Sunday, March 10, 2013


Demonstrating at Timken Museum in 1990
There are so many ways to make marquetry, you could fill a book.  Actually, Pierre Ramond has filled 5 large books, including his recent publication in French of the work of Andre Charles Boulle.  You can use chisels, knives, fretsaws, jigsaws, lasers, punches, overhead saws and, of course, the famous "chevalet de marqueterie."  I think by now you know which method I prefer.

Pierre's first book, "Marquetry," was published in 1989 by Taunton Press, and was the first handbook I got my hands on which explained the proper use of the chevalet.  Prior to that, I had found the rare reference to this obscure tool in a few other books, but none of them seemed to know what they were describing.  I recommend "Marquetry" as the first and only book necessary to understand this ancient craft, and note, with some unease, how the prices for this out of print book have risen over the years.

Note to students: There is also a Vial edition published in France which is in English, and a reprint of the book in English, published by the Getty Museum in 2002.  All editions have identical copy and the only difference is in a few of the photos, which change from edition to edition.

Pierre published this important book after he got his PhD and included much of his research with a wide range of photos, essentially making him the world's expert on French marquetry.  However, he still had more material, and as he was allowed to actually trace designs of famous marquetry examples in many museums, he continued to publish a series of 3 volumes over the next few years, called "Masterpieces of Marquetry."  This three volume set was translated into English and published by the Getty Museum also in the year 2000.

The French edition of "Masterpieces" was published much earlier, and I still remember on one of my trips to Paris, in February 1996, walking into the conservation lab at the Musee des Arts Deco, and being greeted with congratulations by my friends.  Not knowing why I was so special, they presented me with the newly published Volume II, which had just been released.

There, on page 62, was my photo, and some copy which read, in part: "The perpetual transfer of techniques between continents can be illustrated by Patrick Edwards's (sic) equipment."  He goes on to discuss how I was able to acquire an historic foot powered frame saw and build my own chevalet.  In my talks with Pierre, he encouraged me many times to introduce woodworkers in my country to the traditional French methods of work, including the "chevalet de marqueterie."

That is exactly why I have established the American School of French Marquetry in San Diego.  I realize how special and fortunate it was for me to attend ecole Boulle, and it was my duty to make that experience available to others in any way I could.

Demonstrating at Getty Museum in 2000

When I started the school, I doubt that there were more than a couple of chevalets existing in North America.  I knew of a few European trained workers who had personal tools in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but their shops were closed to the public.  In fact, the Getty Museum had two examples made for their purpose and I was able to see these tools in storage.  When I first opened my school, the Getty was generous enough to loan me one of them, until I could build more of my own.  That particular tool has now been loaned to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for their use.

The ASFM has two goals in teaching students: first, introducing the student to the chevalet, and second, transmitting the traditional French methods of making marquetry surfaces as taught to me by Pierre.

I often use a musical metaphor when I teach about the tool.  For example, if you were given a violin and a bow and had no knowledge of how to hold it, tune it, or read music, it would be very difficult to learn how to play it properly.  Therefore, the first class, Stage I, is designed to fit the student to his personal chevalet, how to adjust the blade tension and angle, and how to follow the line.  Also, the student is provided with three simple exercises to execute, so that they can learn the process from initial design to final picture.

By the end of the first week, they have a choice to proceed to Stage II and work on the Classic Method, or do a Painting in Wood exercise, depending on how accurately they can follow the line.

We have had hundreds of students from dozens of countries complete our classes.  All of them have been surprised to learn how easily the tool functions, and what amazing things can be accomplished with it.  Nothing in my experience allows the precision and comfort that the tool is designed for.  It actually becomes a direct extension of the body, after a few hours of practice.

In addition to the 6 chevalets, of different sizes, that I now have in the school, I am currently building a 7th tool, which I expect to be available by June's classes.  One of the tools is left handed, but it is my experience that the majority of "left" handed students prefer working with the right handed tool. After all, how many left handed violinists are there?  (OK: Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney are exceptions.)

Now for the exciting news.  After some time discussing with Marc Adams the possibility of teaching at his school, we have come to an agreement.  He has purchased 8 chevalet kits and is building new tools for his school, where I will teach my first class in October.  Unlike his other classes, this marquetry class will be strictly limited to 8 students at a time.  I understand that he already has 6 students registered, so there are only 2 spaces available.

I expect that, now that his school has invested in these tools, I will be able to teach there more often than once a year, and even that his staff will be able to develop classes themselves, after some instruction.  This will be the second school in North America with chevalets!

Here is the link for the class:

Painting in Wood Class

In addition to that one week class in October, I will be also teaching two one day classes that weekend. The first is all you need to know about using protein glues.  I have sort of become the leading "authority" on these organic glues, so this should be interesting.

Here is the link for that class:

Working With Protein Glues

Finally, the last class I teach will be on French polishing.  This is a difficult class to teach in one day, but I will cover the basics and get you started on a life long pursuit of the most beautiful finish you will ever struggle to accomplish.

Here is the link for that:

French Polishing Class

The gluing class is limited to 20 and the polishing class is limited to 18.  That should be interesting.

If you can't make it to San Diego and ASFM, I hope to see you in Indiana at MASW.

1 comment:

Unknown said...


Congratulations on the MASW classes, I hope it goes well. I've had success and failures with my french polishing, truly is a lifetime learning finish.

I'm left handed but do many woodworking operations with my right hand as well.

Good Luck in Indiana!