Archive for the ‘Malone, Sean’ Category

A Life Transformed

David Naso and one of his first rocking chairs

By Sean Malone

From the outside, the building is nondescript.  Long and beige it sits tucked down on the city’s south side amid various warehouses and thrift shops.  Seemingly the only remarkable thing about the building is the red and green accents that frame the two doors facing the half paved, half gravel parking lot.  Inside of this testament to architectural functionality resides the woodworking shop of a man whose abilities as a craftsman of fine furniture have taken his pieces into the realm of art and far, far away from the day to day practicality that most furniture in our lives serve.
With curly white hair and eyes that seem to brighten when he speaks with you, David Naso is a man who loves his work.  It has created a life for him that most occupations do not or perhaps cannot.  Many of his customers have become his friends.  He senses the importance of the pieces that he creates in the overall feeling that people want to convey and possess in their homes and businesses. “You can buy a chair at Target for forty bucks that you can sit on” said Naso.  “What I do is more of the artistic realm and that was the market that I wanted to go after.  I mean you have to say that it is something.  I went towards the art work and that has been my salvation.”  Through this sense of caring about his customers, they have in turn, helped nurture and grow his woodworking shop into an artisan’s studio whose work is sought out world wide.

A Non-Conventional Path

After graduating with a B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1965 Naso returned to his hometown of Cedar Rapids, IA and went into the restaurant business with his father Tony.  “I was always in the restaurant business.  From the time that I was in grade school, all of the way through college” said Naso.  The restaurant, Tony’s Pizza, was a success and soon Naso was joined in the business by his brother Larry.  They opened another restaurant, Potpourri, but it didn’t succeed at the level of the pizzeria.  After a divorce from his ex-wife Jane, Naso was feeling somewhat burned out on the restaurant business.
In 1975 they began selling their businesses and by 1976 they were completely out of the industry.  For Naso this marked the beginning of a spiritual journey and a quest to find a sense of community that he had yet to experience in his life.
In 1977 this search for community led Naso to the northeast corner of Iowa.  On the banks of the Turkey River, 15 miles to the southeast of the picturesque town of Elkader he found the community that he was seeking.  A few like minded seekers had purchased around 400 acres of timber and prairie and set about restoring and repairing not only the property, but their personal belief systems on what it means to be a community.  As a way to support his new life Naso and another resident of the farm Ginny Croker, who he would later marry, started the Turkey Valley Construction Company.  Naso frequently participated in retreats at the New Melleray Monastery near Dubuque in an effort to understand their way of community.  These retreats would lead directly to his development as a furniture maker.
“I got to know the brothers down there really well” said Naso.  “We’d have dinners together and then one of the brothers down there asked if our little construction company could build furniture and I jumped on it.  I said absolutely we can do that.  So that’s how it all started.  They funded us.”  With seed money in hand the newlyweds Naso and Croker-Naso along with a friend named Bob O’Conner combined their small business with two experienced furniture makers from the Amana Colonies and created Woodworkers to complete the project near the Iowa City area.

West of Iowa City, in the small community of Windom, the project was completed in what Naso describes as “a tin shed that this guy had built to raise night crawlers.  Raise worms in”.  With rent of only $150 a month for the shed, the crew was able to see the monks order through and deliver the pieces to the monastery on time.  After the completion of the project though there was no business on the horizon for the young company. The woodworkers from the Amana’s needed to make more money to support their families and they separated themselves from the business.
Not wanting to give up on what he had learned Naso and two new partners then moved into a shop on S. Dubuque St. in Iowa City that he would call home for 25 years.  Naso chortled and added “The plan had always been to move everything back to the farm after the project but we got sucked into the Iowa City vortex.  Once you get in here, you can’t get out.”

A Bourgioning Business

Business was slow though.  Naso had to rely on odd jobs between projects to make ends meet.  When asked what types of jobs he did, he burst out laughing.  “I don’t think you want to get into that” he said and paused.  Slightly embarrassed he continued.  “I taught at the University Hospitals.  I taught second and third year med students how to give genital and rectal examinations.”  Pausing, I had to ask him what exactly his qualifications to teach med students were at the time.  “I had a penis and an asshole” he said, cracking up.  “One of the other woodworkers had been doing it for a couple of years and said it was an easy way to make a lot of money.  Once you get passed the modesty factor it’s real easy, and it paid $75 an hour and in 1980 that was a lot of money.”  Work more in line with his craft however was soon to follow.

