|English Apprentice Board c.1885|
The last few days I have been thinking about geometrical designs in marquetry. One of the reasons is that I need to prepare new samples to take to the WIA show next month in Winston Salem. The other is that I just finished restoring a series of nice pieces which had amazing marquetry surfaces.
It seems that my work goes in stages, from one topic to the next. Perhaps the secret of my success is that I just follow the flow as it arrives and focus my talents on the job at hand. Early in my career I realized a pattern to the work which made it easy. The first week, for example, I remove the hardware and finish, studying each job as to the proper approach. I would do this with several projects at the same time. I cannot really work well if I have only one job. I need to juggle many jobs simultaneously, to be happy. The next week would be spent with repairs, filling the bench with clamps and glue. The next week after that I would focus on sanding and coloring the surfaces as needed. Then I would spend time cleaning up the shop so I can shellac and polish everything at once. Since the shop was then clean, I would spend a week upholstering. This pattern would repeat itself with little variations for most of my career.
That said, there are exceptions. Yesterday I spent the day outside the shop weaving cattails into a natural rush seat for an antique French chair. The weather was nice, and I have a place in the shade on the North side of the shop with a gentle breeze. It was a pleasant distraction from the routine.
However, back to the topic this morning. American Folk Marquetry. What is it?
In 1998 there was an exhibition at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York and a book published by Richard Muhlberger, which is in my collection. This book "is the first volume to record the history of marquetry and the American masters who handed down the tradition from father to son. Never before has American folk marquetry been investigated, cataloged, or recognized as a distinct body of work." Obviously more work needs to be done in this area.
In reviewing this book I notice a common thread. All the work relies on some form of Tarsia Geometrica and Tarsia a Toppo, and the last two posts on this blog have been an effort to explain how this work is done. One of the important facts about this work is that it is made with either a veneer saw or knife. A chevalet is not needed, but in some small areas a hand held fret saw is used for curves.
Another fact emerges in this book. The most important analysis of these pieces focuses on how many pieces of wood and how many species of woods were used. No discussion of the form or overall design is really attempted. Most of the pieces stand as a miscellaneous combination of unrelated marquetry motifs. There is no serious relationship between the form and the decoration.
Here is Frederick Hazen's (1829-1908) secretary, made in Massachusetts between 1862 and 1869. The author is careful to mention that it contains 21,000 pieces of wood.
|Lots of Pieces!|
By this reasoning, I can easily point out that Painting in Wood and Painting in Oil are related. Therefore, marquetry is an art and deserves to be appreciated exactly like fine art is in the market place. Unfortunately, the real world does not support this idea.
Here is a rather standard Davenport desk form covered with Tarsia Geometrica, and featuring the cube:
|Not made by Shakers!|
For example, this is one of his pieces of wall art:
|"Rain on the City" by Patrice Lejeune|
|"City Map #2" by Patrice Lejeune|