Sunday, October 27, 2013

Boston Furniture Workshop: Day One

This Saturday I got up at 4 am to head out on the road down to Haverhill, MA for Historic New England’s Boston Furniture Workshop. This was day one of the two day event based on the last Winterthur Furniture Forum. (Day two is next Saturday.) After a brief welcome by curator Nancy Carlisle, we were the recipients of a wonderful talk by Gerald W. R. Ward, curator at MFA Boston, titled “Pigeon Holes and Patriots: A Case Study of the Desk in Eighteenth - Century Boston”. Gerry discussed the importance of organization in desks and the role it played in New England society in the 1700s. He explained that the pigeonhole’s primary role was as a business organizing tool. He then compared this to containers and compartments for organizing important documents and keepsakes both prior to and following this period even up to the development of today’s digital storage devices.

The second presentation was of the collaborative efforts of conservator Christine Thomson and curator Tara Cederholm in researching “Japanners in Early Eighteenth-Century Boston”. Chris and Tara have been traveling to most of the 51 extant examples of period “japanned” furniture. Their goals have been to investigate for attribution purposes as well as to better understand the craft practice and techniques. During the course of their research, they’ve created a database of photos of figures and details from the surviving surfaces. I’m looking forward to hearing the result of their further research on the topic.

Robert Mussey discussing Seymour's work

After lunch, Robert Mussey and Clark Pierce gave presentations on the “Boston Regency” style, the work of Thomas Seymour, and Seymour’s influence in the shop of Isaac Vose. These presentations, designed to be presented together, were captivating. Mussey argues that there was a style present in Boston between 1808 and 1817 which was neither Federal nor Classical (Empire). This style was a sort of hybrid between the two which had features similar to English Regency pieces. Mussey and Pierce’s work the past few years has given them an understanding of the stylistic distinctives of Seymour as well as a few construction clues that can be used to confirm attribution. They showed us a unique Seymour chair joint where the rear seat rail tenons into the stiles and they used a Seymour chair from the Historic New England collection to illustrate it.

Mussey and Clark examining a Seymour chair

The last presentation of the day began with a plea to relinquish our “eighteenth-century biases” and learn to appreciate the high quality work of 19th century Boston manufactured furniture from the John Ellis and A. H. Davenport furniture companies. Nancy Carlisle gave us some background on the design sources and manufacturing methods of the companies. She saw the the high level of workmanship as well the ability of the firms to cater to a diverse clientele’s demands as the keys to the success of the businesses.

For each presentation we were able to view objects in the collection which were discussed by the speakers. This in-the-flesh time was invaluable for crystallizing the content of the talks. I look forward to next week’s presentations: Brock Jobe, Peter Follansbee, and more. Oh my. I can hardly wait. If you haven’t registered and would like to attend, check here for availability: Boston Furniture Workshops.

The Historic New England Haverhill facility at 151 Essex st.

The MA and ME "Patina" plates.

For dinner, I was able to meet up with my dear friend Bruce Hamilton and his wonderful wife Renee. It was a treat to visit, commune, and dine before I headed back up I-95 to Maine. Home by midnight, I slept soundly.

Friday, October 25, 2013

This Day is My Birthday

Today my heart sympathizes with the Reverend's sagacity:

“This day is my birthday. Bless the Lord, O my soul, for sparing mercy! He has upheld me in life and indulged me with such a variety of comforts, with so many and great favors, that I am a living monument, however unworthy, to his mercy. My consort is in health, my children live to our mutual joy, life still holds endearing moments of tenderest affection. My land brings forth its increase, my food is sweet to my mouth, my sleep, for the most part, is refreshing and wholesome. Though accounted but poor in the goods of this fleeting world, we have the joys of contentment, free from strife. It is God who gives all. May his be eternally the glory!” - Rev. Jonathan Fisher 1768-1847

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reviving a 19th Century Roll Top Lap Desk

Before Treatment

This is a 19th century lap desk made in China. It was made for traveling sea captains to pick up in their overseas travel. The primary wood is camphorwood. This piece came into the studio in pretty serious disrepair. The canvas on the back of the tambour (roll top) had deteriorated allowing the slats to become jammed in the track the tambour slides in. Because opening and closing the drawer is the way of opening it, this means the drawer was stuck too.

The first step was to disassemble the piece enough to get at the tambour. At this point, the old canvas was removed, the slats were numbered, and the backs were scraped clean. Some of the tabs (tenons that ride in the track) were broken off so new ones were grafted on. I used a router set to the thickness of the tabs to clear the broken material away and then glued on new tabs.

