Wednesday, January 29, 2014


The shadow of my van logo looks nice on cherry.

This has been a good week. Furniture has been moving in and out of the studio. I had a sort of logjam for a little while there in January because I had a few larger jobs that took a considerable amount of time. This is always great but it definitely disrupts the flow of those small glue-ups and white ring repairs that people drop in for. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone become impatient waiting for my schedule to clear for them but I like having these little guys trickle through in the midst of bigger projects. It helps the notorious small business cash flow dilemma.

Before Treatment

After Treatment

I dropped in at the Tool Barn recently and picked up this little molding plane. I’ve looked at it several times but just couldn’t justify spending the cash he wanted for it. Not only was it an elegant profile but it was in excellent condition. This time reason (or was it covetousness?) won over and I ended up taking it home with me. No regrets. I love this little guy.

I was at the Fisher house this morning for a little while looking through the archives. There are a ton of letters and books of anecdotes and drawings. Lots of mathematics and notes about the sciences. One of the books I found most interesting today had a bunch of perspective drawings and diagrams of various contraptions.

I also found a recipe that Fisher copied down about making “Water-proof glue”. I’ve never heard of the linseed oil method before. I’ll have to try it out one of these days. Right before I left the museum, I stumbled across a new discovery in the dark. As my flashlight passed over a shelf against the wall, I almost leapt from excitement. Can you discern what I discovered? (More to come on this unearthing later…)

Can you guess what it is?

Oh yeah, FIY historic furniture book collecting geeks… the Met’s Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York is on clearance for $14.95 right now. When mine arrived yesterday I was very impressed. High quality as usual from the Met’s publications. It’s worth picking up at this price for sure. I’ve had it on my book purchase list for a few years now but the going $40 used price kept it in line after too many others.

On the home front, I’ve been living with a three foot scallywag pirate captain. The kid’s relentless. He wakes up and put this garb on and if we didn’t make him, he’d sleep with it. He told me today he “dreamt visions of treasure chests all night”. Aye aye aye, matey.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Jonathan Fisher, 19th Century Furniture Maker

* All photographs taken and used with permission of The Jonathan Fisher House

For the past few years I’ve had a desire to do some research on an 18th/19th century Blue Hill, Maine cabinetmaker/turner named Jonathan Fisher. Finally about six months ago I began dipping my toes into his story. This past fall, at the prompting and encouragement of my friend Don Williams, I began to dig deeper.

An 1888 photograph of his barn where he built furniture

 The only of his "kitchen" chairs to retain original surface paint

Fisher was the first settled minister in the mid-coast Maine town of Blue Hill arriving in 1796 from Massachusetts with his newly wed wife Dolly. Fisher spent the rest of his life in this frontier town ministering to his congregation. In addition to the ministry, he spent significant investment of time and resources on business ventures. Entrepreneurially minded, he was always set out to establish himself as a proficient artist/craftsman in this rural community. It was his education at Harvard where he acquired many skills that proved useful to his entrepreneurial ventures. Between surveying, painting, bookbinding, hat making, digging wells, and building furniture he had wide variety of ways to bring in income. Fisher also designed and built his own house, founded a seminary in Bangor, a school in Blue Hill, grew vegetables, raised livestock, and incessantly tinkered with countless inventions.

A card table attributed to Fisher

His turning chisels survive.

In the 1950s the Jonathan Fisher Memorial acquired the property to preserve this story of a rural Maine minister/farmer/craftsman. Fisher’s house eventually became a house museum open to this day.

Fisher's artist box of pigments
A 'mortice chisel' now missing its handle

What interests me most is just how much from the man is extant. Not only is his house in good condition but there are tons of letters, artwork, tools, furniture, and utilitarian objects crafted by Fisher’s hand. One of the most unique treasures that researchers of Fisher have is his extensive diary. From 1795 to 1835 he faithfully recorded journal entries of his every day activities. This is a selection from February 1801 …

“23. Planed clapboards. Turned one spool. Mrs. F. came home. 
24. Went to Mr. H’s. P.M. made part a drawer for my book case. Evening conference at my house. Mrs. Dorr tarried over night. 
25. Finished my drawer. Made one door for my book case. P.M. Mrs. Stevens and Mrs. Faulkner made us a visit. 
26. Worked upon my book case. P.M. made a visit with Mrs. F. at Col. Parker’s. 
27. Worked at stuff for a book case door and drawer. P.M. wrote sermons.”

A crude molding plane

A large portion of his journals survive and have been translated from his esoteric shorthand and typed into a book. I was fortunate to be able to make a copy for myself so that I could highlight and annotate to my heart’s content. I just last week finished the Diaries after working my way through the two published biographies of him. The first biography written was titled Jonathan Fisher, Maine Parson 1768 to 1847 by Mary Ellen Chase. In the past few years a new biography was published by art history professor Kevin D. Murphy. This one, titled Jonathan Fisher of Blue Hill, Maine: Commerce, Culture, and Community on the Eastern Frontier, has provided a fresh look at the way Fisher sought to establish a social and religious prestige for himself in this developing frontier town by his establishing himself as a competent minister, artist, and intellectual.

