|A Little Pride Showing|
This Jewel Cabinet was first exhibited in the SAPFM member's exposition, "Contemporary Classics: Selections from the Society of American Period Furniture Makers," at the Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia, and I distinctly remember it as being the only piece of European furniture in that show. Subsequently, it was also on exhibit here in San Diego, at the Mingei Folk Art Museum, as part of the "Forms in Wood and Fibre" exhibition. I must say it also stood out from the rest of the show, as being from another planet. My good friend, John Lavine, editor of Woodwork Magazine, was kind enough to place this cabinet on the back cover of issue #101, October 2006. It is in a private collection today, and I get to see it from time to time. The last time I looked at it, my first comment was "I could do much better today!" Then I realized that my thoughts should best be kept to myself. This craft is an amazing thing: you spend 45 years working every day trying to master it only to find out that there are still many more things to learn.
The art of French polish is a good example. Once, in the most prestigious restoration shop in Paris, I approached a worker who had spent 10 years in that shop and his only job was polishing. As he was working on a beautiful mahogany table, rubbing away, I watched his darkly stained hands moving expertly over the surface and asked, "Can you tell me some of the secrets of French polishing?" As I understood his response, in French, I heard, "I've been doing this every day for 10 years, and I still have a lot to learn."
As the photo of this Jewel Cabinet is an iconic part of this blog, I thought it was time I should explain what led me to make such a thing. Also, since Paul Miller just wrote me and asked if he could use my piece as an inspiration for him to make something similar, I want to post some more details for him to use. I have no problem with others copying my work. I have done the same thing all my career. The difference is that the craftsmen I choose to copy have all been dead for a couple centuries.
In any event, I first saw this cabinet in London, at one of the most well known and expensive antique dealers in that city. I will not name the company, for reasons which will become obvious in this post. As I walked through their showrooms, I was impressed with the quality of the objects and the perfect condition they appeared to be in. In one room I was stopped in my tracks by a wonderful marquetry cabinet with ivory feet and pulls. I asked the salesman for more information, as I "might have a buyer" and he obliged by handing me three glossy 8 x 10 photographs and the price sheet.
Here is the description on the price sheet: (Dealer name covered by blue tape)
|Name Deleted to Protect the Dealer|
There are several points raised by this sheet to consider. First of all, it is attributed to "France, circa 1690." Secondly, it is called a "Cartonnier." Third, it is very strongly attributed to Boulle, without exactly saying so. (The word is "comparable.") Forth, it is 116cm wide (this fact will soon be recognized as very significant.) And, finally, it is 18,500 British pounds.
As soon as I was able to return to my library and do basic research, I found this document:
|The Evidence Exhibit A|
I doesn't take a lot of conjecture to imagine a person buying this desk, throwing away the base section (since it needs a lot of work), adding ivory feet and pulls to the upper section and calling it French. The motive is simple: you double your money.
My first suspicion that something was not right, was the term the dealer provided for the object: "Cartonnier." I know from my reading and visiting museums that a cartonnier in French furniture is a different shaped cabinet which stood at the end of the bureau plat. In simple terms, it was a filing cabinet for the paper work. Generally quite tall and shaped to match the Louis XV forms popular at the mid century. The dilemma faced by the dealer was what to call it, since it no longer was associated with the Flemish desk that used to support it.
In any event, here are the photos supplied by the dealer and what I did with them:
|"Comparable to Outstanding Boulle Marquetry"|
|Rough Drawing of Original|
|Final Drawing of Marquetry|
I cut out the solid woods for the carcase, using quarter sawn white oak and beech. I rough out my stock and set it aside, with stickers, for a season (at least one year) to adjust to my climate. I cut out more pieces than I need, so I can pick the best ones when it comes time to build the piece. While the wood is set aside, I turn my attention to cutting out the marquetry panels, using the Painting in Wood process. I remember there are 18 panels plus the running bands on the face. Several of the panels are identical in design but inverted in polarity so as to appear different.
For example, the two large panels on the top ends are the same design, but mounted left and right, with the individual colors of the elements selected as opposite colors. The 8 drawers are made from only two drawings. One has an orchid in the corner and the other has a rose. By flipping the images left and right and changing the woods, it appears that there are 8 different designs. There are 32 different wood species and all of them are natural colors, except the blue and green woods which are tinted using traditional methods. Of course all the veneers are sawn material I purchased in Paris from Patrick George and are 1.5mm thick.
Here is the top of my cabinet:
|Top of Cabinet|
I might mention that I like to use full blind dovetails for my cabinets and boxes which are veneered. This way the dovetail pins do not telegraph through the surface over time. I did the same for this cabinet. Everything was hand surfaced and toothed so I could press the veneer in place. After the panels were laid down, the cabinet was glued together and the ebony and boxwood banding applied.
Here is the front of the original cabinet:
|Made by Hand in Antwerp late 17th Century|
|Made by Hand in Southern California 21st Century|
|Back of Cartonnier|
|Credit for Design to Louis XIV Coffer|
All told, I spend 800 hours building this cabinet and it sold the day it was finished to the first person who saw it. Life is good. There is still a lot to learn.