I recently searched The Craftsman magazine on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries’ website for a pithy quote on the subject of rest, but to my surprise, searching the word “rest” didn’t turn up much. I then tried searching “respite” (nothing) and then “vacation,” and that’s when I decided to shift gears entirely and search the word “work” instead. This was like hitting the jackpot. The Craftsman has quite a lot to say on the subject of work, like this nice quote:

The keynote of life is work. Art is the flower of which the strong and living root is work, and upon the honesty of that work depends all that is worthy and lasting in art and in life.

“Als Ik Kan: Notes: Reviews,” The Craftsman. Oct. 1906, pg. 129.

I love the idea of honest work as the root of all that is worthwhile in life, but I wasn’t looking for a stimulating quote about work. I decided to backtrack and try the word “vacation” again. This led to some pleasant daydreaming, when I came across articles promoting vacations at Craftsman bungalows, Craftsman cottages, and even vacation on a houseboat. Very nice, but still not the direction I was hoping for.

After an unenlightening hour, I was baffled. For years, along with other staff members, I have mined The Craftsman magazine for content and writing inspiration. The magazine’s content is so wide ranging, it is possible to find an article on almost any subject. I mentioned my disappointment to Samuel Calabrese, our newest staff member (and the Coordinator of Member and Visitor Services). I described what I had been hoping to find, and he reflected for a moment. “I wonder if you might find the motto on the Living Room fireplace helpful,” he said. As as soon I heard his suggestion, I knew he had a good idea.

Samuel was referring to the Geoffrey Chaucer quote, from Parliament of Fowls, on the south hearth copper hood (pictured above): “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” I’ve always thought that this motto typifies what Craftsman Farms is about. On tours, when I read it aloud to visitors, I often comment on what it means to me, which is something along the lines of: life is about the journey, not the destination. Now that I’m writing those words, they sound a bit glib, but I’m trying to get at something deeper. For me the motto is about the value of time spent learning your craft. In other words, it confirms that honing your craft is worthy of a lifetime of dedication.

I liked that Samuel pointed me in this direction. It felt right.

Several months have passed since I shared an update about the Annex rebuilding project and Kitchen restoration, which experienced long delays throughout 2023 and delayed the full reopening of the museum. In March 2020, the museum initially shut down with the start of the pandemic, and it remained closed after severe damage from a tropical storm in August of that year. As construction to rebuild began, tours resumed but have been limited mostly to weekends. Construction delays dragged on throughout 2023 and as I reported last October, brought a seemingly endless disruption to normal operations.

Now—imagine a drumroll here!—I am thrilled to announce that the Annex/Kitchen project is making steady progress, and we expect a full re-opening in the summer. The Craftsman Shop and main entrance will move into the new Annex Visitor Pavilion (pictured above) and the Log House kitchen will be fully restored. In the coming months, we’ll have news about re-opening, including celebratory special events like Member Day on Saturday, October 5 and a Farms Afield right here in New Jersey in November! (Mark your calendar for Nov. 10-13! If you haven’t visited before or it has been a long time, we hope you’ll return this year. We are pulling out all the stops, and I can’t think of a better time to be here!). 

While all of the above is excellent news, it’s not why Samuel pointed me to the Chaucer motto. The current progress of the building project has been a huge relief, and it has given me confidence to ask a special request of the museum’s Board of Trustees. In my position, I am accustomed to making direct, and occasionally awkward, requests—for support, for volunteers, for funding, for estate gifts, for donation to collections, and more. It comes with the job. What I am not accustomed to requesting is something much more pedestrian: a break. 

Since becoming the museum’s Executive Director, I have been on-call, 24/7, for more than ten years. During this time, the museum has had common maintenance issues, false alarms, true alarms, occasional emergencies, and full-on crises. We have experienced tropical storms (above right, Tropical Storm Isaias brought a massive tree down on the Annex), nor’easters, heat waves, ice storms, and blizzards (below right, the Twin Cottages after a 2022 blizzard); burst pipes, basement flooding, downed electrical lines, power outages, gas leaks (at middle right, a gas leak under the driveway was discovered over July 4th weekend in 2023), roof leaks, HVAC challenges, a variety of pest issues (from bats to flying squirrels to yellowjackets), all sorts of construction-related problems, and a worldwide pandemic. 

On the other hand, during this time, the museum has also grown and become more dynamic. The Board of Trustees just approved a new 5-year strategic plan and an update to the museum’s mission statement. Our 6-person staff is as strong as it has ever been, with two staff members who have served for more than 16 years, two new talented young hires, and a skilled, full-time manager of Membership and Visitor Services. One of the most important changes to the staff has been the addition of the Director of Collections and Preservation. In this role, Jonathan Clancy has expanded our collections, our preservation activities, and our overall understanding of the history of Craftsman Farms.

It is the museum’s steady growth and maturity that have given me the confidence to ask the Board for time away; time to refuel and catch my breath—to really catch my breath—with no email and a break from the demanding schedule and from the constant churn of activity. Not only did the Board approve my sabbatical, but they did so with generosity and enthusiasm, and the staff has been supportive at every turn. Jonathan Clancy will step in as the Acting Executive Director. The museum will be in excellent hands, and I look forward to returning in the late spring, refreshed and ready to go. Ready to re-open the museum and share a transformed property with all of you.

Over the past ten years, I have labored to learn the craft of leading an historic house museum. It is the most demanding job I have ever taken on, but it has been deeply fulfilling, and it has taught my heart the real satisfaction that comes with meaningful work. I have always hoped this time spent honing my craft at Craftsman Farms would please Gustav Stickley.

Taking significant time away from work will be new territory for me. I have never been apprehensive about working hard or working more, but the closer I get to working less, the more nervous I am. Reflecting on the Chaucer quote, though, has brought some comfort. I have come to think that if perfecting your craft is worthy of a lifetime, then it must include discerning when it’s time to step up and when it’s time to step back. After all, as Chaucer wrote, life is “so short.” Surely right now is the best time to learn a new skill, even if that skill happens to be: how to take a break.

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