#MasterySeries: From Gun to Knife

Hand Carving

As you may have noticed, the ‘Mastery Under Glass’ slogan is part of our logo. To us at Houweling’s these words are a constant reminder that growing superb tomatoes requires passion, continuous improvement, and a mindset that seeks to be the best we can be. The concept of ‘Mastery’ can also apply to many things in life. With that in mind, I decided to periodically blog about some remarkable people who not only make ‘Mastery’ a reality at Houweling’s but who also extend their mastery beyond the greenhouse.

Today I am delighted to showcase the mastery of a man who has been with me at Houweling’s for eighteen years. John Skeete manages the operations at our Delta facility. Not only does John keep me grounded with his wisdom, I know I can count on him at any time of day, no matter where I am in the world. John’s ability to grasp the big picture and at the same time pay attention to the details is invaluable.

When John isn’t at the greenhouse, he can be found carving out of basswood, or painting a Shorebird Decoy. I’ve been kidding him about this hobby for some time, saying it takes him away from his other hobby – the greenhouse. John’s response is to grin wryly and continue to go about his business. Here’s the rest of the story on the mastery of John Skeete’s decorative bird carving hobby.

Casey:   Tell me what is it about carving that you like so much?
John:     Creating a piece of art with your own two hands is earthy and very rewarding.

Casey:   What goes through your mind when you are working at it?
John:     People expect to hear how wonderful an artist feels when working, but the truth is, there has to be an uncomfortable tension there or you simply aren’t pushing yourself into the unknown, to do better. This tension in the creation process however, makes the final viewing of the end product much more pleasurable, especially while savoring a fine Merlot!

Casey:   A fine Merlot, eh? Hmm. So tell me what it takes to be really good at this hobby.
John:     You have to have an eye for design and an innate sense of what looks right and what doesn’t. Same as in the greenhouse, a good tomato grower has that sense the moment he sees the crop.

Casey:   Any other greenhouse analogies?
John:     Two things stand out. Firstly, to be good at anything you need passion. Everything else will follow. Secondly, there is great value in specialization. At Houweling’s we specialize in tomatoes. I specialize in shorebird carving.

Casey:   How in the world did you get onto it?
John:     It is a long story. Shorebird decoy carving came into being in the late 1800’s to attract the birds when the large flocks began to dwindle due to market gunning. The decoy is a product of man’s ingenuity as well as his ruthlessness. When the bird numbers started to decline, instead of conserving, hunters created the decoy to attract the dwindling flocks to the gun. In the case of the ‘Eskimo Curlew’, which numbered in the millions, it was shot to extinction. However, even with its dubious origins, for me, the decoy itself is a beautiful art form, to be preserved along with its rich history. Perhaps its future legacy will be to cultivate a better appreciation for these magnificent birds, and thus, in a small way help to undo the mistakes of the past.

Casey:   Your carvings are beautiful. You must have started a long time ago.
John:     As a boy in Barbados, I helped my father refurbish the old working decoys but it wasn’t until 1991 that I learned the ‘art of the decoy’ from him and started carving seriously. We were a family of hunters. Having given up the gun as a young man, decorative carving of Shorebirds was a way of continuing the family’s decoy tradition, a natural progression of the vintage art form, so to say.

Casey:   It’s in your blood, like tomato farming is in mine.
John:     Ah, now we understand each other.

With my regards,

Our Mindset

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