Thursday, September 30, 2010

ASFM Graduate Student Work

People often overestimate my woodworking skills. I am not being humble, as that word is not in my vocabulary, I am being realistic. As the creator of the marquetry furniture you see on this blog, I am more aware of the faults and mistakes than anyone. My work is never perfect, and that has never really been my goal. My goal is to push myself and take risks, measuring myself against other woodworkers by the degree of difficulty.

When I see perfection, it stops me in my tracks.

Last night, at the local meeting of the San Diego Fine Woodworker's Association, I had the honor of introducing SDFWA member, Aaron Radelow, and his latest accomplishment. I first met Aaron when he entered the Design in Wood show, where I was acting as Superintendent, during the 1980's. His work was huge, unrefined and difficult to assemble. I immediately challenged him to change his approach, directing him to focus on more refined and human scale projects. I suppose I was critical and direct in my comments, but to his credit, he listened to what I had to offer.

When I opened the American School of French Marquetry, he was one of the first to attend. I introduced him to the chevalet, and he took to it quickly and naturally. His cutting was exceptional. He had a genuine interest in the methods and techniques, and quickly produced exercises which I consider advanced, like the lion which is on the cabinet at the J. Paul Getty museum. You can see the difference between the first etude he cut the first day of class and the lion which he completed soon after building his own chevalet.

During the class, I often show examples of great marquetry. One of these pictures was of the Pierre Gole ivory table which resides at the Getty Museum. When I explained that this table was (in my opinion) the greatest piece of furniture in the collection, and that it had never been copied, he boldly replied, "I want to make that table!"

My response was immediate: "Impossible." I offered many reasons why I thought he should focus on more reasonable projects, but he persisted. Since he seemed determined to continue with this challenge, I offered advice and suggested solutions to some of the problems which I believed he would face.

Over the next few years, Aaron continued to visit the school and my workshop and report his progress, as he solved each stage of the project. There were setbacks, but he was never discouraged. One of his great talents is his ability to reflect on his problem, do the required research, perform direct experiments and find a solution. In the process, he rediscovered tricks of the trade which surprised me.

He was assisted by Brian Considine, chief Decorative Arts conservator at the Getty museum, who allowed him full access to the original table, and provided insight into its construction. When Aaron was finished, Brian allowed him to place his two tables next to the original and photograph the three together. I am indebted to Brian for his assistance in this project.

I would like to mention that my partner, Patrice Lejeune contributed to this project by applying the French polish after the tables were completed. When he returned from that job, he told me that they were, in fact, perfect.

The resulting tables, executed in legal ivory and blue tinted horn, with gilt bronze trim and French silk, defy description. No amount of praise will equal the effect these objects have on the person who is in their presence. What Aaron has done is historic. For a young American woodworker to accurately create such a famous masterpiece is sensational.

I mentioned how proud I would be if a student of mine could be awarded the McArthur genius award. I would like to nominate Aaron Radelow.

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