Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Marquetry for All Ages

When I decided to start my school it seemed a natural progression for me. After all, I had been fairly successful over the years making marquetry furniture, and had spent several years in Paris and visiting other marquetry shops around Europe. It was the natural thing to do. I even asked my mentor, Dr. Pierre Ramond, if he thought it was a good idea. As he was retiring in 2000, and leaving the school in Paris which he had helped make famous, he was enthusiastic about me continuing to teach his methods in America.

In fact, in Volume II of his "Masterpieces of Marquetry" book, he featured me on page 62 with a photo and the statement: "The perpetual transfer of techniques between continents can be illustrated by Patrick Edward's equipment. this cabinetmaker-marqueteur from San Diego, California, traveled to France and bought a framed jigsaw built at the beginning of the twentieth century, which had belonged to a worker who was active before 1950 in Paul Spindler's famous workshop at Ottrot (Alsace). After a training period of several months at the Ecole Boulle, this American craftsman built his personal donkey as well as a model for his hometown museum, where he is in charge of furniture restoration."

That was published in 1996, several years before he retired and I was encouraged to start the American School of French Marquetry. I still remember my surprise at visiting my friends working in the conservation department of Musee des Art Deco, in Paris, when I returned to Paris on a trip from San Diego. It was just after the book had appeared and I had not yet seen a copy. They all applauded me when I walked into the shop, and I wondered what I had done to deserve such attention. Then they showed me the page.

Now I have my own school, and I remain faithful to the methods and exercises that Pierre used to teach me. When a student takes a class he is learning exactly the same beginning etudes as I did at ecole Boulle the first year. It is the same process that the French developed at the end of the 17th century and the same process they still use today.

The real problem I have is that people sometimes see my work and think it is too complicated or difficult. They often are intimidated into thinking they don't have the ability or patience to execute such designs. However, I have my first marquetry project still hanging on the wall and, when they see that, they aren't so impressed anymore. We all must start at the beginning.

At least if you start with the traditional French process, you have a good chance of producing work which others will be amazed at, and wonder how you did it. Remember when you first learned to drive a car? I am sure you were timid and concerned that you would hit the nearest object. You couldn't see beyond the hood ornament, and afraid to go fast. After driving for some time, now I am sure you don't even think about it. All it takes is practice.

The photo with this post is a family who attended one of my early classes in the school. Both the parents and their son took the same class, and they were a lot of fun. They all were able to do the work perfectly. It was a wonderful experience to see a family sharing the same learning experiences and bonding around a "lost art."

It gives me hope and pride that I can inspire some young enthusiast who may, someday, win the McArthur genius award.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, I wish I could take this course.

Can marquetry using the traditional French process be done with a electric scroll saw that as variable speed.



W. Patrick Edwards said...

You can cut marquetry with a scroll saw, fret saw, knife or jig saw. What you learn in the American School of French Marquetry is how to create the designs, build packets and assemble pictures on an assembly board. Even if you choose not to use a chevalet you can still gain valuable information from the course. The real difference is how the chevalet allows more precise cutting of small elements.

Anonymous said...

The work shown on this blog is simply amazing! I am glad I found this site, great source of inspiration and information.

I have seen furniture panels covered with marquetry. For what I understand of the technique, the background, and individual pieces are cut separately. How do the worker handle a large background for a table top on the chevalet, say 24"x36".

thanks for sharing


W. Patrick Edwards said...

The throat depth on a chevalet can be 28" or more. There are tools which are overhead jig saws, either powered by foot or motor which have unlimited clearance. Normally, however, there are ways that the design can be cut into smaller, more manageable sections, and then the whole surface can be reassembled after cutting without any visible clue.

For example, the tops on my Louis Philippe tables are 40" in diameter, but the design allows them to be cut in a special way. I made a design which is 1/6 of the top, and then cut a packet with 12 layers of wood (6 rosewood and 6 satinwood). The result is two identical tables in contrasting woods.

Good question.

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick

Your site is very interesting, and your work so beautiful.

You must be familiar with the work of Silas Kopf. He is doing some of his work using the double bevel technique with a croll saw.

You seem to be doing more of the french traditionnal technique with the chevalet.

Is one tool better suited for one technique?

Could someone with a scroll saw be doing the french traditionnal technique with the same success

same question for the double bevel technique on the chevalet.


W. Patrick Edwards said...

Silas is a good friend and I believe he is a great marquetry artist. He owns a chevalet and spent a stage also at ecole Boulle, with Pierre Ramond, just a few years before me.

However, he cuts his work with a scroll saw, using a tilt table to make bevel cuts, so that the saw kerf is eliminated. The majority of French workers use a chevalet with a perpendicular blade angle, not a bevel angle.

It is possible to add tapered wedges to the jaws of the chevalet and produce bevel cuts, but the French only use this technique for a special decorative design, called "jeux de fond." In all other work the blade is perpendicular.

The reason is that the normal method used is the Classic Method, which I teach at ASFM, as Stage II.
The bevel method is actually a Boulle method, where the elements are cut in superposition. With this Boulle method, you can only produce one surface at a time and there is a significant amount of waste.

Using the Classic Method, which is cutting the inside pieces on the outside of the line in separate packets, and then cutting the background on the inside of the line in another packet, multiple copies of the pattern are easily produced. This increases the profit, and allows a much tighter fit without waste.

It is difficult to achieve this degree of accuracy in cutting without the chevalet, which is why most workers outside France use the bevel method.