Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Smokin’ It Out with George Walker

I spent some time tonight playing around with a photograph of Jonathan Fisher’s desk and bookcase. Armed with a pair of dividers and George Walker’s handy instant proportion gauges, I began “smoking out” (as George puts it) the design conception behind this desk. It was a fun excavation sort of process as I plucked the proportions off the image. For those of you not familiar with the use of classical proportions in furniture design, simply put: historically, proportion was not arbitrary. The way each component related to each other was based on simple whole number ratios. 5s and 6s were very common. Looking for these ratios in a piece of extant furniture allows you to stand in the shoes of the maker and envision what he envisioned. Why are the knobs exactly 1/5 of the way in on the drawer fronts? On the bookcase doors, why is the bottom of the middle rail defined by two fifths of the height of the upper case? What are the measurements of those components? Who cares. The designer’s eye is on how the parts relate.

Intrigued? I recommend you pick up a copy of Walker and Tolpin’s "By Hand & Eye". I also found George’s DVD "Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design" very helpful in this regard. Don’t forget his blog "Design Matters". That’s where I got sucked into this stuff.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Extraordinary Thomas Chippendale - Carved With Love

I watched an excellent BBC and V&A documentary about Thomas Chippendale. It covers the little we know about his early life, his training, his moving to London, the growth of his cabinetmaking firm, and his eventual financial undoing. Fascinating piece of history. The whole thing is split into four parts here below:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Any Time Now

This is what we've been all about lately: waiting on baby. I think we're close.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Economical Wood Identification

Swietenia macrophylla - Honduran Mahogany

My good friend Freddy Roman recently shared a link to a blog post about the author’s time at a Wood Identification class taught by furniture conservators Tad Fallon and Randy Wilkinson. Included in the post are seven video clips from the class. The clips are a great watch.

Quercus Rubra - Northern Red Oak

This got me thinking again about wood identification. At the Institute where I studied, we got an introduction to basic microscopy for conservation examination but I never got time to delve into wood I.D. from endgrain samples. It wasn't until after I graduated that I began to experiment with this technique.

endgrain prepped

In order to do this kind of examination, you really only need a 10x jeweler’s loupe looking at cleanly sliced endgrain. They can be had for $10 or less. Though I have and use one occasionally, I find the desire to photograph what I am seeing. Without a microscope in my studio, I utilize macro photography. I purchased these inexpensive macro lens filters for my 17-85 lens and Canon 60d. With adequate lighting, a tripod, and cropping in photo editing software, I can get usable images for comparison to samples in wood ID reference material.

Swietenia macrophylla - Honduran Mahogany

I am not a conservation scientist so my conclusions are not definitive but as best as I can tell, the attributions in these captions are right. The bible on the topic is Bruce Hoadley’s Identifying Wood but I also find The Hobbit House site helpful when identifying pieces. (Scroll down to bottom of their page to look up specific woods.)

Juglans Nigra - Black Walnut

Often identifying primary woods (show surface hardwoods) on antique furniture is easily done without this intrusive of an investigation. Sometimes, however, a little confirmation of what I already suspect is helpful.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Propriety of Assisting Others

“In some instances it may be necessary for a man to keep knowledge to himself, as his own property, and upon which his bread may depend; but I do not see any impropriety in persons of the same branch informing each other. In trades where their arts depend on secrets, it is right for men to keep them from strangers; but the art of cabinet-making depends so much on practice, and requires so many tools, that a stranger cannot steal it. But in every branch there are found men who love to keep their inferiors of the same profession in ignorance, that themselves may have an opportunity of triumphing over them. From such I expect no praise, but the reverse. Their pride will not suffer them to encourage any work which tends to make others as wise as themselves; and therefore it is their fixed resolution to despise and pour contempt upon every attempt of this kind, in proportion as it is likely to succeed. But those I will leave to themselves as unworthy of notice, who only live to love themselves, but not to assist others.”

 -Thomas Sheraton, 1793, “The Cabinetmaker’s and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

On Board with the Fisher House

The Jonathan Fisher House

This past Monday night the Jonathan Fisher Memorial put on its annual meeting. Among other things on the meeting’s agenda, I was elected to serve on the board. I am honored as I look forward to becoming more involved in the preservation efforts for this unique historic site. I am not sure exactly where I will be spending most of my board service time, but I do know they would like some help with the internet and marketing load.  I also have been asked about environmental monitoring for the care and protection of the artifacts. As it is a volunteer organization there are more needs than there are volunteers to fulfill.

Detail of "Blue Hill, Maine" (circa 1853-1857) by Fitz Henry Lane

Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.

The meeting’s featured guest lecture titled "A Genius in His Profession: The Life and Work of Blue Hill Architect George A. Clough" was given by the Maine State Historian and Director of Maine State Historic Preservation Commission Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr. Both he and our own Brad Emerson have been researching George Clough’s (1843-1910) architectural practice in both Blue Hill, ME and Boston, MA. A Blue Hill native, Clough worked as Boston’s first city architect. He designed a vast number of buildings in both Massachusetts and back home in Maine. 

Carriages in front of Clough House in Blue Hill, ME

George A. Clough, Architect 

"Ideal Lodge" of Blue Hill designed by Clough for Effie Ober Kline

Shettleworth highlighted Clough's work in Maine specifically and talked much about his time in Blue Hill designing new and renovating a number of the old homes he grew up with. Shettleworth’s talk was enlightening and I appreciate his willingness to come this far Downeast to speak at our meeting. Thank you, Earle.

Clough designed the Suffolk County Courthouse on Pemberton Square, Boston

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Place to Set Some Clutter

 I recently felt the urge to put up a little shelf above my desk at home so that I could clear my desktop a bit. Not looking for anything super elaborate (and not wanting to spend much time on it), I decided to screw an old board onto two brackets and attach it to the wall.

Conveniently, a client of mine gave me a few orphaned walnut table leaves to reclaim them to some good use. So use them I did. I did very little to them other than partially strip the crusty finish, scratch a molding profile on the front, and cut out a cyma reversa-ovolo-cyma recta profile on the brackets.  Then I stuck it on the wall. Now my clutter has class.