Saturday, August 7, 2010

What's In A Name?

I'm old fashioned in many ways. For example, my wife just bought me an iphone 4 and I refused to open the box. She had told me that, as soon as I pressed the "on" button, my old phone service would be stopped. As a luddite, that places me in a situation for which there is no good result. I need to tell you that, many years ago, when I was told (by my wife) that I needed a mobile phone (so she could always reach me wherever I was) and I went to the phone store, I realized all the sales people were much less than half my age, and each carried at least one phone. I got into trouble immediately when I indicated that I just wanted a "phone" and not a camera, or web browser, or email connection, or GPS, or blue tooth (whatever that was).

My phone manners are terrible, as I always consider it an interruption, and my initial response is "Hey!" I think my longest phone call was almost a minute long. Now she buys me an iphone, which I "need desperately". I'm a Luddite with an iphone...

None of that is relevant to the blog topic I wanted to post today, when I sat down in front of my computer with my coffee. (I'm a Luddite blogging on a computer!) Life is full of inconsistencies.

I wanted to explain my views on the pieces I make and the terms people use to describe them. Terms like "copies, creations, re creations, and reproductions" are used by furniture makers and it is important to use accurate words properly to communicate meaning.

I have spent over 4 decades as a furniture conservator in private practice, working on high end pre industrial furniture. I have seen great pieces from the inside out, and learned from the masters. I struggle every day to "re create" their work. The traditional craftsman working before the Industrial Revolution was hired by the customer to "create" furniture for a specific purpose. At the time it was made, it was in the "most fashionable taste" or, using today's term, "contemporary".

Of course, those workmen were influenced by the current style of fashion, either locally, regionally or internationally. There were design books published, and the clients and the craftsman worked together to create furniture which reflected the current taste. I refer to these pieces as "creations" and that is why I tend to use the term "re creation" to describe most of my work. I struggle every day at work to "re create" the process of work, using period tools and methods as well as original materials and historic finishes to end up with a piece of furniture that would satisfy the most critical collector. At the same time, I have researched the period Price Books which define how long it took to make each piece, so that I am, in fact, working at the same pace as the period cabinetmaker. I "re create" in every detail the original "creations" of historic period woodworkers. I make "re creations".

In a sense, I am a counterfeiter, but in a good sense. That means I do not make any effort to "fake" or age my work. My pieces are made exactly like they would have been in the original period, but new, without any distressing, artificial age or synthetic patina. They look exactly like they would in 1810 or 1760 or 1680, whatever period the piece is supposed to be from.

I prefer not to use the word "copy" to describe my work, even though in many cases it is an exact copy of an antique. Many of my pieces are inspired by original pieces which I have in the shop for conservation, or I own. These are in fact, exact copies in every respect. So, why not call them "copies?" The short answer is: I don't like the term, it sounds cheap, and my pieces are not cheap. (This answer should generate some comments, I hope.)

As for the "reproduction" term, that is more simple. Industrial furniture was produced in a production line process, resulting in multiple "copies". (See, another reason not to use the term "copy"). So, if I were to make a piece of industrial furniture using modern production techniques, then it would be a "reproduction."

As a dedicated Luddite, working at my computer, I do not make "reproductions". Comment?

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