The history of mankind is in woodworking; all cultures have a story of how wood has been used both functionally and decoratively. My works are my attempt at a small addition to this conversation.
I grew up seeing how woodworking could improve our living spaces. My dad brought my family over from England and when it came time to have nice furniture, he decided to make it himself. He made pieces he had his whole life. Throughout my life, when I needed something, my first thought was to figure out how to make it.
My current life as a woodworker is a second career. I took a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and worked with NASA as a mathematician for a couple decades. Then I found myself living in a house with a workshop in the basement. I began to collect tools and build pieces for our house. One year as a surprise for my wife, I designed and built a Jewelry Box. I immediately fell in love with boxes and small pieces for the home. They are such simple things but with so much room for personal expression.
My new love of woodworking and my previous life as a mathematician came together a few years ago when I stumbled across a short video demonstrating the Japanese technique of Yosegizaiku. The craftsman slowly assembled carefully shaped pieces of various woods until a block containing intricate geometric patterns was created. And then from these blocks he shaved off thin, delicate slices which he used to decorate boxes. I became obsessed with figuring out how to achieve the same results myself.
Another way my background reveals itself in my woodworking is my love of making secret boxes and trick chests. I enjoy to turn an idea from mathematics into a puzzle. Some are in the style of tradition Japanese secret boxes while others are customs pieces I design for clients. And some are my own unique inspirations expressing any of my favorite mathematical concepts.
In the fall of 2016, I got the rare opportunity to travel to Japan to learn from the masters. I spent a week in the Hakone region and learned the secrets of Yosegi from Mr Ichiro Ishikawa, president of Hamamatsuya. He is a seventh generation master; it was his ancestor, Nihei Ishikawa (1790-1850) who invented the technique. While there, I also visited with Mr Ninomiya and Mr Kamei of the Karakuri Museum, along with a visit to meet and talk with all the members of the Karakuri Creations Group.
All my pieces start the same: an inspiration and rough cut lumber. Maybe a quick thought and I know what to make. Other times, it takes months to refine the idea. But always, executed with all the care and precision I can bring to bear.
Nicholas Phillips, Ph.D
Mr Ishikawa and myself at the grave of his ancestor, Nihei Ishikawa, the inventor of Yosegizauki. Hatajuku, Hakone, Japan, November 2016