Award Winning Woodworker Artisan
Special Commissioned Project for Helen Reddy
I built this keepsake box for Helen Reddy in 2006. The story behind the box
is a testament to what can happen if you just go for it and follow your
instincts. Please enjoy!
Its funny how seemingly random events can start one on a path they never
expected nor dreamed of. I purchased an iPod for my beloved, technophile
husband for Christmas 2005. I wasn't even sure what an iPod was, but
everyone was getting one. They were the latest in technology wonderment
and, well, I was stymied as to what gift to get for him. As it turned out, this
amazing little device was capable of holding every single CD we owned and
still had room for much, much more! In early Spring of 2006, I obsessed
over the content of iTunes and was dismayed that many of my favorite artists
from the 70s were not listed. I began to peruse the Internet and decide to
look up some of my favorites from earlier days. I googgled Helen Reddy and
was directed to her website. There was no music by Helen available digitally
at that time, but there were some events coming up in Spring of 2006 that
piqued my interest.
She had released a new album, written an autobiography and was doing
a book tour scheduled to be in a Los Angeles bookstore in about a month.
She was also being honored by a feminists group, the VFA, with a lifetime
achievement award. Go Helen! Good on you! The award event was a
private affair not open to the public. No matter, she was going to be signing
copies of her book and I thought it would be a very good opportunity to meet
her and tell her how her music had inspired me as a young girl growing up.
On a whim, I decided a few days later to contact the organizers of the
VFA award event and offered to build something in honor of Helen's
achievement. I spoke with Sheila Tobias, another inspirational woman and
discussed the possibilities of what I could make using my woodworking
skills. We decided on a keepsake box in which Helen could house the
medallion the VFA presented her. I was also given the honor of attending the
award ceremony and presenting the keepsake box to her.
During the event, Helen gave a very inspiring speech. She mentioned that she
was on the Board of a Women's Hospital in Sydney, Australia and was
planning a fund raising event to occur in the Fall of 2006. I though it was
really cool that she was involved in medicine. At that time I was a
comparative medicine veterinarian working in biomedical research. Again, on
a whim, I contacted Helen through her website and offered to build a piece to
be auctioned off at her hospital fund raising event. The piece never did get
built or auctioned for a variety of reasons, but the correspondence did result
in a series of events and opportunity to meet Helen for dinner and ultimately
spending time with her at her South Pacific island home promoting
sustainable gardening techniques.
From the time of that VFA award event until I met Helen for dinner a year
and a half later in Fall of 2007, I was busy promoting my woodworking
business. I was invited to display one of my mahogany canoes at a
Sportfishing Event in San Diego. There, I met Rob Sanford, an avid
sportfisherman who fell in love with my canoe and wanted to display it at his
fishing boat dealership showroom. He also wanted "the ultimate tackle box"
designed and built for him. I did just that (you can see it on the tackle box
page of this website). He was so impressed with the tackle box that he
sponsored a booth for me at a Fred Hall Fishing Show. There, I met an
individual who was interested in purchasing one of my pieces for auction for
a non profit organization. His name is Charles Samms and he was interested
in saving the world. He was especially interested in developing ways to feed
the growing world population using more sustainable and eco-friendly
Charles is a very creative individual with a keen desire to reduce poverty on a
global level. His optimism, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial flair are infectious
and we spoke at length. He quizzed me on the five main starches used for
food. I named four right away. Corn, rice, potato and wheat... Puzzled by
the identity of the fifth starch, I paused thinking what it could be. Charles
gave me a clue; it was cantaloupe sized and grew on a tree. Breadfruit! He
was amazed that I knew of breadfruit as few Americans ever heard about it.
I told him I have taught comparative veterinary medicine in the Caribbean and
had been introduced to it there. Charles then asked me if I knew of anyone
he could contact to design a study using the waste product of breadfruit as a
food source for animals after the breadfruit had been processed for a
commercial purpose. I told him that I designed studies of similar nature all
the time and would be happy to do it. We developed a phenomenal study and
contacted a professor I had in veterinary school to perform the research. As
it turned out our plan was a bit too ambitious as there was not enough
appropriately grown breadfruit to conduct the study. Then the economic
meltdown of 2007-8 put all plans on hold indefinitely.
