Lee Valley Tools    Woodworking Newsletter
   Vol. 4, Issue 2
   November 2009
   A Modern-Day Guild

When the five founding members of the East Tennessee Woodworkers Guild met in 1983 to discuss the creation of a new organization, they made two important decisions that still resonate today within the association they envisioned. These individuals were part of the arts-and-crafts revival that swept the United States during the 60s and 70s. They were also among the few nascent woodworkers of their time fortunate enough to undergo an apprenticeship, of a sort, with a true master woodworker who shared with them the mysteries of Old World craftsmanship. This experience left them with an enviable set of skills and a seriousness of purpose towards pursuit of their chosen craft. Perhaps their master also gave them a finer appreciation of woodworking history, at least at an earlier age than most of us, for they chose a medieval term, guild, as the primary descriptor of their new fraternity. Perhaps just as important, they decided to allow both professional and nonprofessional woodworkers to be eligible for membership, thus allowing for future growth.

The idea of a guild in today's society is an anachronism to many. Its original purposes, such as a means to restrict entry and advancement within a trade, a way to control commerce within a geographical area, or the eventual evolution into the governing body of the local community, have all been lost with time. Quaint as these notions might seem, there remains at least one traditional function of a guild that is tremendously useful to the current woodworking community still undergoing its renaissance.

In their day and age, the old guilds were the unquestioned arbiters of excellence within their crafts. As such, they determined, with broad approval among their own ranks that likely extended to the public at large, which individuals deserved the title of master and what qualifications they must possess. By extension, this gave the community some reassurance that the work of the best craftsmen would meet a certain standard and be worthy of its cost. Think of this process as medieval quality control.

Piece by Marion Randolph   Piece by Marion Randolph
Two pieces by Marion Randolph of the East Tennessee Woodworkers Guild.
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