I was a little disappointed when I saw Georgia O’Keeffe’s kitchen table top in Abiquiu, resting on sawhorses.
I saw the photo in the April issue of New Mexico Magazine, accompanying a clever story about her food interests by Gwyneth Doland, “What would Georgia eat?” The table looked like a long sheet of plywood. I expected something more artful for the legs. But then I realized she probably had more important things to do. Like painting “Gerald’s Tree 1” — one of my favorites — showing the flowing, silvery grace of a desiccated juniper trunk.
I doubt that Carl Harper spent much time thinking about Georgia O’Keeffe, but I saw that same wood-grain grace in the kitchen table legs of the late cowboy-boatbuilder in his home on the east shore of Canyon Ferry Lake, south of Helena, Montana.
Carl was a free-spirit who was my mother’s second husband and the father of seven wonderful daughters, who I am privileged to know. After my mother died in 1979, and daughters had grown up and left home, you might have called his housekeeping expedient. A table to sit at for meals, for instance, could be speedily built with whatever materials were at hand so he could move on to other things, like sailing or rowing on Canyon Ferry in summer, iceboating in winter, building or repairing the craft to do it and providing instruction to anyone within earshot.
For his table top, he used a blank door. For the legs, he used old cedar fence posts, sanded from weathered gray to golden blonde and slathered, as he did with many things, with heavy coats of marine varnish. Thick, through-dowels, set in heavy marine adhesive, kept the legs in place without bracing.
I don’t have a photo of Carl’s table, but this one of his homemade, block-and-tackle boat lift in a horse corral at Lennep, Montana, gives you an idea of his ingenuity and skill.
I admired those table legs at Canyon Ferry. They looked like the appendages of O’Keeffe’s tree trunk. I think the tough old cowboy and the ethereal painter saw similar things in the quiet elegance of weathered wood.
Strangely, Carl’s table legs might have seemed more artful than O’Keeffe’s, but O’Keefe, with her sawhorses and plywood, succeeded on some score with simplicity and space. I like how both achieved functional but intriguing results on the run. I have a photo of O’Keeffe’s “Gerald’s Tree 1” pinned in a place I see it every day.
I tried to replicate Carl’s fence-post table legs at my place in Placitas, but in this, among other things, I was not his equal. The posts I tried to work with were invariably too rotten. I gave in and bought peeled Ponderosa pine latillas from Groff’s lumber yard.
I have made other furniture, but this was my first table. It’s kind of rough, and I have realized while studying it that it should be round.