Wednesday, October 23, 2013


The New School of French Marquetry
I realize that, in the world of French marquetry, there are a few "chevalets" sitting in workshops in large cities like Paris, Brussels, London and New York.   However, these tools belong to the artisans who built them and use them for highly specialized work, usually restoring period furniture for dealers.  In general, the design and function of this tool has remained somewhat "secret" over the centuries.  You could just say the "chevalet de marqueterie" is obscure.

In fact, there is only one school in Europe where students can get instruction and practice using these tools.  That school is ecole Boulle, in Paris.  Even in that school the chevalet is part of a curriculum which includes Colombo Filippetti  jig saws and other cutting tools to make marquetry.

When I was there as a student some 20 years ago, Dr. Pierre Ramond taught a rather strict traditional approach to making marquetry which focused on the chevalet.  There were 12 such tools in the class and a similar number of students, working diligently every day to design, cut out and assemble real masterpieces of art in wood.  The new professor at that school has a new building and encourages a diverse mix of traditional and modern methods to create the work.

In 2000, when Pierre retired, I asked him and received his permission to create my own school in San Diego, where I endeavored to continue his work, using many of his exercises and methods.  I built 7 chevalets and created a simple introductory program for students which would allow them to experience the amazing properties of this tool.  That program has been a great success and I have had hundreds of students, of all ages and skill levels, over the years.  Every one of them is delighted to have the chance to use this tool, and many of them have followed up by building one for their own use.

During the past several years, Marc Adams and I have had phone and email conversations about me teaching at his school.  Although I had never visited his school, I had had many students here at ASFM who also were graduates MASW, and they encouraged me to go.

The biggest problem is that the chevalet is a large tool and cannot easily be transported, so it would be necessary for Marc to build a chevalet for each of his students who wanted to take a class.  That means, essentially, that there was no profit motive for him to do so.  It is to his credit that he decided to proceed, and the only motive I can suggest is that he really loves woodworking and his desire to create the best and most diverse woodworking school in the country is sincere.

At any rate, Marc built 8 chevalets this summer, and I agreed to fly out and teach a class.  I was impressed and amazed at the facilities and quality of instruction which I discovered when I arrived.  I had no idea how complex and professional the facilities were.  He is celebrating 20 years of classes and it shows.  The walls are covered with student's work and souvenirs of past instructors, many of whom I know and admire.  On top of it all, it was spotless.  Imagine all the woodworking machinery and activities running continuously and not a spec of dust anywhere.

First Class at Marc Adams
I was provided with a room to myself, full of benches and a chalkboard with video hookup.  In the center of the room stood 8 beautiful new chevalets, ready to use.  I arrived a day early to run through the final tune up procedure so they would cut properly and empty my bags.  I had brought 100 pounds of materials and supplies to run the class and it took some time to set that stuff up for class.

Cleaning Up the Marquetry on Friday
I was pleased to meet the 8 students who showed up bright and early Monday morning for the first class.  It was an honor to be able to bring the chevalet to another school in America, and I personally want to thank Marc for his vision and support to make this possible.

I had suggest that Marc build his chevalets in several different sizes, but he chose to build them all the same size, which was 61 cm.  This size tool is fine for a person who is over 6 feet but one of my students was only 5 feet tall, and that presented a problem.  I have different size chevalets here in my school, and it makes it easy to fit the student to the tool.  The solution we came up with at MASW was to make a second seat blank and use wood spacers to raise the seat.  This required raising the foot pedal an equal amount with a block of wood, and allowed the shorter students to easily work the larger tools.

Adjustable Seat Height

At the end of the week, all students had successfully completed the three basic projects in Boulle technique.  Everyone was pleased with the class and I felt that I had contributed to the diversity of the woodworking program that Marc has developed over 20 years.  It was an honor to add my name to the list of famous and distinguished instructors who have passed through these doors over the decades.

Now there are twice as many woodworking schools in America as there are in France where students can create art using the "chevalet de marqueterie."  The American School of French Marquetry, in San Diego, will continue as usual to offer classes, as we have done since 2000.  Marc Adams School of Woodworking, in Indiana, will offer similar classes in the future, so keep watching their schedule.

I am rewarded each time I see a woodworker sit for the first time on this tool and smile at the results.

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