I was approached some time last year to build a table for a show that was to be called “Dining and Discourse.” If I chose to participate, my table would be part of a vignette whose theme was “Hunter-Gatherer.” What exactly does that mean? And how to build a table around that theme? Real-life hunter-gatherers might not be altogether too concerned with the fineries of well-joined, handmade furniture. So what, then? If not the literal act of, you know, hunting and gathering food for survival, then maybe there are two other ideas at work here: those of simplicity and community.
Some of my favorite memories are of eating lunch with friends, sitting at a picnic table, surrounded by towering pine trees. Not as simple as, say, killing a wild boar with your hands and eating it, but I think you could at least call it uncomplicated. The idea of food, and the memories associated with it, comes up so often - you remember the meal you had on your first date, the smell of coffee brings you back to the house you grew up in. But for me, the food was never the important thing. Thinking back to those lunches, the food was almost always awful - the kind of food that was somehow both instantly overly filling and deeply unsatisfying. But really, it was never the food that mattered. Rather, it was the sense of community - good or bad, the sort of we’re-all-in-this-together that invariably brings people together. For me, what matters is being able to sit down with my friends and family, and laugh and argue about whatever might be getting cold on our plates in front of us.
What has stuck with me after all these years is the setting that allowed those meals to happen in the first place - the picnic table, a piece of furniture that by its very nature more or less negates any attempt at formality. They are clunky, ungraceful things - they are like the hooded sweatshirt of furniture. You are jostling for space, you have to swing your legs over the bench to sit down, people will almost certainly have their elbows on the table. And yet I can think of no more intimate setting for a meal. You are two feet away from the person across from you. There is a good chance your thigh is touching your neighbor’s. It is difficult to put on airs at a picnic table.
I built this picnic table because I love picnic tables. I have eaten so many terrible meals at picnic tables that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I built this table out of oak because that is what I remember those tables being made out of. They were left out in the rain; they were grey and cracked and excellent. Sitting at this table feels like seeing old friends.
I don’t know where this table will end up - if it will be bought and taken home by a stranger, or if it will end up with family or friends. Wherever it goes, my hope is that it will be used for meals, laughter and stories to be shared among friends.
Thanks for reading. Cheers.