a dear friend of ours...and it was a great loss.
To collaborate, and actually let the person SEE your work must be much more rewarding.
Yup, this was a very touching piece. It caught my eye because I'm in the process of designing an urn to house the cremains of my two grandparents - who are from Cuba. Right now I'm trying to figure out exactly how many board feet of Cuban mahogany I need to get my hands on. I'm thinking of building a beautiful mahogany box and then having a copper insert (box) that is brazed shut, witht the remains inside. That fits into the mahogany for a nice hermetic seal forever. We'll see. Yet another project I probably don't have time for, but it's an important one.
Anybody here ever braze copper? Is it relatively easy? Seems simple enough to me.
It is amazing what woodworking does for our hearts and minds. This wonderful film brought back so many memories of my grandmother. I am closer to this young mans grandmothers age and I haven't thought about her for some time.
I remember the first woodworking project I did was to make a simple wooden latch that had broken on her gate. She was so grateful. Was that the experience that started my love for this hobby? I hope so.
My Father, my Mother, her sister and that sister's husband are all interred in caskets designed and built in my home shop. In my case these projects were all completed--with the exception of my Mother's--in less than four days time from design to delivery. All included personalized detail work--carvings, inscriptions, custom turnings, interior details and, yes, touches of humor--suggested and/or contributed by many family members and close friends. They were very personal farewells that also served to move those closest to our loved ones through that first stage of healing after the death while at the same time creating a dear final shared memory of the deceased. What is different about my experience and appeals to me most about Michael Yates' project is his grandmother's role. Her initiation of the conversation and her hand in the results from beginning to end are a great gift. My Mother--last to pass of the four for whom I have been privileged to provide final resting places--knew full well what was likely coming from me and the rest of her family after her passing. She loved and had participated in what we'd done for the others who had preceded her. But as her days counted down she could not bring herself to discuss what she might want. I urge anyone inclined to or asked to build a casket for a family member or beloved friend to embrace the opportunity as Michael Yates did. The experience is as deeply spiritual as this documentary portrays…and beyond. If the loved one for whom the work is intended is able and willing their participation makes it that much more meaningful but, if not, it is still one of the loveliest and most satisfying ways for a craftsperson to celebrate a life at its close. Likewise creating containers for cremated remains. Thanks for sharing this very personal journey, Michael.
Quite an honor..............no more words needed...
What a wonderful gift.
For years, I have been designing coffins for my wife and myself - in my head. I will soon be 65 and I think I need to actually start building them. But this is so much more meaningful - the connection between generations - the care and love shared between and manifested in this beautiful expression. Wouldn't it be great if we all had children/grandchildren who, with loving hands, built our last resting place for us?
Wow....anybody got a tissue....?
All credit due.....
Good stuff - thanks for sharing Ed. I've seen some other Dark Rye films here and there - mainly on vimeo.
Look at today's the Wall Street journal for a headline A coat With One Major Wrinkle for an astounding woodcarving.
Carl Swensson's woodworking skills go very, very deep. But they go wide as well.
Grids and cutouts define a practical piece
Fast, fun approach to making a comfortable, casual seat
In this video Michael finishes the first of the three boxes. Gluing-up, planing, sanding and finishing bring a new piece of art to the world.
In this video Michael starts work on the second box, a carved and painted Saddle lid box.
Michael begins carving the saddle lid box with his ripple pattern along the top. Then turns to his 5/30 gouge to texture the sides of the box. This isn't work…
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