A lot has happened since this page on the old site was last updated, far too long ago – so some important updating is needed!
Most importantly, I married Hilary Stock, a fellow musician, in 2003. Since 2004 we have been living on the wonderful Acton Scott Estate, deep in the south Shropshire hills midway between Wenlock Edge and the Long Mynd. A huge move from the flat in Acton, West London, where I’d lived since 1983. We now have a cat, hens and ducks and as we are just next to the famous Acton Scott Working Farm Museum we are also surrounded by sheep, cows, turkeys, geese, pigs, heavy horses and a donkey. This was also where the recent popular BBC2 series ‘Victorian Farm’ was filmed – and we were lucky enough to get to know the presenters during their year up here as much of it was filmed outside our kitchen window – and we also appeared as extras in a couple of episodes. I even played flute in one …
I didn’t start my professional life as a box maker, or as a woodworker of any kind. My original training was as a musician, studying flute and classical guitar at the Royal College of Music in London. Armed with this unrivalled training in the field of classical music I left the college in 1976, forsook the flute completely and joined a rock band called 64 Spoons as bass player. This kept me busy for a while and during this period I did my first ever professional writing work, doing some articles for ‘Musicians Only’, a short-lived offshoot of ‘Melody Maker’ that was around at the time. The band ceased to exist around 1980 for all the usual reasons [mainly no recording contract] and there is now a posthumous CD available called ‘Landing on a Rat Column’. It now seems as though we made it after all … we’re on Wikipedia!
In the early 80’s I continued playing in a variety of styles from jazz and rock to classical. But it was basically a period of indecision, repose and regrouping. Woodwork had always been an interest and during this time I did some part time courses at the London College of Furniture [now London Guildhall University], I studied wind instrument repair/restoration and guitar making – I still have a half built guitar to prove it. I also did some teaching and worked as a cycle messenger and lorry driver.
|A VERY out of date picture ~ my first playing job||Equally out of date ~ my first writing job|
In 1986 an offer to share a workshop with an antique restorer friend started me thinking about using some of my enthusiasm and interest in wood to real benefit. I restored musical instruments for a time – but I soon decided I wanted to actually make something.
I was fascinated by boxes, and still am. Isn’t everyone? … boxes contain things and, more importantly, HIDE things from view. Human nature being what it is one naturally wants to know what is inside a closed box – so a natural reflex is to open it, and if it’s locked you really want to open it. What is it that is being so carefully protected, or hidden – what can it be that justifies this special treatment, particularly if it is an elaborate and valuable box.
I wanted to create these ‘precious’ and fascinating items – the ‘jewellery’ of the cabinet makers art – and this also suited the logistics of being in a small, shared workshop surrounded by chests of drawers, tables, chairs and desks. Actually I had made my first box around the time I moved into the workshop and this was so well received that I decided to phase out the musical instrument work to concentrate on the box making. Things just took off from there and I’ve been making boxes ever since.
Many keen and talented designer/makers leave college with a diploma in this or that and immediately have to make a living from it. This necessarily ‘deep end’ approach can often lead to failure and results in there being many potentially good but ultimately frustrated makers who turn to teaching or another area altogether. Earning as a musician I have always been fortunate to be able to take the time to develop my own designs and techniques, un-shackled by the need to earn a reliable living from it in the short term. In fact, it could be said that I had, and still have, two distinctly dodgy careers going in tandem.
I have also been uninhibited by any full-time formal training in woodwork – and whilst this certainly means there are gaps in my overall knowledge, my concentrating in such a specific area as boxes has led to my approaching some fundamental processes afresh.
And perhaps this lack of training has led me to write the books I have. The first, ‘The Book of Boxes’, was published in 1993 by Stobart Davies and the second, ‘Fine Decorative Boxes: Designing & Making Original Works of Art’, by Sterling in 1998. Both titles have been well received and have sold well. Click here or go to ‘Books’ in the main menu for more details, reviews of these and info on forthcoming titles. Both current titles are still available from me and a new one is in the pipeline.
There is a certain amount of art and craft in my ancestry – my Great Grandfather was the watercolourist, Tom Rowden, seen here posed in the style of the period with one of his pictures. My brother owns the picture he is working on in this image.
Music has always been an important part of my life, both as a performer and teacher. Although I studied the modern [Boehm] flute I have done very little professional playing on this and in fact found it a boring and one-dimensional instrument to study. This was certainly partly my failing and I don’t mean to damn the modern instrument out of hand, but it always seemed to me that the trade off between facility, homogeneity and projection/volume on the one hand and beauty of sound on the other has always left me rather dissatisfied. I found the Boehm flute particularly unrewarding for the Baroque music that I loved. The ‘modern’ instrument seemed at home playing the late C19th and early C20th French repertoire – I even quite enjoyed playing some of it
So, in 1986, around the time I moved into my London workshop, I fell in love with and started to play the Baroque flute. When I was still studying at the RCM I had heard Stephen Preston and Trevor Pinnock playing on period instruments in a small church in Hampstead but I was rather under-whelmed: the trills were out of tune, it was quiet and it was such a … different sound. Being young and wanting technical perfection the limitations of these historic instruments, and particularly the flute, were obvious. I have now studied with Stephen and understand exactly what he was getting at – and I wish I’d started earlier! IÕve made up for lost time and since then have played with many period instrument groups such as Florilegium, The Gabrieli Consort, The King’s Consort and The Australian Chamber Orchestra. I also appeared in Jonathan Miller’s BBC part-dramatised performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and in ‘Eroica’, a dramatisation for the BBC of the first performance of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony.
But I have avoided getting too seriously involved in instrument making, which would be the obvious product of the combination of music and wood. I have a huge respect for instrument makers – I have made myself a Baroque flute and about one and a half guitars and understand the discipline and accuracy necessary to produce an instrument that is both beautiful and functional, particularly when making an exact historic copy. I prefer the inherent freedom in making boxes whose only real requirements are that they should open and close, contain what they are intended to contain and please the eye.
I enjoy the combination of music and wood – sharing my time between making, writing, demonstrating, performing and teaching. Precariously juggle, some would have it. Maybe so – but I enjoy the combination of music and wood and I wouldn’t dream of giving any of it up.
Contact Andrew Crawford and find out more about the woodworking courses and classes in wood craft that are on offer. Expert tuition in making jewellery boxes, decorative boxes and other beautiful handcrafted fine boxes.