In 1981 Naso and 13 other local woodworkers formed a guild in Iowa City and began promoting themselves.  They pooled their money for advertising and began having shows at Old Brick Church near the Pentacrest.  In their very first show they kept track of the number of people who came and were surprised by the turnout.  Twelve to thirteen hundred people turned out for the show.  Nearly five years since the beginning of the project for the monastery “things started popping” he said.
Another spin-off from the woodworker’s guild turned into a gallery that remains an Iowa City mainstay.  The Iowa Artisans Gallery combined woodworkers, potters, along with fabric and basket people to showcase their wares.  The gallery didn’t necessarily help Naso due to its small size and inability to showcase furniture, but it did introduce him “to some fantastic artists in the community”.
Over the course of the next decade, Naso developed what he referred to as “Patron Saints”.  Two customers whose continued support and desire for his artisanship helped introduce him to more and more people who saw the beauty and worth in his craft.  One of those customers, Susan Farrell, a local car salesperson in the Iowa City area began her relationship with Naso when she was 23 years old by ordering a simple piece.  Naso believes that she now has over twenty different of his designs in her home.
“I discovered David through a friend after looking to purchase a desk” said Farrell   “I met him and he showed me his work.  David proceeded to build a beautiful desk along with many other pieces over the past 25 years.  I have so many favorites and it would be difficult to pick one.  He has built two beds for me, end tables, coffee table, and a lingerie cabinet!  The lingerie is a masterpiece.”
Although the personal relationships Naso has developed over the years through his work have helped to not only sustain and grow his business, his work with the University of Iowa and local businesses has also helped to propel his reputation as an elite furniture maker and artisan.  An act of nature in 1995 helped to cement his relationship within the university community.  Straight-line winds tore through the Iowa City area tearing off roofs and downing thousands of trees.  On the University of Iowa Pentecrest and a 157 year old red elm crashed outside of the President of the University’s office.
As a woodworker whose desire to make his pieces out of the same tree “in an effort to control the medium, to create a homogonous look within the continuity of the piece”, this red elm was Naso’s white whale.  After convincing the workers who had begun to cut up the elm to stop, he was able to have it removed to a friend’s shop where it was milled and stored for three years.  A tragedy on campus in the fall of 1991 would be the impetuous of a project in which Naso would create all new doors and a twelve foot conference table for the offices of then President Mary Sue Coleman out of the very tree that was felled by the winds.
With a reputation growing as a serious artisan and fine furniture maker Naso’s business blossomed.  It took him to Morocco where he worked for a year leading fifteen local artisans from the cultural center of Fez to build the furniture and interior for a 21,000 square foot palace in Rabat.  Again his work led to the forming of personal relationships and extended family.  “I became friends with my guys and we’d spend the weekends together.  We’d go back to their homes in Fez and stay at their homes. Ginny and I became part of the family”.
With the project completed, Naso is again in Iowa City.  Solidified by a reputation as a meticulous craftsman his business and art thrive.  Owner of M.C. Ginsberg Jewelers: Objects of Art, Mark Ginsberg had Naso build all of his cabinetry and display cases.  “It’s that attention to details that you don’t even see that reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright” Ginsberg stated.  “The wood is impeccably finished.  On the cabinets he used a cherry veneer that is much easier to work with if you have the grain going top to bottom.  David used the grain of the wood going the other way however to create the drama of a horizontal landscape”.

The Future
When asked what he saw happening in his life going forward Naso paused, smiled and replied.  “I have no real goals.  I enjoy what I do and the way the work is going right now.  I’m not building as much and been really enjoying the all of the designing”.  With the interview done the woodworker stood up and put on a pair of ear protectors, thanked me, and headed back into his shop toward a rocker perched on three foot table and began to sand it by hand.


Textbook Cost a Growing Concern

By Sean Malone

Outside of the Philip D. Adler Journalism and Mass Communication Building, senior English Studies major Chris Cook cracks a wry smile when asked what was the most he’d ever had to pay for textbooks for a single semester.  “The most that I’ve spent on textbooks is approximately $430.  This semester, it’s was $330.”  While, this may seem like a steep price for textbooks for those who haven’t had to purchases any, either ever or recently, it’s actually slightly less than the national average.

According to the non-profit Public Interest Research Group, the national average for textbooks in a four year university for 2009-2010 was $1,122 for a full time student per year.  According to the University of Iowa Department of Admissions web site, the average cost of textbooks and supplies for an undergraduate is $1090.  As tuition and textbook costs continue to rise at levels much higher then the level of inflation, many students and their families question how they will be able to afford the costs of a secondary education.  In a July, 2005 report to Congress by the General Accounting Office investigating concerns over textbook pricing practices, the prospects for financial relief for students does not appear to be coming any time soon.

“Since December of 1986, textbook prices have nearly tripled, increasing by 186 percent, while tuition and fees increased by 240 percent and overall prices grew by 72 percent.” according to the GAO report.  There is no one particular issue that can be singled out as to the reason for the costly increase in textbooks however there may be a few factors worth examining.  These are the costs to the publishers, the frequency of revisions and the increased use of supplemental materials that are bundled together along with the text itself.

