Monday, December 15, 2008

The New Buzzword: Changes

For months before and after the elections, all we kept hearing was the word "Changes." I'm not one to pick up on current buzzwords and slang that quickly (I adhere to classic English language and grammar), but "change" is appropriate to the future of my craft.

The big change is that as of January 1, 2009, Coog Instruments & Folk Art will be no more. Ron Cook Studios will be the official name, being more descriptive of my work space and less limiting on the type of artwork I create. And... as of today, all newsworthy updates will be posted here.

Work in Progress

I recently completed my first test keyboard for the future Chapter House Portative Organ. If you don't remember from past postings, my wife, Stella, and I visited the Westminster Abbey several years ago when we were touring London. We took a Pipeorgan-test1Verger tour that allowed us to see the oldest parts of the Abbey, dating back to the 1200's. One of the older sections was known as the Chapter House. That was where the monks held their abbey business meetings as well as meetings with and by medieval rulers, lords, and businessmen. On two walls are 14th century paintings depicting the judgement and resurrection. All the richly garbed ecumenical figures encircling heavenly host are all playing instruments of the period. I've reproduced all of the stringed instruments, and for years have planned to one day to build the portative organ. That time is getting close. I've made all the pipes, and now I'm working on tests of the wind chest and keys. My first attempt works, but not well enough yet. Too many leaks. Soon I'll have another test piece to try.

Another piece that's coming right along is Banjo-Dulcimer #3. This is another of my 100% salvage wood pieces, made of old Banjodulcimer-bodyworkmahogany, from a garden side table, Douglas fir, from a Portland, Oregon, warehouse that was demolished, and various woods from the scrap pile of a local salt-water spear gun maker. I'm finishing up the head carving, but that's not to be seen yet until the Banjo-Dulcimer is finished.

New Works

I've sold five dulcimers in the last couple of months, and that's depleted my Early American inventory quite a bit. Last week I Dulcimer-fingerboards started to rebuild the inventory by cutting the slots and installing frets on seven dulcimer fingerboards. I still have to dress the frets (file the ends smooth), and prepare more head and tailpiece blanks to get them ready for carving.

Last week I journeyed to Watsonville to take advantage of a year-end inventory reduction sale at a hardwood lumber yard. I was able to get some nice pieces of cherry, maple, black walnut, and poplar for as much as 50% off. Some decent pieces were only 25 cents a foot, which are perfect for cutting into blanks for my future chess men/women carvings. Much of the other wood I've already cut and milled into thin pieces for new instrument tops, backs, and sides. I often use mostly salvaged and recycled material, but I do like to use new woods on special carvings and instruments. The lumberyard I purchase wood from is FSC certified, which basically means they sell responsibly harvested woods. They don't purchase any lumber that might come from areas that are damaging the environment. I stay away from tropical woods, unless they're salvaged, and tend to use mainly domestic hard and soft woods.

There will be more "changes" coming later next year, and I'll keep them posted on this blog.

It's been a while since my last posting, and much of the reason for my tardiness is because we've had some terrible internet connection problems that I've only recently (today) solved. Ever since before the election, our internet connectivity was intermittent to non-existent. It finally shut down completely last week. No internet. No e-mail. After what seemed like hours of trying to get AT&T to solve the issue, and going round and round with automated phone support and getting nowhere, I bit the bullet and opted for a cable modem. After running a new cable line to my office area, it took very little time to hook it up and get surfing again. Web pages appear almost before I finish typing in the web address. In other words, pretty damn fast. E-mail is running great now, and I can finally answer e-mails that piled up the last few days. (I used dial-up one time to get my e-mail, but everything was so-o-o-o slow.)

Anyway, change is happening. I'm changing my name, changing my focus, and changing into my work cloths so I can get back into my studio.

Onward through the fog!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Coming Soon!

Coog Instruments and Folk Art will be going the way of the dodo soon. Early in 2009, it will become extinct. However, around the same time, a new entity will emerge, and it will be called "Ron Cook Studios".

This new company will pave the way for me to expand my wood carving and sculptural creativity into places where no one has gone before. I will be able to direct my interests into not only musical sound sculptures, but also into other artistic and sculptural pursuits, both functional and decorative.

Stay tuned as the evolutionary drama unfolds!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Anyone for Chess?

It's been a while since my last post, mainly because I've been working very hard on instruments more than folk art, and also due to the hard disk crash that took me away from my work for several days. However, today that changed a little, since I started doing more work on the chessboard I've tinkered with for several months. It was time to sand the uneven surface to make it an even surface. That took several passes through my drum sander.

Since my drum sander is only 10 inches wide, I had to pass the chessboard through twice, turning it around to get both sides. Fortunately, my sander has an open end and can sand pieces up to 20 inches wide in two passes.

