D.F. MILLER, BUILDER

Shortly after graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute Sculpture Department in 1980, I partnered with my brother, Tom, to start a small construction company. I think for both of us, it was a way to make a living while attempting to maintain a fine art career; neither one of us set out to build a construction company. Initially, we performed residential remodels but because of our art education, were often the go-to guys for all kinds of odd-ball build projects. As an example, we were once contracted to build a 1/2 scale model of a P-47 Thunderbolt airplane. Being young and stupid, we took the bait. We created the plane by buying a small scale model from the hobby-shop and then we enlarged it by placing the instructions in an overhead projector to copy the components. We made the bulkheads out of styrofoam and connected the fusilage with strips of scrap lumber. We stretched canvass over the whole thing and painted it with latex paint. I recall we barely made the deadline and ended up delivering the damn thing to a fancy cocktail party, still soaking wet with paint. Experiences like that are formative, instructive, sometimes painful but always a blast.

In 1989, Tom wisely left the business for greener pastures. I continued on, and ran the business until 2007 when, suffering burn-out, I signed on with CEO Structural Engineers as their construction advisor. These are a few of the most memorable projects from my career as a freelance builder.


Ridge Ceremony, Nishinomiya Japan

BACK
WEIMATSU RESIDENCE, NISHINOMIYA JAPAN: Building a house in Japan is one of those life experiences that you have no real preparation for; the once-in-a-lifetime, out-of-the-blue opportunities you know you'll regret if you balk at the chance. The challenge here was to build a house in Japan and finish within 90 days before visas expired. I accepted the challenge and it was one of the most difficult and yet rewarding projects that I have ever accomplished. The following pictures capture a few of the most memorable aspects of the journey.

Group photo with Architect Ryuhei Terada and his clients, the Weimatsu Family. That's me on the far left next to Terada. Terada's client, Weimatsu-san, is sporting one of our heavy, Western nail-belts and a framing hammer. Ironically, those three Americans in the photo were bona fide illegal aliens - we entered the country on pleasure visas and would have been sumarily arrested and deported had we been found to be working illegally in Japan. The Japanese are serious about their immigration laws and circumventing those laws can be a risky proposition. Case in point? My co-workers tried to outsmart the system, were caught on re-entry, jailed and deported without their belongings.
The whole gang is in this photograph except for Mama-san, the architect's wife Akime; she's behind the camera taking the group picture. The photo was taken to commemerate the Ridge Ceremony; the Japanese tradition of blessing the backbone of the house. Two generations of Weimatsus would live in the house we built.

Massive amounts of Sushi, Biru (beer) and Sake are required for a proper ridge ceremony.
THE RIDGE CEREMONY

Mrs. Weimatsu, the homeowner, is in the background setting the table. She just kept pulling sushi, fruit and biru out of the bags. The Ridge Ceremony is a wonderful Japanese tradition. It's the blessing of the new house by the Architect that will keep the inhabitants safe from calamity.

I'm still proud of the quality of the framing. This was the last house that I ever framed.
watashi wa daiku no tsumori desu (I would like to be a good carpenter someday)

I went into this job knowing the level of detail and precision that would be expected. I also knew I couldn't just run down to the local lumber yard to buy more material if I screwed something up; the entire house package was shipped to Japan from Seattle Washington and had I needed it, the nearest 2x4 was 7000 miles away.

I cut this roof mathematically - the way it's supposed to be done - and it fit together perfectly. The roof was entirely cut with a hand-held skill saw. When we finished, the walls were dead-plumb and the opposing ridges met perfectly.

Photo of the valley rafter. After having been displayed on the ridge for several days, the Shinto "ridge memorial" was taken down and carefully placed into this hollow attic space (upper right) before the walls were sheetrocked. The hidden blessing would insure the happiness and safety of the inhabitants of the new home.
At this point in my career and after twenty years doing it, I'm a pretty good carpenter. A lot of what I learned I learned from two people; my brother and an old hippy carpenter in Durango Colorado. Everything else, including roof cutting, I learned on my own.

We worked twelve hours per day, six days per week. At the end of the day (every day) the Architect would announce "OK, we go back to apartment and drink now." This photo must have been taken early in the game - there's just way too much booze on that table. Side note: this architect and his wife were on the jobsite for the entire twelve hour day nearly every day for the duration of the job. After work, they came home with us to unwind - every day. Amazing people.
MUZUKASHII (difficult)

Mama-san (Akime) was part of the team working along side of us nearly every day. That's her with the video camera recording a woozy conversation in broken Engrish. At these nightly gatherings, we would trade cultural questions and get to know one another. I recall one of Terada's questions of me: "Dabidsan, why two by four not two by four?"
Muzukashii Teradasan, very muzukashii...

Photograph of Takasan, our carpenter in training. Taka was lent to our team by a Japanese roofer who wanted Taka to learn the ways of Western Framing. Taka was the roofer's best man and for good reason; he was indefatigable, super-smart and an amazing climber. He was also our guide on periodic incursions into the Osaka nightlife. Note the pants - Japanese carpenters wear these wonderful balloon pants with special shoes shaped like mittens for the feet. Pants allow maximum mobility while the shoes assist in climbing.

Somewhere near Kiyomizu Dera, Kyoto- the Japanese Maples were turning red and Terada-san insisted that he "make picture".
We worked 12 hour days six days per week, Moday through Saturday. On Sunday morning, every Sunday morning - 7:30 AM Sunday morning - there would be a knock on our door; "we go to shrine now..." At first, this unerved me; on Sunday morning I was exhausted and felt it an imposition that we were required to all jam into a car for a long ride in traffic to visit the shrine. However, once I became accustomed to this ritual, I fell into it like a good Japanese tourist; I can't imagine how much of the Japanese experience I would've missed had I declined the invitation. We saw innumerable historic sites and spent long days in Nara and Kyoto, shrine-hopping, shopping and eating sushi and Yaki Tori. An unforgetable experience and memories that I treasure to this day. It was a tremendoulsy generous gift given to us by Terada-san and his wife Akime.
While in Japan, Kim and I thought it a good opportunity to buy some Japanese ceramics. We brought home a good number of tea bowls representing the various regional areas, kilns and clay bodies of Japanese ceramists. On one occasion, we were browsing ceramics at Hankyu Department store in Kyoto and came upon an exhibition by the artist Atarashi. We purchased one of his raku sake bottles as a gift for Terada and his wife. We had tea with the artist and they took our picture to commemorate the sale.
A big house by Japanese standards

At this point, we're almost done. Much of the interior finish and siding was performed by the Japanese. We worked from the 15th of October 1996 through January 15th 1997, making our 90 day "pleasure" visa deadline. There were a few details remaining and one of our crew volunteered to stay behind and tie up the loose ends.


Note the beautiful little Persimmon Tree in the neighbor's yard.

"wooden house basically carpenter job..." - Ryuhei Terada, Architect
Terada-san, Murayama Park with Japanese Maples, December, 1996.



The



This



E