On a chilly day in December 2022, an out-of-the-blue email arrived that took me back over 40 years to the mid-1980s when I was a final-year student at the famous Parnham House College in Dorset.
What I didn’t know back then was the background to a final year exercise that had been given to me and my fellow final year students.
Final Year Student Project 1986
It turns out, a woman had written to John Makepeace, founder of Parnham College, with a special request. She’d asked if it were possible to design and make a pencil box which she wanted to present to her husband as a birthday gift. As she had provided a specific brief, John Makepeace decided it was the perfect opportunity for his final year students to learn how to work to a commission. When all the designs were completed, the ‘client’ was then to visit the college and choose the design that fitted her brief.
Now I remember well that final year project and how exciting it was for us, the students, to have a crack at our first ever ‘real’ commission. From memory, I decided to make the pencil box in yew wood because of its strength and to include contrasting details. The size and scale of the box was driven by the contents. I wanted it to be easily stored in a coat pocket like a hip flask which informed the rounded edges and general shape. The sycamore detail on the outside of the drawer referenced the binding of books, while hinting at the interior divisions.
When the day dawned and the client was due to visit, all the students, including myself, were a little anxious but equally excited. And when it came to choosing the design, I can honestly say I was more than chuffed when she chose mine.
40 Years Later – The Pencil Box Today
In that December email, the client Christina, shared how much the Pencil Box was still very much loved.
“I still love the way that by squeezing the little side buttons the tray springs out and how the band of holly on the outside (replicating the binding of a book) follows on through the tray to form the side compartments.”
She also reminded me of the time, some years later, when I asked if I could borrow the pencil box to display in an exhibition and my surprise at the signs of use. I remember it because you always hope that what you make is both desirable and useful, and seeing the signs of use on the pencil box was a very real affirmation that this was the case.
Christina went on to explain that her husband always took the pencil box with him to site meetings with builders and how everyone would remark on it. She also shared that the outer box I’d built to protect the pencil box while in post transit was equally loved and to this day is still used to store her husband’s staple gun.
That email prompted a couple of things for me, first how wonderful it was to receive an email like Christina’s and secondly a warm fuzzy feeling to learn that something you’ve created is still loved many years later. Kind of humbling if I’m honest.
Heartfelt thanks Christina for taking the time to write your email.