Hershel Mutka Weiss, fine woodworker, New Mexico. Photograph by Paula Hendricks.

Hershel Mutka Weiss,
fine woodworker, New Mexico

Paula Hendricks

I read once something by a carpenter who questioned his ability to write and the value of his participation in any kind of writing community. So, in a way, this is for him as well as an appreciation on my part of men who work with their hands.

My father was a Mr. Fixit. And when he died we wanted his tools–my siblings and I. We were all less interested in my mother’s dining room furniture. I loved his workbench, with his pliers, hammers, crescent wrenches, the vise and all those jars of washers and screws. Once, he owned a hardware store and to this day I love hardware stores and open bins of nails.

My work has always been “white collar”–communications, ad agencies, book development, writing–but I find myself drawn to images of men working with their hands. The photo above is one of a talented New Mexican woodworker and the dynamic quality of his hands on the lathe, the sensuality of the curling ribbons of wood… all these physical connections are so very powerful to me.

This appreciation made it easy and enjoyable to work on two books I co-authored with a builder. It was a joy to watch adobe walls and houses made of tires emerge from the sand hills.

I love bridges and buildings. I love Pittsburgh because along the river are these huge huge gears rusting away from the times of great building–of the Carnegies and the Mellons and the steel works–examples of what men can build with their hands.

I still carry in my car the canvas tool kit my father made (cut and sewed and filled) for me when I got my first car. I have the snowshoes he remade when the originals fell apart. I live in San Francisco and really I have no need for snowshoes, but they are in the trunk of my car with many other things he gave me as well–snow chains, socket sets, jumper cables, cans of WD40 and rolls of duct tape.

I miss being able to ask him how to fix things. I have had to compensate in many ways for this loss. Maybe it’s why I feel compatible with computer geeks, builders, and artists. And why I take pictures of tools, artists’ hands, machinery, and details of the built environment.

Or maybe I just like to watch men work. Whatever it is, it works for me.


Find out more about Paula Hendricks at paulahendricks.com


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