A nicely formed candlestand

A backsaw and mitrebox

From this reading I was able to get a good introduction to the man through these secondary sources. Building on this foundation, I then moved to primary sources.

This winter I have been spending a few hours each week over at the Fisher House examining objects and digging through the archives to see what I tidbits of information about his woodworking I might unearth. Thanks to the openness and generosity of the Fisher House board and volunteers, I have found an overwhelming amount of information about the man. The biggest task is sorting through all of the extant records, letters, diaries, drawings, etc. to glean relevant information for my area of study.

Fisher's desk and bookcase
Carving on a child's desk
Wooden latch under another stand

In this beginning stage of object examination, I have many questions and many suspicions. Not all of the furniture in the museum has credible attribution to Fisher’s hand. I have begun sorting through to try to figure out what’s him and what’s not. It is a large task. My other goals are to begin to understand how his furniture making fit into his life, his motivations and inspirations for making it, and the environment in which it was created. And these are just the beginning questions. During the course of my research I will undoubtedly be sharing thoughts and findings here on the blog. I appreciate any insights or questions you all might have as I think through these things out loud.

A tool list from Fisher's probate inventory

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Shhh... Secret Compartments!

Been working on this tiger maple slant front desk. Water damaged coating, sides of the carcase shrunk leaving the drawer faces proud of the dividers by about ¼”, all the runners are extremely worn. I have been making good progress (none of which is shown in these 'before treatment' pictures).

Oh yeah, I found some secret compartments too. They were hidden quite well. I am sure no one has known about them for a good long time judging by what I found inside them. I found about a half inch of dust and debris in each of the six boxes. No hidden treasure here.

 Here’s how the compartment works…

First you pull out the lowermost drawer inside the desk.

 Then reach your arm all the way to the back of the drawer housing and push down on the floor.

This will cause the secret door to hinge up.  (You can see light coming up through because the back boards are off at the moment.)

The door to the compartment

You can pull the door completely up and out.

A view from the backside without the back boards

Once the door is removed you can sneak your fingers down into the hole and pull up these little boxes one at a time. Pretty cool.

Oh what to put in these little boxes!

In other news, I heard a wonderful episode of Maine Calling today on MPBN. They had Peter Korn, director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship and Stuart Kestenbaum director of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts discussing “Why We Make Things”. It was a good listen and I could restrain myself... I had to call in. I got my two minutes and was able to ask them a question. It was a good show. Take a listen here: Why We Make Things

Monday, January 6, 2014

2014: Resolved To Do More Sitting Around

Well, not exactly. Truthfully, though, Julia and I spent some good time doing some end of the year recollection and scrutinizing. This year has been the most intense year of our lives and so much of it felt out of control. Our schedule burst at the seams just about every month of 2013. We started writing down all the things we spent our time on last year. By the end of it, we had three pages of pretty significant events. Between helping friends, lots of traveling, involvement in multiple weddings, chickens, goats, building, musical performances, reenacting, gardening, teaching bible studies, etc… No wonder we still feel exhausted from the year.

On the bright side, we’ve survived and we are a bit wiser having been that irresponsible with our energy and time. 2014 will not be 2013 all over again. We already have ideas about this next year and so we are putting the brakes on and have decided to make a realistic and concrete plan for the year so that we don’t kill ourselves doing too much. I wanna live to see my 30th birthday.

Some projects I finished up before we left for Christmas.

A new stretcher I turned and finished for a side chair

We just got back from Washington for Christmas. It was great spending time with my family again. Eden loves those guys so much and I know we all had a wonderful and restful time.

My dad showing Eden the firetrucks he sells.

A sweet cookie made by Julia

The Kleins have a weird sense of cookie decorating.

Seattle seen from the new ferris wheel

A little friendly wrassling.

We left for WA just after the two huge snow storms and before the big ice storm. Our sweet neighbors who were watching over the animals had to deal with no power to the animals’ waters in subzero weather all week long. They really got more than they bargained for. Just before we got home the downed powerline was removed from our driveway and the power was restored. I did have to chisel the ice shroud off both of our vehicles in order to get into them but we eventually managed. (Ps. Before you try wailing on your car to get the frozen door freed, make sure you check that the car isn’t locked. If I had done that it might have saved me about an hour and forty five minutes of frustration! Doh!)

We had a superb Christmas. We made Eden a play kitchen (salvaged from a dilapidated night stand) because he has been begging for one. After I stayed up two nights in a row until 2 or 3 o’clock to finish it, Eden said to us upon opening it, “Wow! That must have taken a lot of time and hard work!” Amen. That was what I wanted to hear. The kid loves it and I am so glad.

A captivating winter walk to finish off the year.