After the tabs were shaped, the slats were glued with hide glue onto new canvas. The final slats (the ones that show when it’s closed) were glued into a round profile using gallon paint cans underneath to recreate the original profile. The tambour was reinstalled into the track and attached back onto the drawer. Finally, the entire rising shelf was reassembled and dividers glued into place with hide glue. The wooden locks were repaired so that the unit would stay in place.

Here is a video how this thing works… (It’s a lot easier to show than describe in words.)

After Treatment

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Chicken Harvest Photo Gallery

I used to be a vegetarian. For about a year my lips never touched meat and this was all due to ethical convictions. Back in my high school days my eyes were opened to the industrial meat factory methods. Horrified, I determined to completely forsake the consumption of meat. It took over a year for this conviction to soften but I was still forever scarred by the inhumane treatment of animals in CAFOs. In fact, it wasn’t until this past year that my comfort with eating animals was completely restored. When animals are treated respectfully and are raised in a healthy environment, I am at peace with the process. God has instituted a principal in this world that in order for one being to live, another must die. I accept this. My faith is in a Being who commanded his people to “regard the life of his animals”. I believe this obligation is placed on a caretaker from egg to slaughter. There is a way to slaughter an animal while still respecting them. This is why we raise our own meat.

This past Saturday, we slaughtered and processed our meat birds. Everything went very smooth. We did about 75 birds in about 3 hours. Julia and Eden helped me load up the crates and place them in the van. (This poor van is such a work horse!) From there I went down to a friend’s house in Deer Isle. He generously loaned us his equipment for the day.

Cones allow them to bleed out completely. The knife goes into their brain first, instantly making the bird unconscious ("brain dead"). Then their throat is slit and are allowed to bleed out.


Plucking drum! 4 birds in 20-30 seconds.

Cleaning them out and organizing the giblets.


Hearts and livers.

Necks and feet.

The next afternoon, we cut up some of them into parts: legs and thighs, breasts, wings, and carcasses for soup stock. The freezer is now jammed full of meat. In the end, our portion turned out to be 38 birds. This should carry us through until next year’s birds.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Living History at Leonard's Mills 2013

Eden's six board chest works great for this event.

This past weekend we had our fall Living History event at Leonard's Mills in Bradley, Maine. We do this event twice a year and look forward to it every time. This is the first time Eden began to understand what exactly it is we do there. During our packing we began explaining to him how we are teaching people about what people 200 years ago did. He went into his room and proceeded to work through his pile of plastic modern toys and asked if these items qualified for 1790's toys. To his dismay most of his favorite items were not kosher. Finally at last he came in the house with an item he was confident about. (Somewhere in our discussion he must have picked up on the words 'old fashioned'.) He walked into the house with his treasure, held it out and asked, "Mama, is this mud ball 'fashioned'?" "Yes. I guess they had mud balls in the 18th century. You can bring that if you want."

It was the largest turnout they've had in over a decade. This little event managed to bring in about 1,500 people Saturday and Sunday. It was wonderful to see that many interested people but it was a lot of work. There were many moments that we realized our little cabin was engulfed in a crowd of people. Peter Follansbee, how do you do this day in and day out?

I set up my new portable Nicholson workbench (which I will post about shortly) outside the cabin and demonstrated preindustrial woodworking methods. I used the opportunity to make up the bottom boards for my traditional tool chest (also an upcoming post). In reality nothing really ever gets done during these events because there is so much talking and explaining. If someone has a rabbit trail question I always go there with them. I am there to educate after all.

Julia, her sister, and friends were inside the cabin cooking and sewing. They said they were non-stop talking with the guests. I think our jaws were ready to fall off by the end of the event. Eden was a blur running amok.

We also decided to bring the goats and a few chickens along. They were exceedingly more popular than we were. Not that I’m jealous or anything but we do work pretty hard to get things set up. I would be talking at length with people about the project I was working on, showing them ingenious work holding at the bench with the proper way to hold the tool and just when I’d begin to demonstrate the technique they’d look over my shoulder and say, “OH! Is that a CHICKEN!?” Dear me. A chicken, people? Ah well.

Boring stuff.

Every year we make efforts to make our presentation a little more authentic. We are not totally there but progress has been made. I anticipate next year will be even better. Our clothing, gear, and knowledge will be even more refined I am sure.

Wowsers! What a beauty!

It was a great weekend of simple living, wood fired food and sweet fellowship with friends and family.