Went to a wake today.
Charlie Spence was a good friend and a damned fine woodworker.
He spent most nearly all of his working life as a house painter, and
he painted them up the way that he said they should be, he had no
truck with latex and was pissed off when they took away his white
I've been in houses that Charlie had painted twenty-five years before
and the woodwork was still immaculate.
Charlie always worked for himself because he said that, "I don't need
no sumbitch to tell me how to paint and I don't need no sumbitch
telling me when I should quit painting."
Charlie quit painting houses, on his own, about ten years ago, when he
I met Charlie about twenty-five years ago, when I was a young pup,
learning my trade and he was a seasoned man who was often called upon
to do the impossible.
We were putting an addition on the Methodist Church in my and
Charlie's home town and part of the job was to extend the area where
the congregation sat.
The impossible part was that the church fathers wouldn't go for
ceiling beams in the new extension, to match the existing beams of the
old church. It was a money thing.
It bothered Charlie a great deal that the new would not match the old.
He just didn't think it would look right.
I was a young buck running one of my first big jobs and I knew that
our contract only called for a sheetrock ceiling, without any mention
of blending the wood beams into the new part.
Charlie would hammer on me at lunchtime, "It ain't right and it ain't
going to look right."
I wasn't my own man in those days and I was pretty grateful and pretty
damned scared to be running such a nice big job. I said to Charlie,
"It's a money thing."
"I can't put up box beams on my own say so, Charlie. I'd get fired."
Charlie just said, "It ain't right and it ain't going to look right."
When the sheetrock was taped it was time for Charlie's crew to go up
the forty some feet of scaffold and paint it. Ordinarily, Charlie
would not have involved himself in this, so I was surprised to see
that he was on the top of the scaffold pretty much the whole time that
the painting was being done.
At breaktime on the morning that we were going to take the scaffold
down Charlie took me aside:
"I've got me an idea and it won't cost them a cent if they don't like
it.", says Charlie.
"I can make it look like there's beams in the new part that matches
the old and nobody will be able to tell the difference from down
We had three days of rental time left on the scaffold.
There are friendships formed on jobsites. Some of them last for that
job. Some of them last for a lifetime.
Charlie told me what he had in mind.
"Three days, Charlie, that's all I can give you."
The idea sounded impossible to me.
Charlie went up on the scaffold and struck chalk lines from the
existing beams onto the white space of the freshly painted addition.
Then he laid on a base coat of paint that was more or less the color
of the existing wooden beams.
It didn't look like much to me and I was beginning to regret that I
had let Charlie do this, and beginning to wonder if he would be able
to go over the dark brown paint with white in time enough before the
scaffold rental was over.
"That's enough for today.", said Charlie, when he came down at the end
of the first day.
The next morning I showed up at the jobsite and Charlie had already
been there for long enough to put a second coat of paint on that made
the flat line of brown paint from the previous day look kind of three
dimensional. It was odd. It didn't look like the beams but it sure
did look like something other than a flat line of brown paint.
At lunchtime Charlie came down from the scaffold and said, "That's
enough for today."
I was still nervous as the scaffold had to be dismantled by the end of
the next day or my company would have had to pay big bucks for another
week of rental. If Charlie's idea didn't work, I was going to be in
deep shit with my bosses.
On the third morning I came to work an hour early, nervous about what
I might see.
There were beams on the new ceiling.
I'm not kidding you. There were beams on that new ceiling that
matched the old in such a way as to defy the eye.
"It's called 'Trump Louie' " said Charlie,
" It tricks your eye into thinking it's seeing something that isn't
Now listen to me, I new what Trompe L'oeil, was, as I was an allegedly
educated young fella. I knew what it was and I knew how to spell it
and pronounce it.
I sure as hell didn't know how to do it.
Apparently, Charlie did.
I walked all over that space from down on the ground and I guarantee
you that there is not a man on this earth who could tell that there
were not real wood beams in the area that Charlie had painted.
"If they don't like it, I'll pay for the scaffold time myself and
paint over it.", says Charlie.
The church fathers loved it and readily paid the four hundred bucks
that Charlie asked.
I guess Charlie was a genius of sorts. He became a life long friend
of mine and would come over to my shop from time to time to use the
planer and the lathe, which he did not have in his shop.
When he retired, he made furniture for his children and grandchildren.
He'd never done much woodworking but he took to it like a natural
genius takes to anything that he sets his mind to.
His work was magnificent.
Thomas J. Watson-Cabinetmaker
Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania