Warning: Text and picture heavy
Presenting a work of art by three artisans of the fountain pen community… the Bamboo Ebonite fountain pen by Ken Cavers with dark Ki Tamenuri urushi finish by Ernest Shin of Hakumin Urushi Kobo and a Jowo 18K two-tone F nib ground to a CI by Brian Gray of Meisternibs and Edison Pen Company. The story of this pen is long and I’ve waited for this pen for two years and received it only yesterday, so forgive my rambling. J
The first time I saw Ken Cavers’ (drgoretex on FPN) bamboo pen sculpture was in July 2012. It was love at first sight. Back then, all the pictures that I’d seen were bamboo pens that he turned using acrylics; the first ebonite bamboo would come later.
I reached out to Ken for my very own acrylic bamboo in November 2012 and was told there was a 3 month wait (yes… only 3 months, it was that long ago). During the wait, it struck me that that Ken’s bamboo design with the nodes and inset ends would look beautiful with a tamenuri urushi finish, but was it even feasible? Did the ebonite need to be finished in any special way? Would the bamboo design and insets cause problems?
I contacted Ernest in late January 2013, who confirmed that the urushifying the bamboo pen was feasible, and he did not foresee any problems (famous last words). The project was a go-ahead! And then I thought, I’d like my first urushi pen to have a gold nib. If I knew then that Ken also grinds CI nibs, I would have probably asked him take care of the nib as well. Anyway, I got in touch with Brian to order a Jowo 18K F nib, and asked him if he would be willing to grind the nib to a CI even though the order was not for an Edison pen. Brian replied to say that although he did not usually offer grinds for nibs bought via Meisternibs, he would make an exception for a pen that was going to Ernest.
In early March 2013, Ken emailed to say that my pen was done and en route to Ernest. By the end of March 2013, I asked and received confirmation from Ernest that the pen and the nib were with him. My original plan of a sub-$200 custom pen with a stainless steel nib purchase had ballooned to something significantly more (and so did the cost).
And then I waited. In May 2013, I asked for a status update, and if possible, an estimated completion date, and was told about 3-4 months more. I waited some more. In the meantime, I mulled over the question of whether to add some Chinese characters to the body of the pen and what they’d be, having ruled out adding my name to the pen. I did a lot of searching online to find a suitable four-character idiom (four-character idioms are a thing, very much part of East Asian languages/cultures), preferably with the character 竹 (bamboo) in it, something that referenced bamboo, or something to do with writing… I couldn’t find any that I liked.
Then, I came across a piece of short 3-paragraph prose written by Bai Juyi (CE 772–846), one of the great poets of Tang Dynasty, titled 《养竹记》 (On cultivating bamboo). In the first paragraph, he compares bamboo to a sage, and directs the cultivated man (ie, a gentleman) to reflect upon the nature of bamboo:
Below is the same text, this time interspersed with the English translation: (All translation mistakes are mine; I couldn’t find an English translation online, only vernacular Chinese which I used for this translation since I don’t read Classical Chinese)
The bamboo is like a sage. How so?
The roots of the bamboo are sturdy. Sturdiness allows the growth of moral values. The cultivated man who sees the roots of bamboo will reflect upon people who are grounded and unshaken in principles and purpose.
The nature of bamboo is straightness (ed: 直 also means direct, but I’ve chosen a more literal take). Straightness allows the body to stand upright. The cultivated man who sees the nature of bamboo will reflect upon people who are straightfoward and fair in all their dealings.
The heart of the bamboo is empty. Emptiness is where the presence of "Tao" is experienced. The cultivated man who sees the nothingness in the heart of bamboo will reflect upon people who are "empty-hearted" (humble).
The nodes [ed: 節 also means "moral fibre"] of the bamboo are constant (loyal/pure). Constancy allows aspirations to be established. The cultivated man who sees the nodes ("moral fibre") of bamboo will reflect upon people who forge (like forging steel) their characters and conduct, and behave constantly whether their situations are safe or perilous.
Because this is so, many persons of cultivation and virtue plant bamboo in their yards, to make physical that which is abstract.
The roots of the bamboo are sturdy. The nature of bamboo is straightness. The heart of the bamboo is empty. The nodes of the bamboo are constant. Sturdiness (固), straightness (直), emptiness (空), constancy (貞). 固直空貞... I had finally found the right quote for the pen. There was nothing more to do but to wait. And so I did.
The promised arrival time of 4 months came and went, and I continued to wait. 2013 went and 2014 came, and still I waited. I sent sporadic emails to Ernest for status updates (and to make sure he hadn’t forgotten about my pen), and was assured again and again that the pen would be ready soon; he was facing unexpected issues due to the design; the section was giving him problems at first, and then later, the insets would not polish properly. It would be soon, just a few more weeks… By the time the summer of 2014 arrived, I wondered if I would have to wait until 2015.
In mid/late of November 2014, Ernest emailed to say that the pen was about done, and he wanted to confirm the placement of the quote. I wanted him to include his signature as well, but since the quote was at the place where he usually signed his pens, I asked if the section was an acceptable alternative location, and he said yes. He did the quote, but I didn’t like the way one of the characters looked and asked him to redo it, which he did. A little bit more waiting for the quote and signature to cure and for another round of polish.
Finally, on 10th Dec 2014, Ernest emailed to say that the pen was shipped! Five days later, I received notification from Canada Post that my package had arrived.
I am now done telling my story. Pictures galore from this point onward! . Sorry about the resolution of the pictures; they are the best I can do with my camera phone.
The urushi finish looks quite different under different light. These pictures were taken in my office which has bright fluorescent light. The underlying yellow base coat really pops. Under dimmer light, the finish looks darker, and the underlying base color (at the inset ends) look like it's pale yellow, almost off-white. Perhaps you noticed that the red faux leather box that the pen came in looks really familiar... yes, it is an Edison pen box. I'm assuming that it came from Ernest rather than Brian though. The last two images are two Ken Cavers Bamboo Ebonite pens side by side, the standard size that fits a #6 nib and a thinner one that fits a #5 nib.
If I had to be critical of any aspect of this experience, it would surely be all the waiting and how off Ernest’s time estimates were. Other than that, it was a great experience all around. All three artisans, Ken Cavers, Ernest Shin, and Brian Gray did beautiful work. The pen looks sublime, and the nib writes really smoothly. I love love love this pen. J
Edited by metwin1, 17 December 2014 - 04:00.