When I was a kid, I always knew how my mother, Helen, had spent her day while I was at school by following the trail of sawdust through the house. The trail up and down the stairs to her studio on the second floor, through the family room to the kitchen, through the back hall to the laundry room, across the back porch and down the sidewalk when she went for the mail before lunch. As Jim joked in one of his “In the Interim” columns:
Every scale modeling family comes to the belief that sawdust, filtering through the house from the workbench, is the proper binder for a meatloaf in the kitchen, but the journal’s activities had pushed that expectation to ridiculous lengths! (Jim Dorsett, TSC 6:4, August 1982)
From 1963 until 1984, the workshops of Dorsett Miniatures and, later, Dorsett Publications were housed in the spare areas of our house: the back of the family room, the basement, a spare bedroom. Helen rarely worked on a single project at a time. Structures were in various states of construction; furniture parts and pieces were stacked in piles across her workbenches, and endless notes and sketches found purchase on nearly every flat surface in her studio. She knew where everything was and could account for even the smallest of spindles.
In 1984, with the completed rehabilitation of the Cambria Depot, the studio and offices moved to the front waiting rooms and sawdust disappeared as a component of meatloaf. While the publications offices, free of space constraints, took on a more ordered form, the studio and the production room continued to defy even the most committed of efficiency experts. In short, the hallmark of the TSC studios continued and continues to be creative chaos.
Creative chaos is the act of breaking away from what is established, ordered, and comfortable. It starts with the simplist of questions: “what if….?” Jim and Helen and a host of contributors always started with “what if…” What if we changed this model from Queen Anne to Chippendale? What if there was a better way to duplicate spindles? What if we could design a more accurate thicknessing sander? What if we could create a working ceiling fan in 1/12 scale?
Sketches and doodles were often the starting point on the workbench. Sketches with notes scrawled at different angles; with accumlated coffee stains, glue spots, and eraser marks as projects were defined and refined. While the final articles provided, and still provide, instruction for creating new models, the workshop notes and sketches provided insight into the creative chaos that generated the projects and defined the lives of those involved in The Scale Cabinetmaker, The Cabinetmaker’s Guides, and, now, The Community Planner.
From the Workbench of…: A Series of Shop Notes
“From the Workbench of…” Workshop notes from Helen and Jim Dorsett, TSC Volume 1, 1976-1977, including “A Touch of Grace” (cabriole legs), “The Slaw Bed,” and “The Whitman House.”
“From the Workbench of…: Shop Notes From Volume 2 of The Scale Cabinetmaker, August, 1977- July, 1978