Tuesday, November 24, 2015

M&T is Neither Elitist Nor Pedestrian

In exactly one week on December 1st pre-orders will open for Mortise & Tenon Magazine Issue One. The first of the articles featured in Issue One is an essay revolving around a Mortise & Tenon manifesto. As I was working out the important points, pages of thoughts emerged. I worked and re-worked my disjointed notes down to what seemed like a manageable and honest representation of this distinctive vision. It turned out to be seven simple statements each with a brief sentence or two description. It is the heartbeat of Mortise & Tenon Magazine.

During the next seven days leading up to the pre-order opening, I will be posting one tenet per day and providing some backstory. My hope is that this blog post campaign provides a contextual backdrop to the publication. Stay tuned each day this week and discover what we are determined to do with this magazine. Without further ado, the Mortise & Tenon Manifesto:

1. M&T is neither elitist nor pedestrian. We believe that featuring both high style masterpieces as well as simple vernacular furniture accurately represents the work of the pre-industrial cabinet/chair maker. 

When most woodworkers hear the term “period furniture” their mind immediately goes to a sumptuously carved Philadelphia cartouche or perhaps an intricate federal inlay motif. The notion that elaborate ornamentation is one of the essential components of period work is not only restrictive, but frankly, it’s ahistorical. It is common knowledge among furniture buffs that the high-style masterpieces showcased in major museums today were once the exorbitant commissions of the urban elite. These examples survive precisely because they were exceptional. They are a tremendous source of inspiration to woodworkers and non-woodworkers alike and should be celebrated for the artistic achievement they proclaim.

But it was not the furniture of the 99%. 

In contrast, the vast majority of furniture produced by pre-industrial artisans reflected the economic constraints of their neighbors. These pieces were generally free of carving and inlay, were made of readily available domestic woods, and often exhibited simple clean lines. In my opinion, these pieces are too often dubbed with pejoratives like “country” or “vernacular” and are not given the time of day. But I object. Not all consumers have the same taste. Some regions simply preferred the plain and understated. Beyond that I think that it’s important to acknowledge that all these pieces are constructed the exact same and it takes no less skill to cut tenons in pine than in mahogany. The difference is in the embellishments.

Mortise & Tenon Magazine is determined to acknowledge both the glory of the high-style and the approachability of the vernacular. It is a shame that these two strains have been separated as if they were not born of the same seed. Only when they are brought together does the full picture of the pre-industrial furniture maker come into view. I’m determined to make that happen. Let this be a place where the twain shall meet again.

Check in tomorrow for Tenet Two...


  1. You couldn't build anticipation more heightened than it already is. I'm sitting on my hands, waiting ...

  2. You count down has me excited!!

  3. Pedestrian, vulgar or even the 1%: Who doesn't love the whistle of a bench plane with a gossamer thin shaving?