A Single Defining Element

I found another good quote from the back issues of Woodwork. This one is from the article titled Judy Ditmer: The Power of Acceptance by Kerry Pierce in issue #45, from June 1997. It resonates with me, as this way of working is not unfamiliar to me.

“‘Stephen Jay Gould, the archaeologist and teacher… discussed a popular misconception about the work of archaeology and physical anthropology: the idea that you can take one bone and from that you can postulate the whole creature… an interesting idea with application in my work. Sometimes, I’ll start with the foot of the bowl. Maybe I’ll start with a curved foot, and it’s like that mythical one bone from which the archaeologist postulates everything. Once you’ve turned that foot, the entire bowl has been decided.’” – Judy Ditmer

Find this quote among others on my page titled Quotes from Woodwork.

An example of this is in my current project: a stool. I started by dressing a round 14” x 2” seat blank and 1-3/8” square legs.

None of these materials were particularly inspiring. Seeking a design element, I decided to rout channels through the legs. I used a 1/4” router bit, and made slots of lengths based on the Fibbonacci sequence. To accentuate the slots and soften their appearance, I rounded over their edges.


The resulting form clashed with the massive seat that I had roughed out, and had me rethinking the seat design. So, the key design element (the slots with rounded edges) pointed the way for the rest of the stool’s design.

2 thoughts on “A Single Defining Element

  1. I have enjoyed watching those legs develop on Twitter. I seem to remember Judy Ditmer being very honest (in a healthy way) about her depression. I read this in the middle of a very bad bout of my own, and I have to tell you that hearing someone so accomplished say that truly helped. This little snippet makes me want to look up the article, and then learn some more. I know she was teaching a lot in the ’90’s, but I haven’t heard much about her since then. Working in a science museum, as I do for my day job, we hear the “extrapolate from one bone” thing fairly often, mostly from skeptics. In practice, a paleontologist (not archaeologist, another common confusion we hear a lot) is able to compare that single metatarsal bone to all the metatarsals known from many different species, living in many different times, and then (subject to the input of other paleontologists) evaluate what’s unique about THIS metatarsal, and by extension, the animal it was part of. Which is a fantastic analogy for what you’re doing here with this Fibonacci stool, which I can’t wait to see in its final form.

  2. I look forward to seeing more on this piece, hope you share more here as I’m not really on twitter anymore and always enjoy your blog entries.

    As I read this, it made me think about the tendency (especially for hobbyists with limited numbers of projects) to try to do too many things on one piece, loosing focus on that one defining element and introducing an opportunity for it to become “disjointed””. good reminder to stay focused on highlighting and refining that central element.

I would be delighted if you left a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s