Today I also ripped some maple strips to carve and mount on the board as a decorative frame. As soon as that's done, I'll start thinking more about what type of figures I want to carve as chessmen. More to come!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Hard disk crash! My old main computer, an aging Dell 1st generation Pentium 4, ate the hard drive, and it's taken two days to get it running again.We knew it was having problems because we kept hearing unusual squeaking sound coming from the computer's case. Fortunately, I was able to back everything up before it finally quit. It took several re-boots to get everything, but I saved all the data before the final gasp. I went out and bought a new hard drive, installed Windows XP Professional on it, and spent the last two days re-loading software and data files. That kept me from doing what I really wanted to do: work on my new instruments and folk art pieces.Tomorrow's another story. I have to make time to have photos taken of all my new pieces. My photographer had time on Friday to schedule me in, so I'll be taking around 10 things to get photographed. When I get the photo files, I'll set them up for the web and blog, and, of course, for submitting for show jurying.Stay tuned.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Lady Libertree

Yesterday I finished another birdhouse to submit to "Birds + Their Dwellings" at the Museum of Craft + Design. I call this one "Lady Libertree". (Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled nesters.)

The deadline for submissions is July 10, so I might have time to do one more. The exhibition, in the Museum Shop, runs from October 2 to November 14 and is open to crafts in clay, fiber, glass, wood, and metal.

As the prospectus says, "This show is inspired by the amazing variety of shapes, forms and designs of birds and the places they dwell. Found on every continent from the Artic to Antarctica, birds have found an enduring place in our cultures as figures of myth, art, food and pop icons." The show is open to all U.S. artists, and artwork must be original and made in the past 2 years.

Another idea is forming in my head. Guess I'll have to go do some carving.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Say Ah-h-h!

Ron Cook Studios has been pretty active lately. A few weeks ago, I got a call-for-entries notice from the San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design. The subject: "Birds + Their Dwellings."

Almost immediately, my mind started thinking about a type of birdhouse. It would have a hand-carved face, sort of a green man or wood spirit face, but with an open mouth for the birds to enter through. Then I though it would be great to have a long tongue sticking out for birds to perch on.

I'm given quite a bit of urban orchard wood, as well as salvaged woods from old furniture and demolished buildings. Usually, I resaw logs into boards that I let dry for a few years before using. Shorter, small logs and branches, I set aside to use for things like carved spoons, whistles, or other type of folk art, like the bird house I thought up.

I took a piece of cherry and hollowed it out. I drilled a 1 1/2" hole, carved a mouth around it, then carved the rest of the face to match the mouth. For the perch, I used some salvaged purpleheart and carved it into the shape of a long tongue.

The base hides 1/2" threaded pipe and inserts and can be unscrewed to change to a longer pole for displaying outside. The wood is salvaged mahogany and a piece of cherry branch, hollowed out for the pipe to fit through. I call this piece "Say Ah-h-h."

I plan to make another similar birdhouse soon so I can have two of them to submit to the San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design. The deadline is July 10, so I have a little time to get another one completed.

Onward through the fog.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Life's a Beach

Here I sit, just a 1/2 block from the Monterey Bay, with its migrating whales, nesting cormorants, porpoises, otters, and seals, enclosed in my home office typing away on my laptop. The weather is pleasant, and I should really be outside walking along West Cliff Drive to enjoy the scenery.

There are new things happening in Ron Cook Studios. A chess board is nearing completion, and a hand-carved bird house is in progress for a special gallery showing (if I get juried in).

The chess board is only the start of a very ambitious project to carve a full set of chess figures. With all I have to do for Coog Instruments, this will probably take a few years to complete.

The Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco sent out a call to artists to create works relating to avian topics. The first thing I thought of was a hand-carved bird house, carved like a person's head, with the mouth as opening and a tongue sticking out as a perch. I need to work on this quickly, since the deadling for submit pictures is in June.

No pictures yet on any of these works, since they're not far enough along to show. Instead, I think I'll take a break and walk down to the end of the street to watch the Wednesday night sail boat races. It's Wet Wednesday here in Santa Cruz, so called because if you show up at the harbor with a six pack, someone will invite you to go sailing with them. Maybe?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Little Carvings

Folk Art is the arts and crafts produced to fulfill a function by someone who is not artistically trained. In other words, "Joe Blow" needs a ladle to dip fresh water out of his well bucket, so he carves or whittles one. Today, I needed a handle, or pull, for a new maple vanity door, so I carved one instead of wasting the gas to drive to the hardware store to get some little doodad made in China.

It's a very small, but "grabable" pull around the same size as a regular cabinet drawer or door pull. I took a small piece of maple and turned the base on my mini lathe, then carved a small woman's face for the grip. It turned out ok. I put on two coats of tung oil, polished it, then installed it. Here 'tis:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Big Plans, Little Plans

Ron Cook Studios houses my main business, Coog Instruments & Folk Art. (Web: Blog: Ron Cook Studios is also the location for my original, non-musical sculptures and carvings.

I'm getting into an artistic growth period where my creativity seems to want some change. My first love will always be Early American and Early European (medieval) stringed folk instruments, but my mind's been reeling with new ideas and concepts, all within the category of folk art. I've been heavily influenced by my visits to the Museum of Folk Art in New York, especially this last year with the fantastic "From the Synagogue to the Carousel" exhibit." It's hard to put into words how great the folk art carvings were, from the simplest and elementary to the grandest and opulent. It was awe inspiring.

