Archive for October, 2010

Patience… Oh Really?

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

patience -noun 1. the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.

If I had a dollar for every time (over the years) I’ve heard someone say: “Gee, you must have a lot of patience.” Or: “Wow, you possess tons of patience to sit there and do that.” I’d be rich. To be fair, I have also been told (much to my delight) how rewarding and fulfilling my type of work must be. For myself and others like me the creation process is very rewarding.

We craftsmen love what we do. Therefore “patience” has nothing to do with passion. The fact is, no one requires patience to do what they love; it is the observer that most often requires patience.

In 2001, I enrolled into the American School of French Marquetry here in San Diego. The only thing I knew about marquetry was, I knew nothing about marquetry. It’s that simple, I knew zero about the art.

My teacher was Patrick Edwards, a graduate of Ecole Boulle in Paris. Patrick assured me that I was his ideal candidate for becoming a student; after inquiring about any prerequisites.

I mailed in my tuition and eagerly awaited to arrive on the scheduled day. Monday. I showed up to be the only student in this class! The school was in its infancy and I was fine with that. I found myself being lectured, one on one, about the fundamentals straight away. I was off, hiking briskly into undiscovered country.

For years I wondered how complex marquetry was executed. Patrick introduced me to the infamous book by Pierre Ramond: MARQUETRY. He then demonstrated the workings of the chevalet de marquetery, the French tool for cutting marquetry. In the first couple hours I found myself quickly building my first marquetry packet, stuffed with three different species of veneer, and then gluing a design to the face.

Patrick showed me where in the design to drill the hole for inserting the jeweler’s blade, and how to secure the blade into the saw-frame’s jaws. If memory serves, from the time I walked through the door, to the time I sat down at the tool was about four hours.

I was now sitting on a chevalet, ready to start sawing! I spent the rest of that day cutting out my very first marquetry packet. On day two, while assembling the marquetry picture, I remember thinking to myself: “Wait a second, I just drilled a hole in a stack of veneer, and cut out the design. THAT’S IT?! THIS IS THE BIG SECRET?”

I felt like “the guy” wondering the desert dying of thirst while searching for an oasis, and then I found it! That feeling was to be short lived. Over the next few days I came to realize my first etude (study) was simply a miniscule and insignificant scratch on the surface. I was undeterred, for I had discovered my wellspring of passion.

The term “ fine woodworking” is an embodiment of many facets: carving, marquetry, turning, hand-cut joinery, finishing, etc. Every woodworker becomes passionate for doing one or two of the above mentioned. He or she really loves to do only that; the passion. Patience, on the other hand, may be required for work such as glue ups, or finishing; for many of us it is the latter.

So, the lesson is: try not to get irritated with someone else’s passions. Show a little patience will ya?

When Furniture Becomes Art. The Decorative Arts, a Cut Above the Rest.

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Escher Birds

I was born an artist. My grandfathers were artists. One was head of the graphic arts department at SanDiego State University, the other was Konzertmeister of the Hamburg symphony.

My maternal grandfather could take pen in hand, and with a single stroke, draw a perfect circle. Checked with a dividing compass, it was no more out of circumference than the thickness of the drawn line.
Amazing! Yes. He really could do it.

Not to be left out, my mother is a classically trained oil artist; specializing in equine portraiture. My girlfriend and her mother are also artists. So, I’m surrounded. Birds of a feather

As a young child I distinctly remember having the adroitness to color within the lines. At least in comparison to most other children; decades before this had any meaning for me. All I remember caring about was being careful and precise. Decades later this hardwired trait of mine has only intensified.

In the “good ol’ days” prior to the Industrial Revolution, children exhibiting artistic talent were sent to art trade schools to study under Masters, producing the King’s next army of skilled artisans: blacksmiths, jewelers, painters, stone carvers, poets, horse trainers, foundry workers, armorers, engravers, ebenistes, and marqueters. All would be employed by the Monarchs and the very wealthy of Europe, England, and a young place called America.

One need only open a history book to realize that the greatest civilizations in history drenched themselves in spellbinding architecture, art, literature, music, et cetera. This is what made them into cultural superpowers. (Ironically and unfortunately much of this was funded by conquests.) Today we find museums in America and Europe filled with amazingly beautiful Decorative Art.

So then, when does “furniture” become art? My favorite furniture is of the Craftsman style, in quartersawn(ammonia-fumed) white oak. It is rugged, timeless, and I love it; but it is far from being considered art. A piece of furniture transcends into the realm of decorative art (at least for me) when a furniture carcass is decorated with – art. Marquetry is artwork. The birth of of marquetry originates in medieval Italy by furniture makers with the desire and necessity to “paint” in the wood medium. The spark originated in Italy, but the inferno later arose in France under Louis XIV and XVI.

When expertly schooled artists graduate Master Craftsmen, and then go on to create exalted carvings,bronze mounts, and marquetry, and bring them together, they (we) turn furniture into Art.