Woodworker muses on how to craft a happy, meaningful life in new book

There’s good news and bad news — and more good news — when it comes to the long and storied Eureka Springs art scene in the spring of 2022.

The first good news is that the White Street Walk will return May 20 after two years of covid hiatus.

The bad news is that woodworker Doug Stowe will not participate this year, for the first time in decades.

“I’m stepping away from a long tradition at Lux Weaving Studio,” he says via email. “Eleanor is not hosting this year. So I’ll be there as a booster for others and get to wander around and see what I’ve been missing.”

That leads Stowe’s disappointed fans to the second bit of good news: He spent his time in covid seclusion writing a book titled “The Wisdom of Our Hands: Crafting, A Life.” Published by Linden Publishing of Fresno, Calif., it’s available for $16.95 at the Crescent Hotel gift store and downtown at Iris At the Park in Eureka Springs or online from retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

“As I began work on this book, I found that I was not alone in my thinking about the wisdom of the hands,” Stowe starts his story. “There are present and past educational theorists aplenty who share my perspective regarding the importance of hands-on learning. I found encouragement from getting to know a number of interesting folks and being recognized by them for the ideas I shared through my magazine articles and through my blog, Wisdom of the Hands. While writing and corresponding have helped me develop my ideas, my woodshop is where I’ve been able to explore these ideas with my hands, my tools, and what I’ve found myself able to do with them.”

Stowe says it was a sixth-grade teacher who “recognized that I had some ability to write,” and he’s been doing it ever since, penning “more than a dozen woodworking books, more than a hundred how-to articles in woodworking magazines, and additional articles in educational journals.”

This time, though, he’s writing less about how to make a box and more about how to craft a life you’ll love as much as he loves his. As he told us in a previous interview, finding that direction requires a combination of serendipity, opportunity and determination.

Stowe was studying political science and sociology in college, planning on law school — because that’s what his parents thought he should do — but on the side, he was restoring a 1930 Model A Ford two-door sedan. His mentor on that project asked him one day, “Why are you studying to be a lawyer when it’s so obvious your brains are in your hands?”

Stowe changed course, and “took a class in creative writing and another one in pottery, and I fell in love with the idea of making things,” he says. “My dad had been a major in the Army and worked for a variety of corporations. Corporate life appeared to be extremely cold, and I wanted something more — which is why I investigated creative writing and pottery.”

But it’s quite possible Stowe would never have moved to Eureka Springs had he not chanced to meet artist Jo Ann Kaminsky. And he might never have become a woodworker if the proverbial bottom hadn’t fallen out of the Eureka Springs pottery cooperative.

“Jo Ann had graduated in pottery from Memphis State University and had come back to visit when I was taking a pottery class,” Stowe remembers. “We got to talking and she said, ‘Doug, you ought to come to Eureka Springs — where she was living at the time — and check it out.’ The place was just kind of weird, and it stuck with me. It had kind of a spiritual quality to it — it was 1975, and everybody there was on a vision quest of some kind or another, trying to identify who they were and who they wanted to be in a world that offered us not very many meaningful choices.

“There were lots of potters at the time, but what there wasn’t was somebody making fine quality woodworking,” he remembers. “Of course, others joined in that field, but I got a little head start by making display cabinets and front doors for some of the shops.”

Over the years, Stowe’s reputation grew, helped by serendipity — Bill Clinton bought some of his wooden boxes to take as gifts on a trip to Asia, and the artist got a chance to write his first book in 1998 — “so I built my name recognition, not to the point of fame but to where the woodworking community knew my name.”

Although he’s made many other things, Stowe is best known for his box making, and it’s been his fall-back position in hard economic times like a covid epidemic. Quiet and humble, he still seems somewhat nonplussed that he was in 2009 named an Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council.

“I’m not exactly sure what it means, but it’s better than being a buried treasure, that’s for sure,” he says. “I think it’s given me a little bit of a platform. My mission is pretty clear in terms of my belief that we all have our brains in our hands. If one good thing happens from the covid pandemic, I hope it’s people finding the joy of cooking or gardening or doing some things in the workshop or standing at the easel. We need a virtuous world where we know what life is all about, not a virtual world.

“It’s interesting that when we pick up a musical instrument, we call it play,” Stowe told Sarah White for a story at forewardreviews.com. “It should be the same thing with a hammer or saw or knitting needles or whatever.”

Becca Martin-Brown is Features editor for the NWA Democrat-Gazette. Email her at bmartin@  nwadg.com .