I've always wanted to carve a full-sized carousel animal, and perhaps one day I will. However, for now, I plan to do some smaller carvings this year under the Ron Cook Studios banner. I've ideas, but not yet into the planning stages. Once I get some started and far enough along, I'll take some pictures and post them here.

Onward through the fog.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

School Days, School Days

I want to thank Don Carmen and the students in his Wood 1 and Wood Sculpture classes at San Benito High School for the nice reception and interest in my work.

It was an honor to be able to give talks at both classes and discuss my craft. The students seemed interested and some of their questions were intelligent and thoughtful. I hope I, in some way, inspired some of them that a future in arts and crafts can be an attainable goal.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

New products?

Whistles, nutcrackers, pen and holder. All carved!

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Baulines Craft Guild at the Contemporary Craft Market

Back in the 1970s, I journeyed up to Bolinas to attend one of the most memorable craft shows I've ever attended. It was a small gathering of woodworkers, potters, jewelers, fabric and glass artists in a forest glen on the north side of Bodega Bay. I saw musical instruments of all types by Steve Klein and others. I saw some of the most unique furniture designs I'd ever seen at the time. My eyes were wide with excitement seeing all the wonderful craft creations. This was one of the first Master shows put on by the Baulines Craft Guild.

I envied all those craft artists. At the time I was a blue-collar worker, who had left the minimum/minimal pay job as a professional musician, to go to the steady, well-paying labor of a union carpenter. I had art in my soul. Since grade school, I always drew, wrote, and created "things" that I thought of as art. Fortunately, my parents were supportive of anything I attempted, and always told me that I should learn from my mistakes or failures so I'd be better next time. In the 1970s, I was still trying to bring out the art or craft that I knew was inside me. Shortly after seeing the beautiful works of those early Baulines Craft Guild members, I did find my craft: stringed musical instruments.

Jump ahead around 30 years or so. In October of 2006 I was voted into the Baulines Craft Guild as a Master Member. This was due to an exhibit of one of my instruments in a gallery show in Walnut Creek, California. It was a juried exhibition of crafts that artists from all over the country had pieces accepted, including a few Baulines members. The director of the Baulines attended and was intrigued by my rebec with a hand-carved head and body of a gargoyle figure I called "Quasimodo." She asked for me to apply, with her as my sponsor. I did, and soon became a member of the Baulines, a guild I wanted to be part of for over 30 years.

Being part of the Baulines Craft Guild is not just meetings and the occasional member show, it is also about teaching what you know through education and apprenticeship and also taking part in group events. One such group event is coming up this weekend at Fort Mason, San Francisco. It is the Contemporary Craft Market and runs Saturday and Sunday, March 8 and 9, from 10 to 5. A booth was made available for the Baulines Craft Guild and several members will be showing pieces as well as spending time there to answer questions and talk about their works. I will be there Sunday, from 2 to 5.

And, if you want to see more of my work, you can always go to my web site at So, 'til next time, onward and upward.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Welcome to the new Ron Cook Studios Blog.

I just got back from the American Craft Show in Baltimore a few days ago and had a wonderful time there. We decided to reserve a corner booth this year, and it turned out to be a wise decision. I was able to ship fewer display panels, and we bought new pedestals to display my newest work. I also advertised in the American Craft Magazine and the Wholesale and Retail programs, which brought in quite a few people into my booth. Of course, having a good location in a giant convention center where 750 exhibitors are selling is often a luck of the draw, but we had a good location near the food court.

One of the best things about the American Craft Shows is meeting the other artists. We had great neighbors in the booths around us, and, I think, began some beautiful friendships. I look forward to seeing them all again. (The picture is Holly Fisher, the industrial prom queen, and wonderful artist blacksmith.)

March 2, 2008

After a major show like the American Craft Show in Baltimore, it takes me several days to get back into the swing of things. I do go through a short period of "post-show depression" (thinking of what I could have done, should have done, didn't do, etc., etc., etc.), but today broke out of it with a vengence. Not only did I start work on three new instruments and complete several pieces of folk art, I seem to have gotten another zither repair. I've worked on several zithers now, and Google searches for zither repair put me right at the top of the list. When I returned from Baltimore, there were three zither inquiries in my e-mail inbox. So far, one is ready to contract me to restore her old Slovenian zither. I'll keep you all posted on the progress.

Tomorrow I pick up all my crates that came back from the Baltimore show, then I have to get ready to be part of the Baulines Craft Guild booth at the Contemporary Craft Market in San Francisco. (Ft. Mason, San Francisco, March 8 and 9, 10 to 5pm.) Then I need to get a presentation ready for a talk I'm to give for a sculpture and woodshop class at San Benito High School in Hollister, California. That's in one of my old stomping grounds in what is often called the "earthquake capital." Hollister is where I first went to college back in 1964 and also became a semi-serious folk singer. (That endeavor seemed to take precedence over my studies).

The evening and dinner preparations beckon.