Saturday, August 23, 2014

Perfectionism in the European Tradition

“(17th century author Joseph ) Moxon … in discussing the “Barbarous ∫ort of working which is u∫ed by the Natives of America” says that “they know neither of Rule, Square, or Compa∫s; and what they do is done by Tedious Working, and he that has the be∫t Eye at Guessing...” This sort of craft-work, barbarous to Moxon is typified in objects we now place a positive value on as being “handmade.” In eras when everything was hand-made however, the aim of the careful worker in the European tradition was to reduce variation by skill and increasingly, by ever more complex tools. Such perfectionism was pursued into the machine age resulting ultimately in techniques that typify workmanship of certainty. The aim of industry after all is quality control, which means the absolute reproducibility of a desirable result.” -J Thornton, The History and Technology of Waveform Moldings


  1. I tend to think that the goal was to, at least as you pointed out in the european tradition, attain perfection. This is reflected in the title of roubo's book, "to make as perfectly as poaaible" form my experience it was often the case with country makers, whose skills and tools were lacking too. I have often seen attempts at elaborate ornamentation applied to a piece made by someone not as skilled as roubo and his contemporaries, however they still aspired to, and strove for that same goal.

  2. ....which does fly in the face of what seems to be currently in vogue with some 18th century woodworking re-enactors who do not just accept....but celebrate tear-out, out-of-square stock and joinery, rough surfaces, etc.

    1. Yes. Well... secondary surfaces were rough. Also, not all faces and edges needed to be exactly square. But yes, on show surfaces their objective was to make it as perfect as possible while still making a living.