Recently I was reminded of a piece of furniture that was made for me by the artist Stuart Beuhler around 1968-69. It was left with my brother in California when we escaped from there in 1972, and I suddenly recalled seeing it sitting on his front porch when I visited some years ago.
“Whaat” Eating Trough, Stuart Beuhler, c. 1968 (Photograph by Scott Wilder)
Did you ever try to dredge up memories from 45 years earlier? Not easy for the likes of me, but I’m trying to do it here, for it was an interesting story in an interesting time.
In those days I was a big eater. I was always hungry, and cooked huge meals for our little family, one of my favorites being a big pan of beef fried rice with vegetables. But it was as if I didn’t have a bowl big enough for the amount I wanted to devour. What I recall is that a conversation with Stu at some gathering of friends turned to the eating styles of medieval times, involving big troughs of carved wood full of comestibles. (I must have read about this in some book like Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe.”)
Our talk ended in a pact: Stu would make me a medieval-style “eating trough” in trade for a 1951 GMC pickup I had, which was at the end of its life on the road. He said he wanted it for an “art project.”
The truck had given us a lot of good miles; its last trip had been to the northwest coast, Humboldt County I think, where it had chugged up a steep mountain logging road, with me thinking it was going to quit right there and we’d have to hike out to the highway and hitchhike to our friends’ place on the coast. When we did finally make it home I checked the oil and it looked like chocolate milk – a cracked head, or something.
Stu had a pretty wacky approach to his art – I think he was doing installation, or event art, before its time. We managed to get the truck to do its last miles in driving it to Stu’s place outside Sacramento, and parked it his driveway. A large group of friends gathered round, including me, Sharynne, and our two-year-old son, talking and imbibing, as Stu brought out a cutting torch and got to work. His stated intention was to cut the truck into pieces, for what purpose no one was really sure. He crawled under the truck and started in on the frame, in what I now realize was a very dangerous move. (If done in the 80s, of course this event would’ve been videotaped; in these days there’d be a half-dozen versions on YouTube.) He somehow managed to cut through the structure of the truck without being crushed, and stood back as it broke in half and collapsed in a cloud of dust. I can’t recall whether we stayed for the complete dissection.
So, Stu made me the trough: it was cut from a hunk of 12 x 12” beam, with hardwood doweling for its legs, and a big circular hole carved into the top for food. He carved the word, “Whaat” on the side. It was “cured” with vegetable oil, as I recall. I used it for a long time, filling it with fried rice and chowing down.
I can’t remember much more, so, Stu, if you are out there somewhere, do you recall this, at all?
– Dave Wilder