During the breadfruit design and study, I had another chance to meet with
Helen. We had dinner again and discussed a variety of subjects including
global poverty and its exceptionally deleterious effect on women in developing
countries. I mentioned the breadfruit project I was working on with Charles.
This immediately piqued Helen’s interest. As it turns out, Helen has a home
on Norfolk Island. Norfolk Island is a tiny 3 mile by 5 mile jewel of an island
in the South Pacific. It is an independent territory of Australia. Queen
Victoria, in the late 19th century, gave Norfolk Island to the inhabitants of Pit
Cairn Island as they needed more space and resources to survive. The
inhabitants of Pit Cairn Island were descendants of the mutineers of the
The famous story of the Mutiny of the Bounty has been made into a
Hollywood movie three times. Errol Flynn, Marlon Brando and Mel Gibson
have all starred as Fletcher Christian. The Bounty’s Captain Bligh had been
given the commission to sail to Tahiti, collect breadfruit plants and transport
them to islands in the Caribbean to grow food for slaves working sugar
plantations there. The Bounty crew spent over a year collecting the breadfruit
seedlings and when it was time to set sail, the sailors were reluctant to go.
Many of them had taken up with Tahitian women and did not want to leave
them behind. During the voyage to the West Indies, fresh water became
scarce. Captain Bligh was very strict and demanding captain. He commanded
that the water be used to water the breadfruit plants and severely rationed the
crew. The discomfort of rationed water and the crew’s desire to return to
Tahiti set the stage for rebellion. Fletcher Christian, his first mate, led a
mutiny against Captain Bligh. After setting Bligh and his remaining faithful
crew members adrift in a small dingy, Fletcher and the other mutineers threw
all the breadfruit seedlings they had collected in Tahiti overboard and set
course to return to Tahiti. The Tahitian king was reluctant to assist the
mutineers because it might jeopardize his relationship with the king of
England. He allowed the mutineers to leave and some of the Tahitian men and
women went with them. Fletcher knew of an island that was mischarted and
set out to find it. He did and after they set up camp on Pit Cairn, they burnt
the Bounty to the water line. The population of Pit Cairn grew and more land
was needed for them to survive. Queen Victoria, in a most unusual act, gave
them land on Norfolk Island and made them a sovereign government.
Norfolk Island still operates as an independent governed territory with its own
parliament, chief minister and police force. Helen asked me if I could research
bringing breadfruit to grow on Norfolk Island. She thought it would be a
great idea to bring breadfruit “home”. What an incredibly cool project!!!
Helen’s ties to Norfolk Island run even deeper than just being a landowner.
She has a beautiful farm and botanical gardens that sit on the same plot of
land that her great, great, great grandfather owned. His name was Richard
Morgan and he was brought to Norfolk Island as a convict in the late 18th
century as part of the first European Settlement. Colleen McCullough, a
writer known for her book “The Thornbirds” is also a resident of Norfolk
Island. She wrote a book “Morgan’s Run” that is based on the life of Helen’s
ancestors. In fact, Helen did much of the research Colleen used to write her
book. Being an avid genealogist, Helen also traced ancestral ties to the other
two main settlements on Norfolk Island.
As we worked to develop the breadfruit importation process and Helen and I
developed a relationship, I spent much time on Norfolk Island. A high quality
way of life with deep, strong roots in tradition and pride in heritage became
apparent to me. I also saw creative self sufficiency and fierce independence
born of necessity of living 1000 miles from any mainland resources. No
fresh fruits or vegetables, save onions and potatoes, are imported to Norfolk
Island. All agriculture is essentially dependant on rainfall. Occasionally a
drought devastates the gardens and farms of those not fortunate to have deep
water wells on their land.