Sean Harty a Senior majoring in Chemistry with an Integrative Physiology Minor has been feeling the pinch of these increases due to the higher costs associated with science textbooks.  “The most I’ve ever spent?  I would say that I have spent at least $2,000.  This semester I am only taking one chemistry lab and I wasn’t required to purchase a book.  However, in the past, I would say that one full year in school, strictly for chemistry ran me $400.  The most I’ve spent on a book was for Analytical Chemistry I and that was $250”.

Publishers always dictate the price that the bookstores have to pay for the textbook.  They, as any business has to do, look at the costs for research and development, projected sales, production and what their competitors are charging for similar textbooks.  According to the report, the upfront costs to publishers can be substantial and include “cost of author advances, the development of content for the textbook and supplements, copyrights and permissions for illustrations and photographs, along with the costs of typesetting and printing enough copies to provide sample copies and cover expected sales.”

A trend that had been noticed in the G.A.O. report that would seem to raise concerns for universities, their students, and faculty would be the amount of time between revisions of textbooks.  The frequency of revisions adversely affects the amount of used textbooks available and thus the student’s ability to find used textbooks at discounted rates.  As well, the potential for student’s to sell their textbooks back at the end of the semester for any amount of money is put into jeopardy.  “Publishers agreed that the revision cycle for many books has accelerated over time, but most said that it has been stable in recent years. While textbook revision cycles can vary based on several factors, such as the level of the course and the discipline, publishers told us that textbooks are generally revised every 3 to 4 years, compared with cycles of 4 to 5 years that were standard 10 to 20 years ago.”

The bundling of textbooks and supplemental materials is one of the major reasons that publishers are citing for the dramatic increase in the costs of textbook production.  The use of additional companion web sites and computer programs that are used in conjunction with the physical textbook add to the cost of production according to the publishers.  In many cases, there is much of the course work that needs to be completed online, thereby freeing teaching assistants and professors from grading actual papers.  The downside to this would appear to be that even if a student can buy a less expensive textbook, they often still have to pay the publisher for an individual access code for the online materials which is almost the same amount that it would have cost them to buy the bundle.

This alternative pricing set by publishers may be in response to an act of Congress.  HR 4137, or The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 which went into effect on July, 1 of this year dictates that universities are required to post the required course materials, with retail prices for all classes listed in online course schedules.  Publishers are also now required to sell textbooks, supplementary materials and CD’s individually rather than in bundles.

While this act of Congress does attempt to address some of the issues facing students, faculty and universities, it is most likely not a cure all for a constantly changing industry.  With more and more universities and their instructors begin to post readings and materials on-line, the ability for students to purchase textbooks from on-line distributors and e-books as alternatives to the university bookstore, the possibility for a stabilization of textbook prices may be on the horizon.

(All Images Courtesy of Getty Images)

Attempt to Hyperlink a Google Map

These are some but not all of the resources available to help those who might find themselves homeless in Iowa City.

Egg Recall

In late August, more than 1,500 illnesses had been attributed to a salmonella outbreak traced back to egg producers in the state of Iowa (egg recall).

I believe that the first person that I would like to contact as a source, or from whom I would like to receive a statement from would be Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.  I located his information via Google and this is a link to his contact information (IA Dept of Agriculture).

The second source that I would contact would be Ellison’s Acre Free Range Chicken Eggs in Delaware Township, Ia.  I would ask them about their farming practices and the differences between theirs and a major operation.  I located this

Stephen Berry

Associate Professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter Stephen Berry now instructs future journalists at the University of Iowa.

After working for over three decades for nationally recognized newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and Orlando Sentinel, Berry has focused his efforts in a new direction by launching the online news site, in an effort to provide more depth to public affairs issues related to the state of Iowa.  In an effort to enable his students to have their feature articles that are written for the classroom, the site has created a section titled “From the Classroom”.

This new endeavor has garnered some notice from people throughout the country.  In a more sentimental blog posting from Greensboro, NC,  John Robinson recalls Professor Berry’s time spent in Greensboro as a reporter who “A former editor here used to say he liked to turn over rocks to see what was underneath.”

Professor Berry’s passion for objectivity and the ethics of journalism, and journalists for that matter, in the face of every growing pressures from external forces seems to be his passion.  In a 2005 article published in the Nieman Reports he rails at these external forces and their assault on objective journalists.  “Objectivity is a standard that requires journalists to try to put aside emotions and prejudices, including those implanted by the spinners and manipulators who meet them at every turn, as they gather and present the facts.”

The reason that I chose Professor Berry was that I had heard much about him from my peers in the last two years, but have yet to take a class with him.  I was fortunate enough to have him come into my “Features” class the other day to speak about and found him to be genuinely interested in our topics and full of good feedback and suggestions.  I admire people who stick to their principles.  The reason that I chose these links was that they are relevant, and come from legitimate sources.