Monday, July 19, 2010

The Victoria and Albert Table Job

When I was demonstrating at Williamsburg a few years ago for the SAPFM group, I met a member who asked me if I could make a marquetry top for a table. He told me that, many years before, he had taken his daughter to the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, and they fell in love with a satinwood table on display. He had promised her that he would make a copy of that table, but the marquetry designs on the top were fairly complicated.

Now that he had seen my work, he wondered if I could make just the top and he would then be able to do the rest of the work. He asked me to quote a price on making two tops only to match the original table, and supplied me with photos of the original.

Since one of the big advantages of cutting marquetry using the chevalet is the ability to make multiple copies, I told him that it would be cheaper if I made 4 copies instead of 2. I proposed that I supply him with his order for 2 tops only, and at the same time produced 2 more complete tables which I believed I could sell at a profit.

The top design is interesting. The background is satinwood, and I have some wonderful figured satinwood in stock, which I purchased many years ago in Paris. The floral wreath is fairly complicated, but the same design is repeated on each half of the top. Therefore, all I had to do was make 8 semi-oval top backgrounds, with the rosewood stringing and satinwood crossbanding and put them into a single packet, with the design glued onto the face. All the other elements of the design were put on individual packets, each with 8 layers of the same wood veneers inside.

Using the Classic Method of French marquetry ("piece by piece") I cut out all the elements in the packets, which provided me with 8 identical parts for each element and 8 backgrounds cut out to receive the elements. All the parts were shaded in hot sand to create shadows for dramatic effect. Then I spent several hours putting each panel together. More than several hours to be honest...about 8 hours for each wreath.

There were also all the dots...I had a tool made to punch out the background and another tool to cut out the plug. I suppose if I were not making an exact copy I might not have put in all the dots, but I always try to think like the original worker and imagine what his goal was. In any event, after all the dots and the rosettes were installed the tops became very showy.

The rest of the table was made by my partner, Patrice LeJeune, who graduated from ecole Boulle and has worked with me now for many years. He also provided the French Polish, which is one of his specialities.

I am happy to report that I sold the two tables before they were finished.

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