The Dandelion Chandelier Luminary Café is the place to find a series of personal interviews with fascinating people who are stellar achievers in their chosen field of endeavor. Our Luminaries are sharing their origin stories, life philosophies, secret songs, guilty pleasures and hidden talents. It’s guaranteed to be illuminating.
Tell us your life philosophy in five words.
“Little and often make much.” Just everyday do something. Put one piece of wood on that boat. At the end of a year or two you did something extraordinary.
How did you decide to do the work you’re doing now?
I had never built anything in my whole life. I’d never used a saw, never was a woodworker until about two years ago. I was 38 and my dad passed away and he had a big woodshop and barn on our ranch in South Dakota. So I drove out for his funeral. Came back to New York with a carload of his tools. And was sitting in my house with this big pile of tools thinking of, “What am I going to do with these?” And I wanted to build something to honor my father in a way, but also to feel connected to him by using his tools for something.
And there was this big blizzard. It was February of 2015. We got three feet of snow. And I live right on the water. And I’m a very avid paddler, kayaker, canoer anyway. And I was sitting there watching the final episode of Parks and Recreation.
In the last episode, the character played by Nick Offerman is given … he’s made a park ranger by Amy Poehler. And then he paddles a wooden canoe that he made, off into the horizon at sunset. And that’s the end of Parks and Recreation as a show. And I was like, “Oh my God I have to make a canoe.” It sounds sort of silly, but in the moment … I’d been thinking about what was I going to make with that tools. Anyway … So I bought some books, and watched videos and taught myself the whole craft from scratch.
But it was rooted I think in the inspiration of my father. But I never knew I actually could do it. My whole life I’ve considered myself to be a scientist and a farmer, first and foremost. This was the first time, this process, this was the first time I ever thought of myself as an artist. Or a craftsman. Either one. So I think that turns out to be the lasting gift from my father. Not the tools, but that I saw a side of myself that I didn’t know was there the whole time.
Who lights you up?
My friend Dave Mowers. I feel like there is an energy. For someone to light me up I have to have a personal connection with them. And I have to feel like there’s a give and take with the energy mode. Sometimes with people … and I’ve seen this even just dating … but you know almost immediately if there’s some weird downer zone between you. And sometimes it’s attitude. And it’s just like, “Bang.” And we’re on and joking and we’re laughing and it just is easy. And the best times when it’s easy are the times when I just feel the most alive.
How do you like to celebrate?
By myself. For my 40th birthday I didn’t have a party with a bunch of friends. But I like checking things off of a bucket list by myself. So I went to Canada. I kayaked with whales. I saw a bear for the first time. I caught a salmon for the first time. I did these milestone-y bucket list-y things alone. I photograph a lot of things. Some of it goes on Instagram. Some of it’s just for me. I do document a lot of my travels. In part because I love sharing it with people. And because I’m single, sometimes, I’ll see the most incredible sight, like a whale jumping. And your instinct is to turn around and be like, “Did you see that?” But there’s no one there, so, if I can take a picture and help people see it through my eyes, I find that really rewarding.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That’s really hard because I think that assumes that I know what other people’s perception of me is, which I think is a very hard thing to pinpoint. Someone might see me as a woodworker artist on Instagram, for example, and not even know that I have a day job running a winery. So they would be surprised that I have a day job. Someone who knows me in the wine industry would be shocked to know that I make canoes. Or someone who’s known me in New York … I’ve had people assume that I was Jewish because I live in New York and my last name sounds sort of Jewish. And actually I’m a Lutheran from South Dakota. I’m not practicing anymore but I grew up in it.
I will say though, aside from all of the career stuff there’s one thing that when I tell people, universally, no matter what they know about me, they’re always shocked. And that is that I went to a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie on an Indian reservation in South Dakota. We were one of the white settler families that had land, that was cattle grazing land on the border of what then later became the reservation. So there were a few one-room schoolhouses in northwest South Dakota that any kid within 50 miles would go to.
What are you looking forward to?
Short-term. This week I’m going to Maine to take a bowl carving class, which I’ve never done before. I’m taking a tree stump and turning it into a salad bowl only using hand tools like chisels. I’m doing a master class with this amazing woman. It’s in Warren Maine. It’s south of Acadia National Park.
Long-term. I’m really going to try to finish up my truck so I can put my canoe on top, and drive it around town.
What’s the most extravagant thing you ever bought?
My Ford truck was an impulse buy. This elderly gentleman on my block had this old truck parked in his front yard for the last three years. There were weeds growing up around it and it was just rusted and it looked sad. It was sad. I drove by it everyday. So I drove by one day and put a note in his mailbox. I said, “I live near you. I kind of always wanted an old car. If you ever want to sell that, just let me know. Here’s my number, whatever.”
Within two hours he called me and he said, “Thank God.” He’s probably 85, he has severe back problems, he’s had surgery. He said, “You know, my wife’s been really bothering me because we need the money, and I haven’t driven my truck in over three years.” And he said, “Would you like to come take a look?” I went over there and I asked him how much money he’d want for it. It was what I thought was a low, low, low, number. I had Googled what a ’54 Ford would cost fully restored, brand new … and so when he told me what he wanted for it I was like, “Okay.” I wrote a check on the spot to this old man. He thought I was doing him this huge favor. I thought I was making an extravagant impulse purchase. We both got something we wanted. I was like, “Do I have to tow this home?” He was like, “Well, just give it a shot and see.” Started right up. Since then I have spent triple that amount fixing it. Restoring it. Which might be the extravagant part. But I didn’t realize it was like a slow leak. Did you ever see that movie The Money Pit? From like 1986? With Shelley Long and Tom Hanks?
What does luxury mean to you?
Craftsmanship and materials and time. For me, luxury is having all the right ingredients to make something truly unique.
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